Arizona Basketball

Arizona looks different from years past but still lots to like

The names have changed with regularity through the years, but this year is unlike many Arizona’s teams in the recent past (save for the 2015-16 team) as Sean Miller & Co., get ready to prove a predicted fourth-place finish in the Pac-12 Conference was too low.

Here are observations from my 28th Red-Blue Game and here’s a hint: there was no one who had the impact that Beau Muhlbach had in 1999 when he scored more than 25 points in the annual exhibition game. Of course, you never really heard from Muhlbach again in an Arizona uniform. Translation: what happens in a Red-Blue game means very little.

Arizona didn’t have a scorer like him on Sunday afternoon nor will it all season, except if freshman Brandon Williams goes off for a couple of 20-point games. My guess is he’s going to be Arizona’s most capable scorer.

Brandon Randolph second. That’s a nice luxury to have from a young freshman guard who can play both the point guard and shooting guard positions.

Miller called Williams today’s prototypical guard who can play both positions. He said it’s too early to judge Williams now.

“If there is someone who should be somewhat confused or feeling like a robot, he should be that guy,” Miller said. “The more that he continues to practice, and the days add up he’ll be more comfortable. I wouldn’t trade him for any other guard that is out there who is an incoming freshman. He’s very coachable and very humble. He showed up here with any type of ego. It’s refreshing and something we really respect.”

Miller later said he expects Williams to be effective at each position.

Sean Miller

• Arizona is limited to one big man in its lineup with Chase Jeter, the lone player who is 6-foot-11 or taller. No question Jeter is a talent, given his resume that includes McDonald’s All-American and former Duke player. Sunday, he looked impressive near the basket as he grabbed 14 rebounds. He played 21 minutes and nine points. He’ll have to help more offensively. That is a given. That’s something that will likely happen on the regular, but to what extent is anyone’s guess. No doubt he can run the court. How he’ll be worked on the defensive end will be key given his slight build when having to face an opponent’s biggest man.

• I was completely impressed with Devonaire Doutrive, who wasn’t spectacular but did everything he needed to do to be noticed. He’s very slight, too, but he has some deceiving athletic ability and showed it in the exhibition. He had nine points, hitting four of five shots. I suspect he’ll find a way to make Miller’s rotation right behind Brandon Randolph.

• Arizona looks so much different than in the past. No true big man. Lots of the same players size wise and if it will win Sean will have no choice but to go fast in transition. That will be the easiest way to score for Arizona.

• Senior transfer Ryan Luther will play a major factor in a few outcomes. He’s a savvy veteran and a great find for Miller, although he found him in his hometown of Pittsburgh. I can’t remember a player who fits his type in an Arizona uniform. He’s a big-body yet not a big body. His upper body is very apparent and yet he can hit shots from distance. If he can get about six or seven rebounds a game and score eight or nine points a game, his final year will be more than worth it.

• Arizona was without scholarship player Omar Thielemans. Arizona announced before the game Thielemans did not dress out or was there because of personal reasons. Miller admitted Thielemans had missed recent practices and there is wide speculation his future with the team is in doubt. More information will come this week but it’s likely Thielemans won’t be around much longer.
“It’s a longer-term thing,” Miller said. “He missed today because of personal reasons and I think we’ll expound on that as we move through this week.”
• Dylan Smith, a former transfer, came in labeled a shooter, who could hit shots from the perimeter. Now is the time he needs to start making that become a reality. His place on the team and in the lineup will be because he can hit shots. Sunday, he rarely did, going 1 for 8 from the floor. He finished with two points. This is a perfect team and time to get in where you fit in and Smith must fit in with his shot.

• Sophomore big man Ira Lee had a nice game, leading all scorers with 12 points. Most of his points came around the basket on shorter shots. I won’t get into it here given I hope to do a complete story on him soon. But I think he’ll become a fan favorite just for his personality and way about him, save for his summer troubles behind the wheel of a car. No question he’ll need the support of the fans, his team and himself but how he’s handled things after getting the DUI has been impressive. More later.

• And finally, Miller, who has been criticized and dogged throughout the last year because of the FBI’s investigation into the alleged wrongdoing, thanked fans, UA president Robert Robbins and Dave Heeke for their support. Miller said he hopes to talk about that later. But he did say this, and I totally believe him: “When certain things aren’t going as expected, it really is amazing how you learn who is in your corner and who isn’t.”

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