On the surface, the University of Arizona men’s basketball team has had more talented and deeper teams, but this one is different.
It has all the parts, so it has plenty of potential. How deep Tommy Lloyd decides to go with this year’s version of the Wildcats is anyone’s guess. He clearly wasn’t going to tip his hand – and well does it really matter one exhibition game into the season.
Time will tell how it all plays out.
He went as far as being a little flip in saying the media can set “the limitations on my team … I don’t set any limitations,” he said after Arizona’s 91-61 win over Division II Western Oregon on Tuesday night. “I’m gonna let it play out in front of me, and I’m gonna make what I think are the best decisions to win basketball games.
“I’m not a guy that sits around at night and, you know, gets up my protractor and a ruler and three different color pens and says, ‘well, if you play him 16.4 minutes … I don’t do that. I coach off my gut and instinct and coach off what my eyes are telling me.”
He said he has “good, talented players and I want them to fight a little bit, but I’m hopeful they can all help us.”
The guess is he could go eight, nine, maybe 10 deep (likely not) when all is said and done. The parts fit even with the departure of three NBAers in Dalen Terry, Ben Matherin and Christian Koloko.
In step Adama Ball, Oumar Ballo, Azuolas Tubelis, Pelle Larson, Cedric Henderson, Courtney Ramey, Henri Veesaar, and of course, Kerr Kriisa.
There’s eight right there. Bigs, smalls and inbetweeners all capable of getting good minutes with parts interchangeable.
Figure six players scored in double figures on Tuesday with Tubelis leading the way with 19 points. Ballo had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Bal had 15 points with Larsen getting 11.
Those could be the nights every night – and day – when Arizona players. Of course, the names could change as well the points, but you get the point.
Lloyd has players. And he’ll mix and match at his discretion. He did on Tuesday night, throwing differing lineups throughout the game to see what worked.
Henderson laughed when asked about the lineup movements, saying that’s everyday at practice.
Tinkering here, tinkering there.
It also helps when his team “gets a little bit of adversity.”
“I love it,” he said. “Adversity, when you struggle, is a great teaching tool.”
And where better to learn than in an exhibition game with so many options to go with? In the end, he used 16 players. Again, it was an exhibition game, so it was a comfortable enough victory to allow him to do it.
He said the defense was there, still temper that knowing it was a very smaller opponent and a steep drop in class.
But the “defense was great. It needs to be great. We had some great individual defenders last year, but they defended within the team concept, and they did their jobs,” Lloyd said. “We don’t have a defense where they need to make up their own rules. We have a very sound approach to how we defend, you’re not going to pitch shutouts in basketball so I think we just need to clean some things up.”
He said some are pretty “easy fixes.”
He called some of the mishaps “game slippage” and it happens. And it could happen plenty.
“Not everything you tell a player they are going to absorb,” he said. “That’s what makes coaching a little bit more of an art than a science. I look forward to you know, breaking down that film and trying to help guys.”
What he did see was an aggressive Tubelis, who may need to know when to temper that aggressiveness.
He saw a good Bal.
“He has a good feel for the game,” Lloyd said. “He’s kind of a young player who (has allowed) his feel for the game (to) carry him. Now, he’s more of an Alpha Dog and plays a little bit more of a physical style because he’s growing up. Now, he just (has) to find a good mix between being aggressive on offense and also making plays for others.”
A good Ballo, who has improved “a lot,” he said. “You see his poise, you see his body control, his effort.”
And a Kriisa who still remains Lloyd’s ride-or-die guy. Kriisa went 0 for 3 from the floor, going scoreless.
“Kerr’s been great,” Lloyd said. “Kerr and I obviously have a great understanding of what he means to this program. He’s taken a little bit of a wait-and-see attitude with others (to) get themselves comfortable. I think we all know Kerr’s two consecutive made threes from getting him rolling. That’ll happen. He and I will continue to have conversations, but Kerr is my guy. I love how he plays, and I think he’s going to have an incredible year for us.”
And then there’s Ramey, who played on Tuesday and looked good, but will be out the next three games because of an NCAA violation. What’s next?
“We plan on playing our asses off,” Lloyd said.
Let the season begin!