It’s been 232 days since we last saw Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller and his band of sweaty teenagers take to the court, but alas that streak will be snapped tonight.
Miller and company kick off a highly-anticipated campaign at 8 p.m. tonight against the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona University in what should be a glorified scrimmage.
It’ll be the first opportunity for Wildcat faithful to watch the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class play their first game against a Division I opponent.
It’ll be the first time for many of the 14,655 fans that pack the hallowed hard plastic seats at McKale Center to watch the athletic freak that is 7-foot tall center DeAndre Ayton—the number-one ranked center in this year’s high school recruiting class.
It’ll be the first chance to listen to the dulcet tones of the verbal acid trip wrapped in an enigma that is Pac 12 Network commentator Bill Walton, who will call both games in Tucson this weekend (the other being Sunday’s matinee against UMBC).
After an offseason chocked with FBI investigations, possible suspensions, Final Four droughts and NBA Draft departures, it’s sure to be a relief to Miller and Wildcat fans alike that we’re finally able to focus on the relative reprieve that is actual basketball.
It’s a new day in Tucson, with the Wildcats having the better part of eight months to shirk off their two-point heartbreak against 11th-seeded Xavier University in the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats, according to the always-reliable bookies in Vegas, have the third best odds to win a national championship, sitting at 8/1 as of Friday.
It’s time, my friends, to put away the sadness pillows and bottles of whatever spirit has lifted your spirits since that two-point Sweet 16 catastrophe, for a new season brings about new hopes of a brighter tomorrow.
Without further ado; here are the three storylines to follow ahead of tonight’s season opener:
1. Keeping your eyes on the Baby Cats: The aforementioned Ayton, as well as guards Emanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph should get heavy playing time this weekend, with sophomore guard Rawle Alkins out for 8-12 weeks with a broken foot. Both Akot and Randolph, as well as fellow freshman guard Alex Barcello of Phoenix, and forward Ira Lee should see heavy minutes early, which will test the youngsters ahead of conference play, which kicks off against ASU on Dec. 30. This might be the most loaded team top to bottom that Miller’s ever had, which is both a blessing and a curse. How will he and first-year assistant Lorenzo Romar (of University of Washington lore) spread the ball out, and make sure that no one plays the type of hero ball that ultimately killed the Cats last spring? We’ll all have to tune in to find out, I suppose…
2. The calm before the storm? Anyone not living under a rock knows about the FBI’s investigation into alleged misconduct by former Arizona Associate Head Coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson, who is alleged to have taken bribes from a disgraced former sports agent in return for at least one Arizona player’s future services. What’s not understood, as of now, is whether the NCAA will eventually decide to strike against Arizona, or any of the other teams mentioned in the FBI’s investigation to this date (a list including fellow Pac 12 heavyweight USC, as well as Louisville, Miami, Auburn and more). Will Arizona be forced to pull any of its players because of said investigation? It’s hard to tell, but given Alabama’s decision to suspend whiz-kid freshman guard Collin Sexton for the season opener and Auburn and Louisville both firing at least one coach and/or administrator (in Auburn assistant Chuck Person and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and Athletic Director Tom Jurich). Arizona’s already fired Richardson, but the rest of the Mess O’Potamia, to paraphrase Jon Stewart, is far from finished; the worst may yet to come for the Wildcats, given how slowly the NCAA moves when investigating a program.
3. How will Miller keep everyone happy? As mentioned above; the main issue Miller may face this season is keeping everyone on the team content, given the plethora of star power on their roster. The team’s two exhibition games, against Division II teams Eastern New Mexico and Chico State, saw junior guard Allonzo Trier and the freak of nature that is Ayton take over—with Trier scoring 32 points total, while Ayton scored 52 points with two double-doubles for Arizona. Fellow freshmen Akot and Randolph looked stellar against Chico State as well, scoring 14 and 10 points, respectively, dishing out seven assists between them. The Wildcats have the horses to make it to San Antonio (where this year’s Final Four is behind held), but can they fill roles and coalesce as a unit between now and then?
How to watch: Arizona’s games against NAU (tonight at 8 p.m.) and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (Sunday at 4 p.m.) will be televised on the Pac 12 Network
How to bet: Arizona is currently a 34.5-point favorite over the Lumberjacks. The line for Sunday’s
game against UMBC has not been posted, as of Friday afternoon.