Tomorrow, the Arizona Wildcats come in from their desert home to take on the Red Storm in the "neutral" site Coaches vs Cancer Tournament... at St. John's home court, the venerable Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats come with a ranking number next to their name, but with many questions about their squad.
Meanwhile, St. John's fans are feeling great about their team, but the Red Storm haven't yet been tested.
The Rumble will be taking more and deeper looks at the matchup today and tomorrow, but first, let's get feedback from our friends, the Arizona blog Arizona Desert Swarm. K_Zim answered five questions on the Wildcats' slow starts, lofty expectations after last year's deep NCAA Tournament run, the return of Kevin Parrom, and more, below the fold.
And make sure to check out our preview of the entire 4-team championship bracket of the Coaches vs Cancer/ 2K Sports Classic.
Q. The first question has to be about the slow starts. Explain what's going on there, what's gone right/ wrong in the first halves, and how concerned are the Wildcats about the slow beginnings?
I think the slow starts are for two reasons. The first is that the Wildcats still are figuring out where everyone fits in role-wise, and I think that causes a lot of timidness, especially on offense. Sean Miller's crew is still looking for a go-to guy and so players are trying to figure out how aggressive to be within Miller's motion sets.
And I think that's led to a lack of fire to come out of the gates with. I think we've seen second-half surges because the players suddenly realize, "I crap, we can't lose to (insert small school name here). That'd be embarrassing." That's when they clamp down on defense and build leads.
To answer the second part of this (and I wrote about it the other day), the slow starts could be a problem against St. John's because of the athleticism and trapping defense they employ. I think that it's key for Arizona to not allow St. John's to jump out to a big lead, as dumb as that sounds. Arizona can make second-half comebacks against the Ball States and Duquesne's, but probably not against a talented team in St. John's.
Even if it IS a team that could blow a lead because of its youth, I'm not sure the Wildcats have the firepower needed to make another double-digit comeback. But if the game is close at halftime, I think Arizona will be in good shape to win.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Wildcat newcomers? Obviously, Nick Johnson has been good, and Josiah Turner is still finding his way. What do they do well, and how quickly will this team gel?
Nick Johnson is far and away the best newcomer on this team, and I have a feeling he might even become that go-to guy Arizona is looking for later in the season. He can hit jumpers, plays with great intensity on defense, and even switched to the point guard slot last game, when Josiah didn't play a minute. (Turner may or may not play Thursday. Miller said it wasn't disciplinary but he missed a shootaround a game prior so something is up).
Other than that, Angelo Chol is a lanky big man who hasn't really grasped offensive concepts but is long and athletic. I'm thinking he sees a lot of time against St. John's, because he can grab a lot of boards, has been getting a lot of steals and can alter shots at the rim.
And I think the Wildcats will take half of this season to really take shape. None of the veterans have been consistent enough to say things are solidifying role-wise right now, but I think after this week we'll have a much, much better feel for guys like senior guard Kyle Fogg and junior forward Solomon Hill. Both of them are expected to step up; they just haven't done it in more than spurts.
Q. What needs to happen for the team to match the lofty preseason expectations (and were those expectations too lofty)? How good could the Wildcats (realistically) be this season?
I think the preseason expected is accurate for where Arizona will be at the end of the season rather than the beginning. They're definitely not a No. 15 squad right now, but Miller showed last year that he's patient in keeping it a year-long process rather than expecting too much out of a team that lost its two leaders (Derrick Williams to the NBA and Momo Jones to Iona) from a year ago. I have no doubt that this team will improve as the year goes on, I just don't think they'll have the firepower or star power to make another run like last season.
Because the Pac-12 is relatively weak -- maybe top-heavy is a nicer way to say it -- I think Arizona make the NCAA tournament, and if they get lucky with match-ups could go to the Sweet 16. But as of now, I wouldn't expect them to get past the round of 32.
Q. Talk about Kevin Parrom's return - what it meant, how it was received by players and fans alike.
Parrom's return was definitely a surprise and an emotional moment on Sunday. The kid has been through an absolutely horrible last few months with the death of his grandmother, getting shot while visiting his ill mother in NYC in September, and then losing her to cancer. It's also been amazing to see how well he's handled it all from a personal standpoint. It goes to show that basketball is in a way, not important in the grand scheme of things, but also important in that it's a huge part of Parrom's life.
Oh, and in a pure basketball sense, Parrom's return is huge for the Wildcats, too.
Q. How has the interior defense been? I know Kyryl Natyazhko and the other forwards sometimes look lost; have they been effective? What are they good at, what do they need to improve on?
It's hard to say because the teams Arizona has played have been very perimeter oriented as is. That said, Natyazhko and company could be exposed against St. John's. Kyryl is on the slow side and that's why I think Chol could be of more use on Thursday. Freshman banger Sidiki Johnson could also possibly see time down there, but overall, all three of those guys could struggle against the speed of St. John's.
Arizona's best lineups are probably going extremely small, with 6-foot-7 forward Jesse Perry at center, Hill at power forward and Parrom at small forward, so expect Miller to go there even if he's giving up a lot of size inside.