Former Oregon guard Joe Young is quite possibly the best scorer to play in the Pac-12 during Sean Miller’s time at Arizona. Young averaged 18.9 points per game in his junior season and 20.7 points per game in his senior season.
The current Indiana Pacer only averaged 13 points per game in five appearances against Arizona in his career and that was due to the wide variety of premier defenders Miller had at his disposal. Names like T.J. McConnell, Nick Johnson, Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon all have proved they could play that role during Miller’s tenure.
This season however that’s not the case.
Instead, Arizona is forced to rely upon junior guard Elliott Pitts. Pitts, a solid defender, is nowhere near the caliber of past Arizona greats and is more of a great supplementary defender and shooter off of the bench. That’s not the role Pitts plays this season though, as he was featured in the starting lineup on Friday and had to guard one of college basketball’s best players in Kris Dunn.
Pitts and the Wildcats are having a rough go at attempting to lock down these elite players. Santa Clara’s 6-foot-3 Jared Brownridge scored 44 points on Thursday and got the game to overtime for the Broncos.
On Friday, Dunn scored all ten points for Providence in the last two minutes and 26 seconds of the game, as the Friars upset Arizona 69-65. He never looked uncomfortable, something Arizona used to always force the opposing star player to feel. Dunn finished with 18 points on only nine field goal attempts and 21 minutes of play, along with eight assists.
That’s the reality for Arizona basketball this season. Yes, they will improve as the year goes on and Miller will turn them into a proper defensive team, but do they have the individual talent on that side of the ball to match the teams of the past three years?
This weekend’s Wooden Legacy gave us our answer.
Freshman Ray Smith looked like the next in line of long, bouncy and energetic wings to crash the glass, but he tore his ACL in October and is out for the season. Freshman guard Justin Simon is a long 6-foot-5 point guard, but Miller’s rotations so far this year suggest that he’s not ready to play just yet.
Arizona’s road doesn’t get any easier after the Wooden Leagacy, as they travel to Spokane to take on Gonzaga next weekend.
One of the best players in the country is Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, and he was held to 6-16 shooting in last year’s matchup in Tucson with Ashley defending him. Who can stop the 6-foot-10 forward this season?
That question is going to plague Miller and his Wildcats, and with the Pac-12 being the strongest it’s been since Miller arrived in Tucson, it could be an issue all season.
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