Sean Miller will be happy that former NAU guard Cameron Jones has graduated from the program, as in the past two seasons, he's lit the Wildcats up to the tune of 28 points per game. Jones nearly led the Lumberjacks to victory at McKale a year ago, but a late run by UA gave the home team the 63-58 win.
Mike Adras is in his 12th season as the head coach for Northern Arizona, and after a 19-12 finish to 2010-11, he's forced to rebuild almost entirely this year. The Lumberjacks were selected as the fourth best team in the Big Sky preseason polls, but so far they're off to a slow start with a 2-5 record through seven games, with their wins coming against Arizona Christian and Northern New Mexico.
NAU has had a tough time staying competitive in its losses this season, losing by an average margin of 20.6 points per game, including a 35-point loss to BYU on Wednesday night. That bodes well for the Wildcats, who are undoubtedly the top team the Lumberjacks have faced through this point in the season.
Freshman James Douglas may be new to the program, but he's stepped up right away as NAU's top scorer. The 6-foot, 175-pound guard is the team's lone player to have a double digit scoring average at 12.6 points per game. He's been pretty effective and efficient so far in his career, shooting 41 percent from the field, including a 42.4 percent success rate from three-point range.
The lone starter with experience against Arizona in his career is 6-foot, 185-pound point guard Stallon Saldivar, who last season put up five points and six assists in 29 minutes versus the Wildcats. While he only averages 6.9 points per game, he does a lot of other things for NAU, as evidenced by his team-leading 5.4 assists per contest. Despite his small stature, he is the team's third-leading rebounder at 4.3 per outing and as a junior is one of the more experienced players that NAU has on its roster. He'll need to limit the turnovers and get his teammates open looks in order to keep the game from getting out of hand early.
At 6-foot-3 and 173 pounds, freshman Colin Gruber is undersized for the three and he's still trying to adjust his game to his new position and the college game. He's the team's second leading scorer, but he's only averaging 8.4 points per contest on 41.2 percent shooting. He's the team's secondary option, but he may struggle against the length and defensive prowess of Kyle Fogg.
In the front court, Adras is trying to introduce two players with no experience at the Division-I level into his starting lineup. Redshirt freshman Gaellan Bewernick leads the team with a 63.6 field goal percentage, but he attempts less than five shots per game. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward is averaging 6.1 points per game and is the team's second leading rebounder at 4.6 boards per contest. Because his game is limited offensively, he may struggle by Solomon Hill and finding open looks for himself.
Ephraim Ekanem is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound transfer from Ontario Christian, and he's still working on making improvements in his skill set to be more effective at a higher level of competition. He's putting up just five points per game, but does rank fourth on the team with 3.7 rebounds per outing.
Despite coming off the bench, 6-foot-4, 197-pound guard/forward Durrell Norman is third on the team in minutes played. The lone senior on the team, Norman scored three points in 18 minutes in last year's game versus Arizona. This year, he's the team's third leading scorer at 7.7 points per game, with all of his damage coming from inside the arc at an efficient 45.5 shooting percentage.
Michael Dunn is another effective option off the bench, as the 6-foot, 180-pound junior is the team's fourth leading scorer at 6.9 points per game. He's done well shooting three pointers this season, hitting 42.9 percent of his attempts, good for second on the team.
NAU's leading three-point shooter is 6-foot-3, 175-pound sophomore Luis Flores, who in about 11 minutes per game has hit 54.5 percent of his attempts (6-11). However, that success has translated to just 3.4 points per game.
Finally, 6-foot-8, 230-pound sophomore Max Jacobsen will see about 14 minutes of action, but he's averaging just 3.3 points per game.
Next week Arizona will play its toughest game of the preseason in a road contest against Florida, but one could make the case that NAU is one of the weaker opponents the Wildcats will face this season.
While it may not be much of a challenge to defeat Northern Arizona, UA needs to pay close attention to detail and continue to improve on the little things in order to best prepare itself for a tough stretch upcoming in its schedule.