There are plenty of high expectations surrounding Arizona basketball, but the season opener will not be easy. Take a look at what Poly did to UCLA early last season when it defeated the Bruins 70-68 at Pauley in a game that many felt it had no business winning.
"A year ago they beat UCLA in the month of November and it kind of shows they have a lot of guys that are confident," Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. "If you do that once, you certainly feel that you can do that again."
That's not to say that Arizona should be worried about losing, but it still has to come out with its best effort every game, especially with teams like Cal Poly gunning for it.
"First of all we don't have a lot of information on them because we are their opening game," Miller said. "That is always scary, but we know they have a quality team, couple key returning players." At the point guard position, Friday will be the first real opportunity to see what T.J. McConnell can do. He was extremely impressive against Augustana, but this is a real game against a better opponent and Arizona's success depends greatly on what he can do.
Arizona has not had a true point guard in quite a while and that is exactly what McConnell is. He will be going against a player in Jamal Johnson that really does not have a lot of experience. The 6-foot-0, 177-pound senior averaged nearly four assists per game last season and does exactly what Poly needs him to do.
He is not a big scorer, but Johnson runs the offense effectively. It will be interesting to see how much pressure McConnell puts on Johnson to take away that ability to run the offense.
At shooting guard, Nick Johnson will have the important assignment of containing 6-foot-0 guard Kyle Odister. He only averaged about seven points per game last season, but his role will expand this year. He only started four games, but played in nearly every one. Odister is a threat from behind the arc, but is a guy that Johnson really should not have much trouble with on either side of the ball.
The most intriguing matchup may be between Brandon Ashley and Chris Eversley, a 6-foot-7, 229-pound senior. Eversley is easily Poly's best player and a guy that will need to do big things if the Mustangs are going to have any chance of winning.
Last season, Eversley was named to All-Big West first team after finishing sixth among conference players with 7.0 rebounds per game and ninth with 15.4 points per game. He is a double-double threat each time out and a player that Arizona needs to make an effort of keeping off the glass.
Ashley is plenty capable of putting up numbers of his own, but the real challenge is going to be defensively. Often times a player is somewhat looked down upon because of the level of competition, but Eversley is good regardless and should be respected by Ashley and his teammates.
This game is more about what Arizona is capable of doing rather than its opponent. Can Kaleb Tarczewski impose his will? Is Aaron Gordon going to match the hype right away? How much does T.J. McConnell truly change the offense?
We may not find out the answers right away, but what we do know is that Arizona is approaching Cal Poly as a serious opponent. "You know the team that they beat a year ago in UCLA became an excellent team, so I think we are well aware, as our players are, that any team can beat us on our schedule this season and in particular early on as we continue to develop on our own bench," Miller said.