Arizona played one exhibition game against Division II Cal Poly Pomona. The start was rocky, which is to be expected, but the Wildcats were able to find their rhythm in the closing minutes of the first half and the momentum carried into the final 20 minutes.
There were times in the opening frames of the game that Arizona looked sluggish on offense. It was slow setting up the pick-and-rolls and struggled to make a lot of its open looks.
Credit has to be given to Cal Poly Pomona, though. Its defense has finished at number one the last two seasons in the Division II circuit and the Broncos brought their best to Tucson.
Last week’s game was merely an exhibition, but it did give some early insight to a potential problem the ‘Cats faced last season and may have to deal with this year.
The 2014-2015 Wildcats are arguably Miller’s most talented team in his six-year tenure at Arizona. He has a top six rotation that could rival any other programs in the nation. T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Stanley Johnson form an ultra-talented rotation that most schools would have trouble game planning for.
Miller has a lot of depth and having depth means there are a lot of players that can jump right into a game a fill any void.
With all that being said, it would appear that Arizona is one of the favorites to play in the Final Four. The assumption is more than a fair one to make, but the multifaceted Wildcats do have one weakness that could act as a serious aliment throughout the year.
For the second straight season, Arizona is likely to struggle with perimeter shooting.
McConnell can hit threes if has the time and space. He shot a 36 percent clip from range last season, but it was on 2.5 attempts per game. The Pittsburgh native was not Arizona’s main three-point threat, and it is still unclear if he grew in that area.
Ashley’s return is paramount this season. He can maneuver down low, but his floor spacing is second to none. The junior forward does have a reliable jumper from different spots on the court, but he does not step out beyond the arc too often. In two years at Arizona, Ashley attempts less than one three point shot per game.
Over the summer, 6-foot-7 Hollis-Jefferson went back to the lab and re-worked his jumper, including his form, release and not dropping his guide-hand.
“The desire to become more of a threat from distance is commendable, but Hollis-Jefferson’s case is definitely a wait and see situation,” an Eastern conference scout explained.
“It was at the point last year that if Rondae had the ball outside of eight feet, teams didn’t bother guarding him because his shot was that bad. Improvement is always possible, but players do not become excellent shooters over a summer. He still needs more work."
The addition of a physically built 6-foot-7 wing like Johnson is big time. There a few players in the Pac-12, let alone the nation, that has his physical gifts and skill set. Johnson is versatile offensively, he can guard almost anyone and his competitive nature is almost unmatched.
His overall body of work is impressive, but like any great player, there is always room to become better.
“With Johnson, you have a great player with an NBA-ready frame and everyone loves that,” the Eastern Conference scout said.
“This isn’t a concern going forward because he’ll become a better shooter in the league, but for Arizona’s purposes Johnson isn’t a great perimeter shooter.”
Arizona’s main six-man rotation does not provide a lot of reliable perimeter shooting. They do, however, have York and Elliott Pitts filling into the next seven through ten guys.
York showed signs of improvement in the win over Cal Poly Pomona, but it’s a long season. The goal is to show consistency from deep. York has been dubbed Arizona’s best shooter by the media, his teammates and Miller. Last season, he took just under four threes per game and shot a 38 percent clip.
If he can keep up that level of shooting or even improve on it, Arizona is in a better position, but there’s always the worry about York’s defensive presence on the court. He has placed a lot of emphasis on improving defensively and has done well, but there is still plenty of room for growth.
The vision for Arizona is still clear. It is the odds on favorite to win the regular season conference crown for the second consecutive year.
On paper, Arizona is loaded. It has immense NBA talent, and the concerns truly are not for the regular season play or the Pac-12 tournament. The conference, barring Arizona, has regressed this year, and the Wildcats stand head and shoulders above every team in the Pac-12.
Come tournament time, they will have a target on their back. Arizona will be one of the top seeds and they are looking to break through and play in a Final Four that has eluded them for years.
The talent is there, Miller is the right coach and the team is ready to compete, but can Arizona win it all if there is no consistent three point shooting?