First Look: Northern Arizona University

NAU has lost in the Big Sky Tournament championship game the past two seasons. With three starters gone from last year's group, just making it to this year's championship game would be an incredible accomplishment. The Lumberjacks have a great coach who runs a great system. They've played Arizona before and although they haven't beaten the ‘Cats, they're surely not intimidated by them.

I'll be providing a sneak peak into all of Arizona's 31 opponents over the next few weeks. It won't be much, but should be just enough to wet the appetite.

School: Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

Location: Flagstaff, AZ

Conference: Big Sky

Last Season: 18-12 overall, 12-2 Big Sky (t-1st)

Last Meeting: 2006, Arizona won 101-79

Next Meeting: McKale Center, November 13, 2007

Head coach Mike Adras has brought consistency to NAU in his eight years with the program. His career record of 129-105 is respectable, especially considering that the Lumberjacks under Adras have never shied away from strong competition. This season is no different as they face Arizona and Kansas on the road while welcoming in Pepperdine, UNLV and Western Kentucky to their 15,000-seat Walkup Skydome arena.

This year's team will look and play much differently then the one Arizona outscored last season. Gone to graduation is their athletic perimeter trio of Ruben Boykin (16.4 ppg), Tyrone Bazy (15.8 ppg) and Stephen Sir (15.1 ppg). NAU still returns seven though and two of those were starters. They'll rely heavily on the experience of returnees Ryan McCurdy and Josh Wilson. McCurdy will handle thing down low while Wilson is a shifty point guard who is not much of a scorer but can set up his teammates with the best of them. In fact, Wilson's 2006 average of six assists per game was good enough for him finishing ninth in the nation in the category.

In 2006, the Lumberjacks were a perimeter-oriented team. This year, McCurdy will get help inside from senior Kyle Landry and sophomore Nick Larsen. Junior College transfer Jermaine Bishop is expected to contribute right away but will have to wait as injuries have plagued him during summer and early fall workouts. The word is he may not be able to go until December so the Wildcats don't have to worry about him when the two teams play.


Chance of winning: 15%

It's the home opener for Arizona and McKale will be rocking. Basketball season can't start soon enough on campus so the fans will be ready. While NAU is talented inside, they don't play anyone taller than 6-9 or bigger than 220. If Arizona's Kirk Walters is healthy enough to play, he'll have a tremendous size advantage that should lead to a few easy buckets. More importantly, the combination of Jordan Hill and Walters inside will give the Wildcats too very capable shot blockers that could present just enough of a challenge to fluster the Lumberjacks inside the paint. On the perimeter, NAU is talented but inexperienced. Even with freshman Jerryd Bayless at the point, the backcourt match up clearly favors Arizona. Bayless, Jawann McClellan, and Chase Budinger will be able to rise up and shoot over any NAU defender which should minimize the effectiveness of NAU's preferred zone defense. Wildcat faithful are expecting a lot more out of Arizona on the defensive end in 2007 and this will be their first opportunity to showcase what they've learned in the off season.

Expect Arizona to win, and win big.

Early Prediction: UA 91 NAU 64

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