Concordia Thoughts

Yesterday, the Cats tipped off their season unofficially with their first exhibition against the Stingers from Concordia. However, they did it in a way that the players, fans, and community didn't expect, a way that was completely different than how things usually go with an Arizona Wildcats basketball game.

Most of us are used to seeing coach Lute Olson on the sideline, pacing up and down the bench, stomping his foot in disbelief at times, drinking his cup of water. However, that wasn't the case yesterday as coach Lute Olson has taken a leave of absence from the basketball program. The longevity of the absence is unknown, but people close to the situation claim he'll be back soon.

Despite, knowing that their coach, their leader, wasn't manning the sideline during their game yesterday, the Cats came away with some positive things in their game against Concordia, along with some negative things. However, those positive things outweighed the negatives. Let's take a look at some of those:

+. The play of Jordan Hill. Hill got off to a tremendous start in yesterday's game, scoring 10 of the Cats first 16 points as they got off to a fast start against the Stingers. Most of his points came off of thunderous dunks after being set up tremendously by his teammates, but he did show the ability to hit the midrange jump shot, which is something he worked on excessively during the offseason. Expanding his offensive game will only open up more opportunities for himself and his teammates throughout the season. Hill also grabbed a team high seven rebounds, but also picked up three fouls in twenty seven minutes. Against better competition, Hill is going to have to improve on remaining out of foul trouble.

+. Jawann McClellan's play. Despite playing unmotivated during the Red/Blue scrimmage, McClellan had a nice bounce back game against someone other than his teammates. McClellan scored 13 points on a very efficient 6-11 shooting, while grabbing 6 rebounds. However, it was McClellan's defensive intensity that was noticed most. After Concordia made a mini-run in the 2nd half, thanks to some perimeter shots, McClellan took over the role of guarding their best player, Dwayne Buckley. McClellan's defensive prowess and intensity really bothered Buckley from then on after Buckley torched Arizona's Chase Budinger earlier in the second half.

+. Assist/Turnover efficiency. In yesterday's game, the Cats committed just 7 turnovers compared to 14 assists, 8 of which came from point guard Jerryd Bayless. While 14 assists doesn't seem like too many, a 2:1 assist/turnover ratio is something the Cats can look at and take positives from. Last year, the Cats turned the ball over nearly 14 times a game (13.8), so to see them improve on that, even in an exhibition game, is a definite positive; especially when they are giving the bulk of their point guard minutes to freshman Jerryd Bayless.

+. Jamelle Horne's performance. Despite shooting just 1-3, and 5-8 from the free throw line, the play of freshman Jamelle Horne cannot be ignored. Despite coming off the bench, Horne still played 28 minutes and compiled a very nice 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 block stat line. Horne played with a large amount of energy and passion which was displayed during his performance. The Cats haven't seen that kind of enthusiasm since the days of Hassan Adams and Richard Jefferson. With the starting power forward position still up in the air, Horne may have an inside track to that spot if he continues to play like he did on Sunday. The Cats love his athleticism, which could lead to Horne being Arizona's starting power forward come next Tuesday.

-. Free Throw Shooting. The Wildcats shot 75% from the free throw line last year, which was good enough for third best in the Pac-10 conference. Yesterday, against Concordia, the Cats got to the line 19 times but only converted on 11 of them, shooting a very pedestrian 57.9%. The Cats going to play in a lot of tight ballgames this year given the difficulty of their schedule, which will magnify the need to make free throws. I fully expect them to improve on this number, but it's definitely not a way you want to start off your season.

-. Allowing Offensive Rebounds. Despite getting 11 offensive rebounds yesterday, the Cats still allowed 12 to a team whose biggest player is 6'7. The Cats had a distinct advantage in the height area, but still managed to allow 12 offensive rebounds. Like the free throw shooting, I expect this to improve as the coaching staff will continually preach toughness, which should lead to better rebounding numbers. Once again, the Cats are facing a very difficult schedule, which will magnify the need to not allow a large amount of offensive rebounds like they did yesterday versus Concordia.

-. Perimeter Shooting. This was something that plagued the Cats during last season. They were third worst in 3-point shooting percentage (34%), and things didn't show much improvement yesterday as they shot 5-15 from behind the arc. Their best shooters, Chase Budinger & Jerryd Bayless, combined to shoot 3-11. The Cats are going to rely on their shooters this year with the lack of inside talent, so this is another number that's going to need to improve. They missed a lot of open looks yesterday, looks that interim head coach Kevin O'Neill feels will fall in the future.

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