First Look: UMKC

Lute Olson loves to play non-conference teams who present similar challenges of opponents the Wildcats will face during Pac-10 play. With this in mind, scheduling UMKC makes perfect sense as they'll provide the Wildcats with offensive sets similar in style to Wazzu and ASU. Arizona should win, but will have to play sound defense while remaining patient on offense in order to get the victory.

A sneak peak preview of all 31 Arizona opponents continues with an inside look at the UMKC Kangaroos.

School: UMKC Kangaroos

Location: Kansas City, MO

Conference: Summit (previously the Mid-Continent)

Last Season: 12-20 overall, 6-8 Mid-Continent (t-5th)

Last Meeting: No previous games played.

Next Meeting: McKale Center, November 19, 2007

The Kangaroos will make their second stop in the state of Arizona with a trip to Tucson after taking on Northern Arizona in Flagstaff on Nov 17. UMKC is led by first year head coach Matt Brown who started his coaching career under Billy Donovan at Florida before spending his last 10 years as an assistant to John Beilein at both Richmond and West Virginia. Therefore, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Brown's team will run an offense very similar to the one employed by West Virginia, which is a four-out motion with plenty of screening and cutting. Defensively, the Kangaroos will mostly play a one-three-one zone that's designed to cause turnovers by pressuring the point and trapping in the corners.

UMKC returns only two starters from last season's squad when they competed in the Mid-Continent Conference against foes such as Valparaiso, Oral Roberts, Western Illinois and Oakland. Valparaiso has since moved to the Horizon League, leaving only eight Summit Conference teams available for postseason play. Newcomers North Dakota State and South Dakota State will play a full league schedule but will not participate in the conference tournament until next season.

UMKC is led by senior Brent Stephens who averaged 9.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last season. Stephens is a duel threat at either guard or forward, which makes him a perfect fit for Brown's four-out motion offense. He's a banger with great athleticism and will pose a difficult match up for Arizona, defensively. The other returning starter is 6-4 junior Dane Brumagin who heaved a team-high 170 three-pointers last season, making 60 for a respectable .353 percentage. The duo will be joined in the starting lineup by Tim Blackwell who transferred in from Creighton last year. Brown says Blackwell is the best shooter on the team and will be called upon to stretch defenses with his long range ability. Last season he took 105 shots beyond the arc, making 37. In the new offense, both of those numbers are expected to rise. Akeem Hemingway will take over point guard duties after red-shirting last season. The 6-0 junior is a good ball handler and a great defender. Like West Virginia, UMKC will run an offense that values every possession by taking care of the ball and taking good shots. Although Hemingway is inexperienced, Brown has full faith in him to limit turnovers while setting up his teammates. In the middle, UMKC will ask two players to split time at the five spot. 6-8 senior Jeremiah Hartstock is athletic and long, and capable of stepping outside to hit the deep shot; a necessity in the four-out motion offense. He'll be joined by 7-1, 270-pound center Alex Pledger who hails from New Zealand. Pledger blocked a team-high 31 shots last season while averaging 5.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He was asked by Brown to develop a hook shot in the off season, which he apparently did.

Jakub Jurczak, a 6-10 junior, will be called upon for valuable minutes this season and could crack the starting lineup if he continues to develop. Kenny Simms, a transfer from Florida International, is another big body (6-9, 250-pounds) who can finish inside. Despite being hired in April, Brown was able to hit the recruiting trail long enough to land three talented freshmen to round out the roster. They are Spencer Johnson, James Humphrey and Reggie Hamilton. Of the three, Johnson has showed the most promise in adapting to the college game. He's already proven to be a strong defender in workouts and if he can show the same results in games, his 6-6, 200-pound frame will be utilized at both the three and the four.


Chance of winning: 5%

West Virginia has given the UCLA Bruins fits the past two seasons and Brown will try to produce those same results against another Pac-10 foe in Arizona. The problem Brown faces with his new team is the four-out motion offense is not easily implemented and while Beilein has turned West Virginia's offense into a well-oiled machine over the years, the Kangaroos are just getting their first taste of it. Brown spent most of the off season teaching the offense and hopes that the team is clicking come conference play. Fortunately for Arizona, the Wildcats get the Kangaroos early.

Arizona has not faired particularly well against zone defenses in recent years as they've lacked the jump shooters to make opponents pay for backing into a zone. This season, a healthy Jawann McClellan will be licking his chops when UMKC comes to town. Another benefactor will be Chase Budinger who has worked hard over the summer to develop his touch from long range. Inside, Jordan Hill & Co. will have their hands full with the 7-1 Pledger. Still, the baseline and especially the short-post will be wide open and should provide Hill with enough room to showcase his new and improved mid-range jumper.

Brown expects to follow in the mold of Florida's Donovan by randomly employing a full-court press out of timeouts and off of made free throws, but it'll be interesting if he tests the waters against the quicker Wildcats. If he does, it could spell trouble as it would be more productive to force Arizona to hit the outside shot, consistently, rather than give up easy transition baskets after they break the initial press. As for Arizona, they'll be challenged on defense by the relentless cutting and screening of the Kangaroos when they have the ball. This should help prepare Arizona for stiffer tests later in the season against teams such as Washington State and Arizona State who utilize a similar motion offense. With Arizona's added focus on defense this season and UMKC's propensity to run a ball-controlled offense, the Wildcats should win but it won't be the high-scoring blowout everyone's expecting unless Arizona finds a way to torch the nets.

Early Prediction: UA 71 UMKC 55

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