Clemson heads west to Tuscon, Arizona to take on the Arizona Wilcats this Saturday at 4PM ET. This is the type of out-of-conference game that we have been clamoring for in recent years. With the way that RPI is calculated and the weight that it holds with the Selection Committee, it's very beneficial to schedule marquee non-conference games. It also creates more excitement around campus and helps fans transition from a football to basketball mindset quicker.
I will caveat all that by saying that you don't need/want to schedule only marquee non-conference games. Games against regional mid-majors are important as well, as they result in more home games for the Tigers as well as more W's (thanks for nothing College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina). The game against Arizona is the first in a home-and-home series that will bring the Wildcats to Clemson next year. That's a win for the fans.
Arizona is led by head coach Sean Miller, who is a rising star in the college ranks. He turned down an opportunity to head to Maryland in the offseason and decided to stay in Arizona. Miller played PG back in the late 80's to early 90's for Pittsburgh. He held several assisant coaching jobs before landing his first head coaching gig at Xavier in 2004. At Xavier, Miller really made a name for himself. In his 5 years at Xavier he won 3 A-10 titles and 6 NCAA tournament games. He took Xavier to an Elite 8 and Sweet 16, respectively, in his last 2 years at the school. In 2009 he was hired to be Arizona's head man. The 2009-2010 season was a rebuilding effort (16-15), as Miller had to clean up the debacle that was the end of Lute Olson's career. Miller's 2010-2011 group had a breakthrough year. They won the Pac-10 regular season, made it to the Elite 8, and never lost a game at home all year (17-0).
This Arizona team, although talented, is not the same team that wrecked Duke's shop in the NCAA tournament last year. Derrick Williams is gone to the NBA as the second overall draft pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Also departing from last year's team is MoMo Jones, who transferred to Iona to be closer to his sick grandmother. He would've been Arizona's leading returning scorer if he had come back. Some speculate that part of the reason for his transfer is due to Arizona bringing in an uber-talented PG in Josiah Turner, which could've decreased his playing time.
And that brings us to this year's Arizona team. Let's start with Turner, who we just mentioned. Turner was left behind in Tuscon for Arizona's OT loss on Wednesday night at Florida. He was suspended by head coach Sean Miller for a violation of team rules. As of this writing, there has not been word yet on whether Turner will be available to play on Saturday against the Tigers. This would be a loss for Arizona. They played most of Wednesday's game against Florida with fellow freshman Nick Johnson handling the PG duties. Johnson is more naturally a SG (10.1 PPG), but was forced to play the position in Turner's absence.
Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry are co-leading scorers at 11.9 PPG, with Solomon Hill following closely behind at 11.6 PPG. Fogg is an excellent outside shooter, knocking down 45% of his 3's. Jesse Perry is a scrappy, undersized power forward who outworks his opponents. At only 6'7 he pulls down 9 rebounds per game in just under 32 minutes of action. Solomon Hill is probably the team's most versatile offensive threat. He is a 6'6 SF/PF hybrid with a bit of a throwback game. While he has the ability to knock down 3's and score inside, it's his midrange game that impresses me most. If we try to put Tanner Smith on him, look for him to take him down low. If we put Jennings or Booker on him, look for him to turn and face up. He's a bit of a matchup nightmare for us since we don't have the size or strength at the 3 to match Hill.
In order to keep up with Arizona we're going to have to play tough. Tougher than we've played all year. Booker and Jennings will have to find it inside them to match the physicality that 'Zona is going to throw at them. We'll need to be aggressive offensively. We can't just pass the ball around the perimeter for 30 seconds and chuck up a shot from deep. That doesn't work on the road, shooting on new rims, against a crowd that will grow more raucous as the shot clock winds down. We need to get into our offense sooner and try to score earlier in the clock.
After the way we've played so far this year I'm not expecting a W by any stretch of the imagination. I'm looking for overall improvement from a team that is lost right now.