It wasnít just the fact that they needed a late surge to pull ahead of Valparaiso of the Horizon League. It wasnít just getting the jitters out on opening night or replacing star Derrick Williams. After being crowed one of three teams in the Pac-12 championship hunt (along with UCLA and Cal), Arizonaís early offensive struggles, limited inside presence or poor transition defense will slump down to being more of a middle-of-the-pack team instead of heading back to the Elite Eight or Sweet Sixteen.
Donít get me wrong, it was indeed the seasonís first game and coach Sean Miller must figure out how to replace one of the top two or three players in all of college basketball from a year ago, but Arizona looked awfully inconsistent against Valparaiso in their season-opener. Beginning with their backcourt play where Miller has one of the top talents in the freshman class, Josiah Turner- the young guard looked lost throughout the game. The turnovers, poor decisions and ill-timed shots all begins with him. He was disappointing to say the least as he overpenetrated one time after another, challenging defenders with a right-handed drive and scoop shot, only one of which kissed the glass for a bucket; the other three rimmed out and he forced one situation resulting in an offensive charge.
Staying on the offensive end, Arizona lacks a true big man, an inside presence to keep defenses honest. Instead, the Wildcats can get the ball into Kyryl Natyazhko, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson all they want without the defense feeling the need to leave Arizonaís shooter on the perimeter in help D. Jesse Perry, the long, athletic 4-man, may be that one exception, but he is a high-energy guy, not a fundamentally sound post threat. Derrick Williams was constantly an threat from both inside and out, opening up driving lanes with his versatile play.
Although the defensive intensity was good and certainly got better with the energy, hustle and pressure brought by Arizonaís guards, the defense as a whole was not so great, especially in transition. Facing a more talented team, Arizona is going to get hurt badly over and over. There was not much transition defense after a made bucket or a missed shot as Valparaiso routinely got the ball out into 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 breaks.
Through 40 minutes of basketball, there were two bright spots moving forward - Kyle Fogg answered the question of who was going to pick up the scoring left behind by Williams and transfer MoMo Jones and Nick Johnson, Turnerís freshman backcourt mate, who serves as an underrated playmaker and the teamís best outside shooter.