Since the U of A lost to Wisconsin and Duke was crowned at the end of the 2014-15 NCAA Basketball Season as well as the hiring of Bobby Hurley, there has been less attention on college basketball within the State of Arizona. So here are five developments to keep everyone informed as the countdown continues toward “Midnight Madness” in a little over five months.
Non-Conference Schedule– Year in and year out, there has been a major difference in approaches taken by the Wildcats versus the Sun Devils as to its non-conference basketball schedule. In prior years, the Sun Devils have almost guaranteed that a winning season would still keep them on the bubble for the tourney because of the weak strength of schedule, while the Cats have always been among the highest ranked for RPI. Well, the Hurley-era is changing that. The Sun Devils still are scheduled against some walk-over teams like Sacramento State and Houston Baptist. But other opponents include NC State, Marquette, Creighton, Texas A & M, UNLV, St Johns and even Kentucky! The Devils may suffer on the front end wins and losses but over the long-haul, this should help move the program into the upper echelon. As a side note, the Cats still have a fairly strong non-conference schedule, including Bradley, Michigan State, Missouri, UNLV and Gonzaga.
Coaching– We all know that Bobby Hurley has replaced Herb Sendek at the helm for the Sun Devils. But did you know that former Wildcat and current assistant coach Damon Stoudamire is leaving Tucson? He realized that he needs to be back in the same town as his two sons. He will be rejoining former Wildcat Josh Pastner as an assistant coach at Memphis. Stoudamire did tweet out that he will forever be part of Wildcat country but his sons must now be his priority. As for Sean Miller, he was named as the head coach of the U-19 Basketball Team for USA Basketball. Quite an honor and well deserved for the guy who has done the impossible by successfully replacing the legendary Lute Olson. Miller is filling the void created by Billy Donavan, who left Florida to coach the Oklahoma City Thunder. Dayton Coach Archie Miller, younger brother of Sean, will be joining as an assistant coach for the U-19 squad. The 2015 team will compete in the FIBA World Championships in Greece in late June.
Playing in China-The PAC-12 has announced that it will try to open each non-conference basketball season with one of its teams playing a game in China. This year, Washington will match up against Shaka Smart and his Texas Longhorns in early November in a game to be played in Shanghai. It is my guess that the Wildcats will soon be offered the chance to showcase its program to the Chinese people, one of the most fertile yet untapped markets for the College Basketball anywhere in the world.
Spring Recruiting– ASU overcame some obstacles from the University of Buffalo and were able to land 6’1” guard Shannon Evans as a transfer. He will bring his 15.4 PPG and almost 5 assists per game average to a team in need of some offensive prowess. As for the U of A, they lost out on its top spring recruits, with Ivan Rabb signing with Cal and Stephen Zimmerman deciding to “stay at home” and attend UNLV. Fortunately, the Cats had one of the top recruiting classes before the spring signings and still have Kaleb Tarczewski returning to fill the middle.
Rule Changes– The Rules Committee of the NCAA has recommended a number of rule changes. One that should serve well for the Cats and will likely fit in with Bobby Hurley’s style of play will be the reduction in the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds. Through the 1984-85 college basketball seasons, there was no shot clock at all. Lesser talented schools could literally win the opening tip and hold the ball for the entire 20 minute half. Schools like UTEP tried this on a number of occasions, including in the mid to late 1970’s against far more talented U of A Wildcat teams. For the 1985-86 season, the NCAA adopted a 45 second shot clock, and it was then shortened to a 35 second clock for the 1993-94 season. Teams have had to play basketball rather than play keep-away, and this change should further that goal.
Another rule change will be the cracking down on overly physical play as well as flopping as a game strategy. Again, this should serve teams with more talented rosters and therefore, will play well for the Cats. Further, there is a recommendation to extend the arc under the hoop from 3 feet to 4 feet. This should reduce the number of offensive fouls, something that has hampered the more talented Wildcats in past seasons with guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Nick Johnson before him. The committee also is recommending the elimination of one team time-out per game in order to speed up the game. This will hurt Sean Miller who, respectfully, is notably weak when it comes to this aspect of game management. Unlike the guy who coaches at Michigan State, it is not unusual for Miller to have no time outs left in the last few minutes of close games. Losing one of those time outs by rule change will only place a greater strain on the Cats’ ability to adjust in the final minutes of each game.
So, while we are five months away from the next season, here are five things that should help maintain interest until then.