Last night was a tough one, no question about it. But now the Tigers have to move on and get ready for another challenge tonight against the Arizona Wildcats. This will be another great opportunity for Auburn to show what they’re made of and to try and quickly bounce back from last night’s loss to Duke. A 3rd place finish, with a 2-1 record (with that 1 loss coming to the best team in the country and only by 6 points) would be nothing to be ashamed of. That said, prior to the Maui Invitational, I talked with Ryan Kelapire of AZ Desert Swarm to learn more about the Wildcats. My thanks to Ryan to taking the time to answer my questions.
With guys like Deandre Ayton, Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier no longer in Tucson, there’s a lot of new faces on Arizona’s roster this year, how have the new pieces fit in so far?
It’s hard to say. Arizona’s first three opponents were Houston Baptist, Cal Poly, and UTEP, so it’s hard to accurately gauge how good they actually are. The talent level is lower this year, though, so this team won’t be as good as last year’s.
How would you assess the Pac-12 as a conference basketball wise? The league seems to have struggled in recent years, similarly to the SEC a few years ago.
There are usually a few good teams (Oregon, UCLA and Arizona generally) in the conference and the others are average at best. Washington was thought to be a Pac-12 title contender this season, and you saw what happened when they played Auburn, so that pretty much sums things up. The Pac-12 will be lucky to get four teams in the tournament this season. Maybe even three. It’s unfortunate because it wasn’t that long ago when it was an elite conference in college basketball.
Freshman guard Brandon Williams is off to a great start this year. How important is he to Arizona this year and how do you see him faring in a potential matchup with Jared Harper and Bryce Brown?
He is expected to be one of Arizona’s top two scorers, and he is the most talented player on the team, in my opinion. The craziest part is he has 16 assists and zero turnovers so far. I’m actually really interested to see how he fares against major-conference guards, since Arizona hasn’t faced anything like that yet this season. Arizona needs Williams to play well to have any chance of winning.
Nothing would surprise me, though. He’s had his fair share of freshman hiccups early on.
Who is one other Arizona player Auburn fans should know about leading up to this tournament?
Brandon Randolph. He seems to be making the freshman-to-sophomore leap that everyone always talks about. He didn’t play much last year because Trier and Alkins were ahead of him, but now he plays major minutes and is lighting up the scoreboard, which is what many expected would happen. He was a highly-touted recruit of high school, after all.
While Randolph is extremely athletic, his jumper is the best part of his game, though he has been better at the rim this year too, thanks to some added strength. Like Williams, Arizona probably needs Randolph to have a good week to have any success in Maui. The offense might not be good enough without him to survive.
What is your expectation of how well Arizona performs in the Maui Invitational?
There really is no expectation. There are so many new faces and Arizona hasn’t played anyone yet, so they could go 0-3 or 2-1 and no one would be surprised. The overall talent level is lower than usual this year, though, so I tend to believe they’ll go 1-2.
If Auburn and Arizona meet, how do you see that game playing out?
Not very well. Arizona is still learning how to play together, and I just don’t think they’re ready to beat a team like Auburn yet. At the end of the year that could be different, but they still have a lot to sort out.
My thanks again to Ryan for taking the time to answer my questions and we’ll have more later on today for a 10:30PM start.