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Ex-coach Pennell: Miller’s teams play tough defense, like the 3-pointer

Former UA interim head coach Russ Pennell chats with Nic Wise at the NCAA Tournament.

Former UA interim head coach Russ Pennell chats with Nic Wise at the NCAA Tournament.

Former Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell has scouted UA’s new head coach for radio broadcasts, and he figures Sean Miller’s defensive scheme will be a good fit in the Pac-10.

Pennell was in an analyst’s role for Arizona State radio when Miller’s Xavier team played the Sun Devils in the 2007-08 season.

Pennell described Xavier’s style as tough defensively and, at least at the time, perimeter-oriented on offense.

Miller’s calling card is defense. Opponents shot only 38.6 percent against Xavier this season, the second time in five seasons that the Musketeers limited foes to less than 40 percent shooting.

Miller relies defensively on a half-court man-to-man scheme with principles borrowed from former Washington State head coach Dick Bennett.

Miller’s teams are intense on the ball, but the other defenders otherwise sag into the lane in help position. Miller’s goal is to prevent dribble penetration and second shots.

“They’re going to pack it in,” Pennell said. “They are going to pressure the ball, but the other four guys are going to pack it in and protect the lane and they are going to make you score over the top.”

Miller is a good friend of Arizona State coach Herb Sendek, who hired Miller as an assistant at Miami of Ohio and North Carolina State. (Sendek won’t be available to talk about Miller until Wednesday, according to the ASU sports information office.)

Pennell said Miller’s defense, philosophically, is similar to ASU’s, although the Sun Devils execute their strategy out of a zone.

“It’s kind of the wave of what the conference is going to, when you get down to it,” Pennell said.

“Washington State plays it. (Oregon State’s) Craig Robinson plays zone. (Cal’s) Mike Montgomery plays zone. Basically, you don’t take a lot of risks and you make teams hit a good percentage against you.”

Offensively, Pennell said recent Xavier teams “definitely liked the 3-point shot.” The Musketeers have played at a moderate tempo under Miller, similar to the Wildcats’ pace of last season. Not slow, not crazy fast.

“He had some guys who were pretty good slashers and could get into the lane and kick it out for shots. They were much more perimeter-oriented than inside-oriented,” Pennell said.

“(Former Xavier point guard Drew) Lavender kind of set up all those guys, attacking and kicking out to shoot the 3.”

Overall, Pennell said the Wildcats made a good hire. “I think they did well,” he said.

Pennell, who returned Sunday from the Final Four, said he has been in contact with other schools regarding their head coaching vacancies, although he declined to give specifics.

“I may know something in the next few days,” he said.

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