Cats still have lots to learn in Miller’s defenseby Anthony Gimino on Nov. 05, 2009, under Sports
When I asked Arizona freshman basketball player Kevin Parrom last month what was the emphasis of coach Sean Miller’s workouts before the official start of practice, he said this:
“Defense, defense and more defense.”
Defense comes first for Miller, but, as Wednesday’s 92-76 exhibition victory against Division II Augustana showed, the Wildcats’ defense still has a long way to go.
That’s OK. It was only the first exhibition, and Arizona has five freshmen. Everyone knows that high school stars aren’t asked to major in defense in high school. It takes time for them to learn once they hit college.
Take, for example, freshman forward Solomon Hill. He’s 6-foot-6 and working his way down to about 225 pounds, able to play the wing or power forward spot. But he has passing skills more often found in a veteran point guard. That part of his game is well developed.
“Clearly, a very intelligent player,” Miller said of Hill.
“He just has a great eye. He sees the floor. He can really think the game. He is a smart player. Solomon’s ability to see the court and pass for someone his size is something that is clearly the best thing that he does.
“Defensively, he has a ways to go, which is something to be expected.”
There’s that defense thing again.
The progression of this team on defense should be fascinating. Defense was Miller’s calling card at Xavier.
But be patient.
Senior guard point guard Nic Wise is playing in his fourth defensive scheme at Arizona. Junior Jamelle Horne has learned the man-to-man defense of Kevin O’Neill, the 1-1-3 zone of assistant Mike Dunlap and now the man-to-man “pack-line defense” of Miller.
The young guys are just learning.
To summarize with way too much simplicity, the most important thing with the pack-line defense is pressure on the ball. You saw that against Augustana. Watch for it in future games. Arizona’s guards will really hound the ball-handler. On Wednesday, they chased Augustana players near midcourt as the Vikings tried to set up their offense.
The goal of the defense isn’t to get a bunch of steals and overplay the passing lanes — Miller’s Xavier teams were below average nationally when it came to forcing turnovers — but this is a keep-things-in-front-of-you defense that, in theory, makes offenses grind and score over the top for a low shooting percentage.
That’s why allowing 17 points in the paint in the first half to Augustana was a sign that Arizona has work to do. So, too, were the 17 fouls the Wildcats committed in the second half.
“When you foul as many times as we did in the second half, it’s a function of a lot of things — being out of position, being physically dominated at times,” Miller said.
“When you look at that, that is certainly a concern. … Some of our younger players were just out-physicaled in the second half, which leads to fouling.”
Arizona will get there. It doesn’t have a go-get-it rebounder — we already miss Jordan Hill — but UA can compensate with team defense and boxing out, which wasn’t much in evidence Wednesday.
But don’t worry. It was only the first exhibition.
Anthony Gimino can be reached at anthonygimino (at) gmail.com