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Arizona basketball: Let the battle for minutes begin

Mark Lyons

Xavier transfer Mark Lyons will play his first official game for Arizona on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics.

In the Arizona Wildcats’ two exhibition basketball games, none of the team’s 10 available scholarship players was on the court for more than 27 minutes or fewer than 13.

That balance won’t last long.

Arizona is getting ready for Sunday’s season-opener vs. Charleston Southern (4 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), and Sean Miller will be doling out playing time in more unequal measures.

The good news is that he has quality depth. Each of those 10 guys probably thinks he should be playing 25 minutes-plus each game. That math doesn’t add up, with only 200 minutes available, which is creating furious competition in practice.

“I think we have a pretty good grasp of who deserves what right now,” Miller said at a Friday news conference.

Miller is keeping the pressure on his players when he doesn’t commit to playing everyone.

“I have always played nine players,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean we’ll play nine this year. Maybe we’ll play eight. Maybe we’ll play 10. It’s determined on a daily basis way more than it is determined by how a particular player is doing at the beginning of a game.”

The starters from the exhibitions probably won’t change. Expect to see point guard Mark Lyons, shooting guard Nick Johnson, small forward Solomon Hill, power forward Grant Jerrett and center Kaleb Tarczewski.

The situation in the post could be fluid, with freshman Brandon Ashley and sophomore Angelo Chol battling for time with the other two freshman big men. Miller noted that if he makes a change up front in the lineup, it doesn’t mean that one player is struggling; the other might just be deserving of a reward.

And Miller might be more apt to look for the best matchups, too, depending on the opponent.

“I can imagine that through the course of a long season that we can change the lineup of our frontcourt,” he said. “We’re counting on all four of those guys to play. That’s one of the strengths of our team to this point.”

Hill will get at least 32 minutes in games that are tight, and Lyons almost certainly will eat up the majority of minutes at the point. How the minutes break down after that is open for discussion.

Miller can be a mad scientist with a deep, flexible team as he seeks the right combinations.

We’ll find out Sunday how it all looks against Charleston Southern, which lost its season-opener 68-58 at Charlotte on Friday night.

“You can always sense when a team is tired of playing against each other, and we’re at that point,” Miller said. “I do think that we’re ready.”

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