Behind enemy bylines with The Daily Wildcat

McClain Baxley

The Georgia Southern men’s basketball team travels to Tucson, Arizona for their most marquee matchup since 2015 against Duke. Ahead of their battle with Arizona, The Daily Wildcat’s sports editor Alec White gave his thoughts on the cross country tout.

Has the NCAA investigation aura passed or has it still had an effect on this year’s team?

As it relates to the players on the team, I don’t think it has had an affect at all. None of the current players on the roster have been named in any of the FBI’s finding during the investigation, nor were they named in any of the first three federal trials in October.

But there is still a cloud that hangs over the program itself, especially with the trial of former assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson set to take place in April for bribery and fraud he was charged with. Sean Miller still faces regular questions about the investigation at press conferences and mainly deflects them. However, the support Miller has gotten from UA president Robert Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke has gone a long way to dispel the notion that Miller’s job is in jeopardy.

So in summary, I don’t think it affects the team’s performance on the court, but there is still some uncertainty regarding the future of the program.

What were some of the biggest takeaways from the Maui Invitational?

The positive takeaway is that this Arizona team going to compete hard for 40 minutes every night. They aren’t the most talented group Miller has coached, but their effort level is certainly meeting expectation. Not many expected the Wildcats to win multiple games in Maui but they proved they can challenge some of top teams in the country (Gonzaga, Auburn). The ‘Cats had a 12-point lead in the second half against the now-No. 1 team in Gonzaga and trailed No. 8 Auburn by only four points with under eight minutes in the second half. In both games talent and experience from the opposition prevailed, but Arizona didn’t go down easy.

The negative takeaway is that Arizona doesn’t have a very deep roster. Sean Miller has used 9-10 players in his rotation each game, yet only 4-5 have been consistent difference makers. The bench players averaged under 7 points per game during the Maui Invitational. The key contributors have been guards Justin Coleman, Brandon Williams and Brandon Randolph, as well as center Chase Jeter. After that, there’s a lot of question marks.

How does Sean Miller and the team approach games against non-power five teams, like Georgia Southern?

For as young and inexperienced group as the Wildcats are, I don’t expect Miller to change his strategy much. He expects every game, no matter the opponent, to be a test for his team and for his guys to compete like it’s a conference game.

The one strategy change I could see Miller making is trying to run offensive plays for players that have struggles in recent games to help them build confidence before they travel to UConn Sunday.

I would expect him to try to get bench players Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Dylan Smith more playing time, especially if Arizona has a large lead in the second half.

Through the first four games before Maui, the Wildcats didn’t allow 70 points. Is it more on the lack of competition or the talent of the UA defense?

I would attribute it to the lack of competition. Arizona has shown that it wants to be more active defensively by closing out quicker, taking charges and trying to force turnovers which has helped them hold opponents to lower scores. But statistically speaking, they are an average, ranking 59th in KenPom adjusted defense.

What should the Eagles expect as far as a home court advantage Thursday?

Looking at Georgia Southern’s schedule, this looks like it will be the toughest environment the Eagles will have to play in this season. Even though Arizona isn’t a powerhouse team this year and won’t have the same rowdy crowd, McKale Center should provide a difficult challenge for GS.

It’s always fun to see how opposing players react when the student section tries to disrupt their concentration during free throws and counts down the shot clock either too early or too late.

What’s your prediction for the game?

80-64 Arizona

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Sports Editor, [email protected]