TUCSON Life even at 4-1 isn't all that grand for Sean Miller and his Wildcats.
But it should get better.
Last week's loss to Mississippi State dropped the Cats from 16 to 23 in the polls, not that it matters much. What do rankings mean in November mean anyway? At this time of year, coaches are looking for progress. Going against 5-1 San Diego State on Wednesday night in McKale Center should provide just that in as much as the Aztecs likely are the best team UA will face to this point in the early season.
Miller is looking for "patience and maturity" as UA moves forward.
"We're fortunate to be 4-1," Miller said, "but if we were 5-0, to me, I'd look at that as overachieving."
Through five games, Miller is seeing progress in many of the newcomers in freshman guard Nick Johnson (the most), Angelo Chol (the middle) and Josiah Turner (gradual). Sidiki Johnson? Well, that's to be determined (more later).
"Each game and each week of our season the team gets better," Miller said.
The upside is there's still plenty to learn being so young. The downside is, well, they're still young. And will be that way until they mature and mesh at some point. If, of course, that happens at all.
Already, Miller has had to deal with a disciplinary problem in freshman Sidiki Johnson, who earlier this week was indefinitely suspended from the Wildcats team for unspecified reasons. As far as we know, this is the first real problem Miller has encountered since becoming the head coach 2 years ago. And it's not clear how serious Johnson's situation is.
It's never a good point in the season to be dealing with team issues, but if there's a time to deal with it, it would be at the beginning of the season with a freshman. Either he'll get it, or he won't. And if he doesn't, well, he won't play. It just makes it more difficult for a height-deprived team like Arizona, even with the return of senior 7-footer Alex Jacobson.
It appears now, Arizona will be looking to go with undersized senior Jesse Perry 6-foot-7, 217 pounds in the middle more. The problem is that Perry doesn't know but 20 percent of the plays at the position. And, Miller said he wants to be "organized" as he starts to go with a smaller lineup.
"I don't think that's the answer for 40 minutes, but for us, carving out a period of time where he will play the five not only puts Jesse in a different role but it allows us to play some of our best players with Jesse," Miller said. "That's what we're all trying to do as coaches, put that best group out there."
So, expect a small lineup most of the time. Thus, expect inconsistency until later in the season. Arizona will have to be the team that showed up to play St. Johns more often, hitting 3-pointers at a crazy rate (14-29) and playing strong perimeter defense. Just don't expect that to happen all the time.
But there are improvements. Figure that Turner, who just a couple of weeks ago was struggling to find his footing at UA, showed promise while returning home to the New York area. Turner averaged 8.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. Not every game will be in New York. Swagger or not, he'll have to learn how to play perimeter defense. Actually, most of them will.
"Josiah, Kyle Fogg, Brendon Lavender, Kevin Parrom, Nick Johnson - we have a lot of depth in our backcourt but each of those guys has to get better and we have to do a better job as a coaching staff to get them to keep their man in front, and not give up dribble penetration because when you (allow drives), bad things happen to your defense," Miller said.
"If we had great size some of those drives wouldn't cause the problems they cause. Part of what we're working on with Josiah is to continue to make him better on defense. But I was pleased with the progress he made. I hope it's a starting point for him."