For Arizona's newcomers led by four stellar freshmen and Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, the No. 12-ranked Wildcats' exhibition opener Wednesday night against Humboldt State may not feel like much of a debut.
But the returning Wildcats found out last year that a contest against a Division II opponent is not necessarily a guaranteed victory. In a loss that head coach Sean Miller said helped set the tone for a rocky season, the 'Cats dropped a 69-68 decision to Seattle Pacific.
The team went on to miss the NCAA tournament and finish 23-12 after dropping its first-round NIT game at home against Bucknell.
"Anyone who was apart of last year's team - although, that game was a great learning experience - it was kind of a dark day of reality," Miller said.
"We had a very low starting point, and there were a lot of reasons behind it. I do think that our starting point this year is higher, but we've talked a lot about being ready for every game that we play - including our first game, which is Humboldt State."
So, expect the Wildcats to treat the game more like a regular-season opener.
Miller said the exhibition will allow him to distribute minutes to those who have earned it through the summer and the "highly competitive" practices leading up to the 6:30 p.m. tipoff at McKale Center. That also means some players will find out where they stand on the depth chart and battle for playing time, at least to this point.
But the fourth-year head coach is not expecting to please all of his players, adding that the idea is to figure out "truly where we are."
"One of the things I'm really curious to see, from an attitude and team chemistry perspective: role definition," Miller said. "How well players accept the role that they've earned - and not been given."
However, Miller said the starters and playing rotation will not necessarily remain the same by the Nov. 6 exhibition against Chico State, and certainly not when the Wildcats take the floor Nov. 11 against Charleston Southern in the regular-season opener.
Among the goals: "Learn, teach and improve," all the while building momentum between now and the start of the 2012-13 campaign.
"I think that's the best way of doing it," Miller said. "Hopefully, we can get off to a better start this time around."
Humboldt State, located in Arcata, Calif., posted a 22-8 record and captured the California Athletic Association tournament championship last season.
The Lumberjacks (1-0) defeated Pacific Union, 87-45, to open the season Oct. 25. Ethan Dillard was one of three Lumberjacks to score in double figures, leading the way with 16 points.
Arizona knocked off Humboldt State, 60-51, in the final exhibition tune-up prior to last season.
Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor