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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Miller needs to tinker with his starting lineup even more

Rebecca Noble

Coming off a shocking four-point loss on the road against UNLV, Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller pulled a switcheroo and changed up his starting lineup on Sunday against the ASU Sun Devils. Stanley Johnson and Gabe York took a seat while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts were inserted into the first five.

In a move that drastically changed the dynamic of the team, Miller and company saw the lead balloon halfway through the first half against ASU. The noticeably bigger unit of T.J. McConnell, Pitts, Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski provided a bit more defensive muscle than the previous starting group.

That previous starting five of McConnell, York, Johnson, Ashley and Tarczewski had continuously started games sluggish — a topic which dominated UA press conferences early in the year — but looked to be on track at the start of recent games.

The real issues came when that group played together late in games. Far too often, players ball watched as Johnson and Ashley were forced to attack individually when play calls failed to come to fruition. As a result, the offense went through long dry spells where disjointed play was more the norm than fluidity. It was almost if the UNLV loss was just the tipping point.

After that defeat, Miller talked on being happy that the team lost — a statement that could be easily be misconstrued by the average college basketball fan. The real value of his words came from the coach speak that was hidden underneath his frustration.

Miller was pointing more to the fact the team was struggling in several areas and needed to lose to realize their mistakes. It’s easy to overlook issues when the wins keep coming. It’s much harder to ignore those same issues when the results start to show up on the right side of the overall record.

After Johnson put together a 13-point, five-rebound performance in the first half, Miller changed his lineup again by subbing out Pitts and inserting Johnson into the second-half starters, making the lineup considerably more physical than the two aforementioned lineups. The lineup of McConnell, Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, Ashley and Tarczewski is the starting group this reporter picked at the beginning of the year, for obvious reasons.

It’s easily the most talented starting five and gives the UA a physical advantage over just about everyone in the nation, especially when considering the defensive potential of the group. Each player is easily the best individual defender on the team at their respective positions.

In my opinion, that five should be the group that starts out the game. Sure, there are only so many shots that can go around, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to play defense when all five players can consistently score.

The one issue that could surface is a lack of bench scoring, since Hollis-Jefferson has been the biggest contributor to that mark. However, it’s not like Miller has to implement Kentucky-style subs where it’s five in, five out. He can easily continue his rotation of moving guys out anywhere from the 16-18 minute mark based on performance.

Not to mention the completely different look opposing defenses would see based on the sheer difference in playing styles between players such Johnson and York. For a coach in Miller whose bread and butter revolve around defense, this really should be a no-brainer. Add in the offensive potential and this is a full-fledged slam dunk.

As Pac-12 Conference play really begins to heat up over the next couple weeks, don’t be surprised if Miller tinkers with his lineup a la Ruxin from the popular fantasy football TV show “The League.” Let’s just hope he doesn’t follow Ruxin’s steps by tinkering on the toilet.


Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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