This coming Friday coach Ken Bone will travel to Tucson, Ariz. with his Washington State Cougars (11-3, 1-1) to take on the Arizona Wildcats (7-7, 1-1). It will be his first Pac-10 conference road game as the new men's basketball coach in Pullman.
It's no secret winning a conference road game in the Pac-10 is a tall order. For that matter, defending your home court in this league is no small feat.
When Arizona and WSU hook up on the hardwood of McKale Center this Friday, both teams will share a lot in common.
The Wildcats are led by first-year coach Sean Miller who left Xavier to come west and take on the best coaches and teams in college basketball. Coach Bone didn't have to move west this past spring to take over the Washington State basketball program. Technically, he traveled about 300 miles northeast from Portland, lured by the same challenge that attracted coach Miller.
Both rosters contain just one senior. That's right, Nic Wise is the lone four-year man on the Wildcat roster. In terms of overall experience, Arizona has the edge considering they have junior Jamelle Horne .
Of the five sophomores at Arizona, only Kyle Fogg saw quality minutes last season. WSU clearly has an edge with Klay Thompson , DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers all getting starts last season. The difference in underclassman experience could partially explain the discrepancy in season records.
It would be silly to compare the heritage of the two respective college basketball programs. Arizona has a streak of 25 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament on the line. WSU was pleased to have back-to-back invitations two years ago and happy to play in the NIT last spring.
Simply put, and with all due respect to football coach Mike Stoops, Arizona is known as a basketball school. With that heritage comes different expectations from Wildcat Nation.
So when coach Miller was asked about whether or not "the streak" has an effect on his program, his response was patient and measured.
"I’ve answered maybe four or five hundred questions about 'the streak' and 'the streak' has no bearing on what we’re doing here at all. We’re just trying to become a better team. To develop our young team and go game by game and improve as the year goes on knowing that a year from now, two years from now and big picture three years from now we’ve made a lot of progress in all that we’re doing," responded coach Miller and in so doing, attempted to dismiss the question...again.
The fact both coach Miller and coach Bone took over their two teams following last season placed both at a recruiting disadvantage. Bone was able to retain recruits whereas Miller had to find young high school prospects with talent very, very late in the recruiting game.
He succeeded in finding student-athletes excited to be a part of Arizona basketball and in the process retained one of the best players on last season's roster.
"We were able to get Derrick Williams , Lamont Jones , and Solomon Hill very late in the game. It gave us what I would call a starting point. If we didn’t have those three players, I would say that Nic Wise wouldn’t have returned for his senior year." - Arizona coach Sean Miller
Just to put things in perspective about the state of Arizona basketball, Miller is now the fourth coach Wise has had in four years in Tucson. Horne is playing for his third different Arizona head coach.
Not exactly the model for consistency.
The imbalance of youth stocking the Arizona roster has resulted in mixed performances on the court. The 'Cats shot just 30 percent from the floor in their loss to USC. Two days later the same team came back and hit a very respectable 48 percent to defeat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.
Beating UCLA in Westwood should go a long way toward building confidence for the 'Cats. Add that to playing in front of their fans who will pack McKale Center to the rafters and the Cougs will have all they can handle Friday evening.
"The good news for us if you give us credit in any area? I don’t know if there are any college basketball teams who have played a more difficult schedule. I know Washington State is going to present so many of the same challenges that other teams we’ve played have presented. I just hope that our team’s experience playing in tough games can help us against them." - Coach Sean Miller
FSN Northwest will televise the Arizona - Washington State game in Tucson, Ariz. beginning at 5:30 p.m. PST this coming Friday. Of course, you can hear Bud Nameck call the game over the Cougar Radio Network.
Originally published in Lew Wright's WSU Sports column on Examiner.com