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Next Up: Arizona

As the Wildcats make a rare trip to the Triangle

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Dartmouth v Duke
 DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 6: Sean Stewart #13 and Jared McCain #0 of the Duke Blue Devils react during the game against the Dartmouth Big Green at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 6, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 92-54.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Date 11/10 || Time 7:00 || Venue Cameron Indoor Stadium || Video ESPN2

We’ve talked a lot about Duke’s coaching transition with the Blue Devils moving from the Mike Krzyzewski era to the still-new Age of Scheyer.

There are some schools that have been through similar transitions like UNC, UCLA, Kentucky and Indiana.

We never really talked about Arizona in this sense though and it’s an interesting case.

When Lute Olson got to Arizona, there was no tradition. The joke on campus was that the basketball gym was the quietest place you could study.

He changed that and stayed at the U of A for 25 years. His program was rock solid. Olson’s record was 589-187 at Arizona and he sent multiple players to the NBA, including Steve Kerr, who is now the immensely successful head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

Things got a bit sticky at the end. Olson took a leave of absence in 2007 and began to show inexplicable personality changes. It’s hard to summarize everything that went off the rails, but he filed for divorce from his second wife and then Olson, who had always been as even-tempered as any big-time coach, got publicly ugly with his assistants. It’s too much to get into here, but it was pretty obvious that something was wrong.

Later his doctor revealed that he had had an undiagnosed stroke that led to depression and some changes in his personality. He spoke at a press conference and said that he had recommended Olson retire. Olson didn’t attend the presser but did retire.

It was not Olson’s fault, but this was a period of real instability for Arizona. The Wildcats had an interim coach, Russ Penell, who finished 21-14 in his only year.

Clearly the transition could have gone better.

Sean Miller was hired the following season and while that seemed like a reasonable hire at the time, Miller would get caught in the Adidas/FBI scandal in 2018 which would ultimately cost him his job in 2021. It was also a far cry away from the class and dignity that Olson brought to the job.

Arizona hired Tommy Lloyd away from Mark Few and Gonzaga and he’s been a huge success. No one has ever won more games in his first two years than Lloyd.

This year, he has his deepest team and, given his sensational international recruiting when he worked for Few, it’s no surprise that Lloyd has eight international players on his roster. And not surprisingly, given the nature of the game today, he’s had a lot of turnover: only two players are back from his first U of A team.

Here are his likely starters:

  • 6-2 sophomore Kylan Boswell.
  • 6-4 senior transfer from UNC Caleb Love.
  • 6-5 senior Pelle Larson.
  • 6-7 grad student transfer Keshad Johnson.
  • 7-0 senior Oumar Ballo.

It’s an intriguing lineup.

Boswell is a solid point guard who came off the bench last year. He was a Top 25 players as a senior and could be poised for a big jump.

Love is certainly the best known Wildcat for Duke fans. He certainly had some ups and downs at UNC and after he left Chapel Capel Hill last spring, expressed some real unhappiness about how things ended and in particular his relationship with coach Hubert Davis.

He seems happier in Tucson though and it’s entirely possible that Lloyd could unlock his potential better than Davis did. And Love has said very nice things about Tucson and the program while Lloyd has expressed happiness with how Love has fit in. They’ve only had one game so far but no one has complained about Love being a ball hog or anything like that that we’re aware of.

Larsson has been a successful sixth man for Arizona and an occasional starter. It’s always nice to have experienced seniors.

Johnson transfers from San Diego State where he averaged 7.7 ppg and 5 ppg and as you may remember, San Diego State played brilliant defense last season. He’ll be an asset.

Ballo started at Gonzaga before following Lloyd to Tucson. He’s roughly the same height and weight as Duke’s Christian Reeves, but Ballo is far thicker. When Arizona played Creighton and Ballo squared off against Ryan Kalkbrenner, Ballo shot 14-17 for 30 points and pulled down 13 boards.

For the year, he averaged 14.2 ppg and 8.6 rpg. He shot 64.7 percent - no threes here, none at all - but only managed 56.5 percent from the foul line.

It’s hard to garner a lot of information from Arizona’s win over Morgan State, but eight players got to double figures. Morgan State had 25 turnovers, but you can’t really tell if it’s because the Bears were that bad or Arizona’s defense was that good. Sixteen of those turnovers were steals, so full credit for those.

Lloyd also played 11 guys at least 13 minutes, which is something he’s reportedly hoping to continue.

A small note about Morgan State: you may remember that Todd Bozeman coached there for some years. Before he took that job, he was at Cal, where he inherited the head coaching position after Lou Campanelli was fired mid-season. He and freshman star Jason Kidd pulled off a notable upset of Duke in 1993.

He was forced out after a scandal and later ended up at Morgan State from 2006-2019.

Very sadly, Bozeman’s son Blake was murdered in September and understandably, it hit him very hard.

Blake was one year old when Cal upset Duke.

Can Arizona upset Duke?

Well, first, it won’t be an upset like Cal’s was. Arizona is ranked #12, it’s a talented and physical team and Lloyd has shown he has coaching chops. And it’s a homecoming of sorts for Love, who had some great moments against Duke for the Tar Heels.

And of course we don’t know yet if Mark Mitchell, who sprained an ankle, will play, but not having him would hurt. Update - he’s listed as questionable for both Arizona and Michigan State.

All that said, people who don’t follow Duke closely won’t understand Duke’s backcourt depth. They’ll be able to run multiple people at Arizona’s guards. And if Jaylen Blakes can defend against Arizona the way he did against Dartmouth, life will be tough for whoever he’s up against.

Whatever happens, props to Jon Scheyer for scheduling this series with Arizona. It’s definitely a game Duke could lose, but it’s going to be vastly more interesting than playing the Big Green.