The 16th-ranked Arizona Wildcats open up their 108th season of basketball, as they play host to the Valparaiso Crusaders as part of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
Sean Miller is in his third season at the helm of Arizona. Miller had a highly successful sophomore campaign in 2011, as the Wildcats racked up 30 total victories, won the Pac-10 regular season title and made a run to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight.
The Crusaders had a strong 2010-11 campaign as well, posting a 23-12 overall record, including 12 wins within the Horizon League. The win total was the most in 10 years for the program. However, the team is now under new management as the school's most decorated player, Bryce Drew, takes over for his father Homer Drew, who has retired.
This is just the third time these two teams have met on the hardwood. Arizona won the other two meetings, a 90-51 rout in the 1996 NCAA Tournament and then a 74-70 decision in the championship game of the 2001 Fiesta Bowl Classic.
The Crusaders were solid in Homer Drew's last season with the school, but Bryce Drew will be hard-pressed to get this team to reach last year's win total, with just two starters back. The team will be led by 6-7 Ryan Broekhoff. The swingman tallied 10.3 ppg a year ago and led the Crusaders in rebounding (5.2 rpg). Those numbers should definitely increase this season with him becoming more of a focal point offensively. Broekhoff has the height to battle inside, but he is also a dangerous perimeter threat, hitting .448 from behind the arc. Help should come in the form of 6-8 forward Kevin Van Wijk, who shot a solid .536 from the floor last season in limited action. He is slated to start this year and his numbers should improve as his time on the court increases. Guard Erik Buggs (3.1 apg) will factor in as well.
Last season, All-American Derrick Williams did it all for Arizona, as the star forward posted 19.5 ppg and 8.3 rpg en route to being the second pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Williams' departure leaves a huge void at both ends of the floor for Arizona. The two most obvious candidates to assuage the loss are senior guard Kyle Fogg and junior forward Solomon Hill, as both enter with plenty of experience. Fogg scored 8.1 ppg last season and will need to shoot the ball better (.373 field goal efficiency). He did lead the team with 99 assists and will certainly spearhead the attack this season. Hill posted 8.0 ppg last season but obviously took a backseat to Williams in the frontcourt. Hill should be more of a factor up front and will get help from 6-7 senior Jesse Perry (6.6 ppg) and key reserve Kevin Parrom (7.6 ppg).