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Know Your Foe: Arizona Wildcats Edition

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NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I recently caught up with Brian Pedersen from SB Nation sister site Arizona Desert Swarm to do a little Q&A about the Arizona Wildcats basketball team and his take on their new coach, players, and season so far.

The Utah Utes (8-8) take on the #6 ranked Arizona Wildcats (13-1) on Saturday, January 15 at 6 pm MT on the PAC 12 Network.

1. Arizona just underwent a pretty big coaching change after parting ways with Sean Miller after 12 seasons and hiring Tommy Lloyd, what are the biggest differences you are noticing so far and what’s your overall take on his performance thus far?

Brian Pedersen: “Sean Miller and Tommy Lloyd are night and day when it comes to their approach, their style, their demeanor, pretty much everything. Miller was much more in-your-face with the players, and during games was incredibly vocal and never stopped moving, while Lloyd kind of casually strolls the sideline and doesn’t get too animated. Miller’s style was very regimented, almost to a fault, and handicapped his best offensive players, while Lloyd’s is very free-flowing and doesn’t involve set plays for individuals.

As for how he’s done? You couldn’t have asked for a better start to reinvigorate a program that had gotten stale over the last few years.”

2. Arizona began the season projected to finish tied for 4th in the PAC 12, currently, they are 13-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play, how are the expectations for this team changing in Tucson?

“Lloyd definitely got lucky in that he inherited a starting lineup that is all back from last season, though it helped that he was able to convince Kerr Kriisa to come out of the NCAA transfer portal. Miller’s last bit of recruiting almost unintentionally formed a roster that better fits Lloyd’s European-centric style, so these guys have adapted very quickly, and that’s definitely raised expectations.

But with Arizona fans, that can often be a bad thing. Everyone gets compared to Lute Olson, who went to 3 Final Fours and won the 1997 national title. Miller got to 3 Elite Eights but couldn’t get over the hump, and it won’t be long before the fanbase starts to expect Lloyd to get to a Final Four. Maybe not this year, but quite soon.”

3. Pelle Larsson made a big switch and transferred from Utah to Arizona, what’s been the attitude to him so far?

“Pelle got off on the wrong foot—pun intended—by missing nearly all of preseason recovering from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his left foot. He’s played in every game but has been inconsistent, particularly with his passing and decision-making, though he had 12 points and 5 rebounds against Colorado for his second-best performance of the season.

Lloyd is still very high on him, he just wants to see more from him on the offensive end. Defensively, Larsson has been great and is probably second on the team behind Kriisa in terms of charges drawn.”

4. Who is the key player for Arizona to watch and what is the biggest strength and weakness for Arizona?

“More like key players. Arizona has had 4 different starters lead the team in scoring and last week against Washington had 3 score 20 in a game for the first time in 13 years. Bennedict Mathurin is the best overall player, in terms of athleticism and scoring punch, while the frontcourt duo of Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis are very agile for big men and can run the floor. Then there’s Kriisa, the point guard who is also the emotional leader and who can go for 15-plus one game and then have 10 assists the next night.”

5. Prediction Time: I would ask you to make a prediction on the game but given Utah’s recent trend I’m not too confident. However, what is your prediction for Arizona’s season (i.e.- PAC 12 Championship, Sweet 16, NCAA Champions)?

“Winning the Pac-12 regular-season title looks very doable now that UCLA and USC have shown some flaws, and Las Vegas has always been good to Arizona so a conference tournament crown is also attainable. Getting to the second weekend of the NCAA tourney also looks like it should happen, but after that it’s all up to matchups.

Something to remember: Lloyd just came from Gonzaga, which reached the NCAA final a year ago, so he knows how to win in March/April.”