Through the opening weekend of play at the FIBA U19 World Championship in Greece, a few Western college basketball programs have reason to be excited for the 2015-16 campaign.
Team USA, coached by Arizona’s Sean Miller, opened the tournament Saturday with a 30-point rout of Iran. The Americans followed it up Sunday with a 22-point blowout of a Croatian team expected to compete for a medal.
In both contests, Miller employed an aggressive defensive style designed to heighten the games’ tempo. The Americans pressured man-to-man almost full-court, trapping where applicable and switching with rotation seamlessly on screens and cuts.
The defensive rotation style somewhat mirrors the philosophy Miller’s friend and Lute Olson disciple Steve Kerr utilized in the Golden State Warriors’ run to the NBA championship.
While Miller’s Arizona teams have typically been sound defensively — the Wildcats were the third-ranked defense nationally per KenPom.com’s adjusted metrics last season — this style seen in Greece could take Arizona to another level.
The Wildcats’ most vexing issue in recent years is a tendency to fall into long scoring droughts. They made strides in 2014-’15, but Miller’s approach defensively with Team USA should translate into further improvement for Arizona’s scoring come 2015-’16.
Team USA is turning its tenacious defense into quick points. The squad’s depth certainly helps the Americans, just as it did Kerr’s Warriors. Likewise, Miller’s Wildcats next season feature one, if not the deepest roster the coach has had in his time in Tucson.
The early stars keying this Team USA strategy are a trio of 2016 prospects: Josh Jackson, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum. All have another season of high school basketball and recruiting processes ahead of them.
But their Pac-12-bound U19 teammates — UCLA center Thomas Welsh and Arizona swingman Allonzo Trier — have laid solid foundations for their own coming college seasons.
Welsh’s surprising maturation over the course of preliminary workouts carried over into a pre-tournament friendly last week against Argentina. The Bruins big man notched nine points, six rebounds and two blocks in an American win.
The frontcourt tandem of Welsh and upperclassman Tony Parker is central to UCLA’s pursuit of a Pac-12 championship in 2015-’16.
UCLA must contend with two-time reigning league champion Arizona, which reloads with a bevy of talented newcomers like Trier, expected to complement key returners Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York.
Arizona athletic trainer Justin Kokoskie, who is also working with Miller on the U19 team, told the Arizona Daily Star‘s Bruce Pascoe of Trier:
“He knows when to step up and when not to. He’s a very coachable kid, very polite, does everything you ask. I think he’s got some leadership qualities that can help us this year.”
The freshman Trier figures to play a significant role in Arizona fending off an improving Pac-12, including Welsh’s Bruins.
In the meantime, however, the Pac-12 rivals are united in their pursuit of a different championship.
One of the Americans’ primary competitors for Gold, Team Canada, was paced in each of its two weekend wins by players who will be look upon to lead NCAA Tournament-aspiring teams in the American West come autumn.
UNLV-bound wing Jalen Poyser scored a team-high 22 points in the Canadians’ blowout of Tunisia Sunday.
After a disappointing 2014-’15 season, UNLV will rely heavily on the influx of talent from the nation’s No. 10-ranked recruiting class this offseason. Poyser is perhaps overshadowed by 5-star center Stephen Zimmerman and 4-star small forward Derrick Jones, but Poyser may well be the X-factor in leading the Runnin’ Rebels back into Mountain West Conference contention with San Diego State.
Team Canada’s hero in a 74-71 win Saturday over Australia, Dillon Brooks, played a key role for the Oregon Ducks in his freshman season, averaging 11.5 points per game
His 22-point game against the Aussies — which included the early highlight of the tournament, a vicious, two-handed dunk in traffic — could serve into a nice springboard for a sophomore campaign in which Brooks will help fill the void Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young leaves in Eugene.