The Cats aren’t as good as BYU. What else is new?
Photo by Douglas C. Pizac/US Presswire

If the BYU game was your first look at the 2010-’11 Arizona Wildcats basketball team you’re probably not too excited about transitioning full-time into college hoops season.

Hang in there. It’s not as bad as it looks.

The end of the football regular season wasn’t as positive as last year but the Stoops Cats certainly weren’t boring. Sudden losing streaks might get people talking even more than winning streaks.

But the basketball season is in full swing. Pac-10 play starts the day after the Alamo Bowl so it’s time to get up to speed on Sean Miller’s second team.

Once again, we are here to help.

What did I miss?
In terms of upsets, nothing. The BasketCats are 8-0 against the bad teams they’ve played and 0-2 against the good teams. So in terms of figuring out how good this team is, you haven’t missed anything there either.

How are the freshmen looking?
There are two scholarship freshmen this year. Jordin Mayes is the only one playing and he’s the back-up point guard. He has a lot of potential but he’s showing typical freshman inconsistency. Case in point, Mayes is shooting better from 3-point range (43%) than free-throw range (39%).

Are the returning players any better?
Solomon Hill has shown significant improvement. He is second on the team in minutes, points, rebounds and assists. All his shooting percentages are up and he’s already made more 3-pointers than all of last year. Hill does need to give up on the one-handed lefty dunk attempts. If God only gave you one good dunking hand, use it.

But the guy who has gone from Great to Superstar is Derrick Williams. The 2010 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year has joined WSU’s Klay Thompson as the frontrunners for the 2011 conference Player of the Year. Williams is shooting 65% from the floor, 78% from the line and 71% from behind the arc.

Wait, what was that last one?

When did Derrick Williams become Steve Kerr?
That’s been the most eye-opening aspect of Williams’ development. He’s always been dangerous around the basket and adept at drawing fouls. But now he’s got range out to 21 feet? Just lethal.

When is Sean Miller going to tighten his rotation to seven guys like Lute did?
The distribution of minutes could change once conference season starts but I wouldn’t count on it. Coach Olson would always start the season saying he was going to play 10 guys and press for 40 minutes but by the time Pac-10 play started the same six or seven players would get all the court time.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with this year’s Arizona team. The second five guys are getting extended looks, often times playing together as a unit. All 10 players average at least 13 minutes a game and no one is over 30 minutes per game thus far. This truly does look like a 10-man rotation with each guy bringing a little something different to the table.

How does the Pac-10 look this year?
Better than last year, but still not great. There haven’t been a lot of nominees for best wins. You’ve got USC over #25 Texas, and Cal over previous-ranked Temple.

Washington is the only Pac-10 team in the polls. The Huskies have played some tough teams – Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M – but they haven’t beaten any of team. Other big almost-wins include UCLA just under Kansas, and Oregon falling slightly to Missouri. And yes, if you’re ranking a conference’s moral victories then you don’t have a very strong conference.

Give it to me straight: Start of new NCAA Tournament streak?
It’s possible but it’s going to be tough with this schedule. Winning at North Carolina State is crucial and then the Cats are going to have to post a big win total in Pac-10 play. This team’s RPI isn’t going to be high enough to sneak in with 19 or 20 wins. The key is going to be avoiding things like getting swept by Oregon State again.

With only one senior this year and elite recruits coming in, next year’s team is going to be incredible, right? Derrick Williams is going to win the Hoops Heisman!
Not so fast, Lee Corso’s friend. Word has definitely gotten out about Williams’ greatness, so enjoy the dunking Steve Kerr while you can. But, if you want to hold out hope, an NBA lockout could be very good to the Wildcats

Has anything changed with the long-term prognosis of the Arizona basketball program?
Not at all. If anything the timetable has been sped up. Sean Miller continues to do everything right. He teaches defense first while still pushing the ball and scoring points. He benches starters when they don’t play hard and it took him all of 19 months to prove he can recruit the West Coast.

Even though it’s hard to see with the light schedule (and the BYU game) this team is better than last year. Next year will be even better and the year after that could be really good.

It is safe to dive into the basketball season. Even if the 2011 Wildcats don’t break the one-year NCAA tournament drought a Pac-10 and national contender is being built.

Enjoy the process.

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Scott Terrell would love to watch Derrick Williams, Steve Kerr and Salim Stoudamire play H.O.R.S.E. Take a shot at him on Facebook and Twitter.