Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd begins first season against Northern Arizona

The Tommy Lloyd era at Arizona will begin Tuesday night when the Wildcats host Northern Arizona in the season opener for both teams in Tucson.

This is the first head-coaching gig for Lloyd, who spent the past 20 seasons as an assistant to Mark Few at Gonzaga.

Lloyd replaces Sean Miller, who was let go after his 12th season with one year left on his contract and the outcome of an NCAA investigation into alleged rules violations still pending.

Despite significant roster turnover after a 17-9 season, there is ample optimism for Arizona, which was fourth among “others receiving votes” in the preseason AP rankings.

Sophomores Bennedict Mathurin and Azuolas Tubelis are cornerstone talents with All-Pac-12 skills, expected to flourish in Lloyd’s more fast-paced offense. Christian Koloko, a 7-foot-1 center, appears ready to blossom as a rebounding and shot-blocking force as a junior. Promising sophomore Dalen Terry is an expected starter on the wing.

Tubelis is the returning leading scorer (12.2 ppg) and rebounder (7.1), and Mathurin, an athletic wing, averaged 10.8 points and shot 41.8 percent on 3-pointers (38 of 91).

Point guard is one area to watch with sophomore Kerr Kriisa taking over for ball-dominant James Akinjo, last season’s leading scorer, who transferred to Baylor.

But Lloyd built depth and versatility throughout the roster with transfers who will play key roles — Pelle Larsson (Utah), Justin Kier (Georgia), Kim Aiken Jr. (Eastern Washington) and Oumar Ballo (Gonzaga).

Larsson did not play in a Nov. 1 exhibition win over Eastern New Mexico after foot surgery in August, but he is probable for the season opener. He shot 46.3 percent from 3-point range as a freshman at Utah last season.

“I think as he starts playing more, we will experiment with some different lineups and smaller lineups with four guards out there,” Lloyd said. “I think we can be really effective in that, and I look forward to growing some packages to give us some lineup versatility.”

Northern Arizona, which went 6-16 last season, was picked to finish ninth in the Big Sky in a preseason coaches poll. Third-year coach Shane Burcar has seven returning players, including forward Nik Mains, who averaged 8.8 points per game last season while shooting 40.5 percent from behind the arc.

“These guys are the founding fathers to building this program,” Burcar said of his returning players. “They’ve been here, and we know them better going into year three. They know me better. They know the expectations.”

–Field Level Media