Having lost an All-American as well as his second-leading scorer, Arizona coach Sean Miller knows it might take a little time before his team begins living up to its potential.
Fortunately for the 16th-ranked Wildcats, they will get a couple more opportunities to improve before heading off to New York later this month to finish the 2K Sports Classic, including a home game against Duquesne on Wednesday night.
Arizona lost conference player of the year Derrick Williams to the NBA draft, where he was selected No. 2 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Sophomore guard Lamont Jones also transferred to Iona in May to be closer to his family.
Miller brought in four highly touted freshmen, but his remaining players all averaged 8.1 points or fewer in 2010-11. That transition has led to some rocky efforts, including an exhibition loss to Division II Seattle Pacific.
During their season opener Monday night, the Wildcats led Valparaiso by just two at halftime before going on a 16-3 run. They also allowed the Crusaders to cut a 20-point lead to nine in the final 2:38 of a 73-64 victory.
"We're not the 16th-ranked team in the country," Miller said. "Maybe at some point we can get to that spot, but we still have a ways to go."
Seniors Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry will try to aid the Wildcats' progress by building on their solid season debuts.
Fogg scored 16 points Monday while making five of seven shots and six of eight attempts from the free-throw line. Perry recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Nick Johnson chipped in 14 points and six assists off the bench in his collegiate debut.
"I think we played a great game until the last four minutes. This falls on the leaders of the team, and we have to work on this," Fogg said. "We will play better on Wednesday."
During this 2K Sports Classic game, the Wildcats will face a Dukes team that's making its season debut.
Arizona will wrap up play in the tournament with two games at Madison Square Garden from Nov. 17-18. Before leaving for New York, the Wildcats will face Ball State on Sunday, a game that's not part of the Classic.
"These early games give us the opportunity to learn," Miller said.
Duquesne, picked to finish ninth in the 14-team Atlantic 10, is also seeking to replace its top two scorers.
The Dukes are hoping last year's conference freshman of the year T.J. McConnell can help carry some of that burden. The guard was the nation's only freshman with more than 300 points, 125 assists and 75 steals in 2010-11.
Arizona is facing Duquesne for the first time since scoring a school-record 133 points in the first round of the 1987 Great Alaska Shootout. The Wildcats lost in their first three meetings with the Dukes from 1948-51.