NOTE: Subject to change depending on status of Allonzo Trier.
Head Coach: Sean Miller
Overall Record: 25-9
Conference Record: 12-6 (tied for 3rd in the Pac-12)
2015-16 Pomeroy Rating: #19 (2nd in the Pac-12)
2015-16 Sagarin Rating: #28 (3rd in the Pac-12)
Overall Off. Adj. Efficiency: #20
Overall Def. Adj. Efficiency: #29
Overall Scoring Average: 80.4 ppg (3rd)
Overall Scoring Defense: 68.9 ppg (3rd)
Conference Scoring Average: 82.4 ppg (2nd)
Conference Scoring Defense: 72.2 ppg (6th)
Arizona was originally slated to be projected as 3rd in the Pac-12 for the 2016-17 by this site. Then, Allonzo Trier’s eligibility issue arose — now confirmed as a real issue by his absence from last night’s exhibition game against College of Idaho. Beyond that, though nearly as crucial, Arizona probably won’t be able to count on much from Ray Smith, who, sadly, looks like a perpetually fragile kid, and maybe not much from Chance Comanche in the short term (Miller suspended “indefinitely” for academic issues), though one would expect that, given the Trier and Smith situations, that Comanche will be back with the team sooner rather than later.
The key piece here is Trier — because even taking the very talented newcomers that Sean Miller has brought in for this season — Trier was really the only proven elite player on that roster. If Trier is truly out, that means that Arizona will have to rely on some improving upperclassmen and a couple breakthrough newcomers to make up for what would be the loss of Arizona’s top four players from last season’s 3rd place (tied) finishing team. With the loss of Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Ryan Anderson, Mark Tollefsen and Justin Simon (to transfer), this is what Arizona expects/expected to have back (eligibility concerns in italics):
These five, on their own, would have actually made a pretty decent starting five, particularly given the way Allen and PJC have started to emerge as higher level players; but you remove Trier from that list, it has all kinds of problems.
Moreover, that group was supposed to be supplemented by perhaps the best crop of newcomers in college basketball this side of Durham: Terrance Ferguson, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen and Ray Smith returning from an injury. Well, Ferguson never made into school (instead opting for overseas ball) and Ray Smith looks like he may never contribute in college basketball. Markkanen looks for sure like an early impact guy, but Alkins and Simmons are less certain, based on their struggles with outside shooting.
The Back Court:
We had been expecting big progress from Kadeem Allen based on what we saw of him from the Pac-12 All-Stars tour in Australia, where Allen was the leader of the team in terms of physicality and poise. Allen looks poised for a big year. But it’s tiny Parker Jackson Cartwright (PJC) who has really surprised in the pre-season at point guard. PJC just plain looks quicker, more explosive and far more confident at the point. He looks like he’ll get the bulk of minutes at point guard; while Allen will get his time playing as a combo guard.
The big question from what we have seen is what to do about Arizona’s top recruit, Kobi Simmons. So far, and mind you Simmons is a true freshman, but he looks far, far behind where PJC and Allen are as a lead guard. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll be able to take over the primary point guard duties this season. However, the possible loss of Trier now leaves a spot open for Simmons on the perimeter to be another combo guard backing up PJC and Allen.
Rawle Alkins’s physique is off the charts; he’ll be one of the strongest players in the country. He played well so far, hitting layups on drives to his left, and also knocked down a couple open outside jumpers in the scrimmage, though he was 0-3 from 3-point range in the exhibition game. As of now, if you guard Alkins on his jumper, it’s probably not going in.
Obviously, if Trier plays this season, all bets are off. Trier is a very strong, lengthy, mature shooting guard who confidently hit shots from the outside and will fearlessly drive to the basket. He’s clearly Arizona’s best player. With him, in a best case scenario, the Cats can probably compete with Oregon for the conference title. Without him, the Cats still have the talent to have a great season, but there will be a hole around the perimeter.
The Front Court:
The straightforward plan is to replace the departed Kaleb Tarczewski and Ryan Anderson with Markkanen and Ristic, who are probably both superior offensive players. Ristic may be the most skilled post player in the conference. If he gets the ball from eight feet and in, he’s very tough to stop from scoring; he does not have outside range however. Markkanen, who the national media is going crazy over following his breakout performance in international play this summer, simply cannot be left open; he will murder you from the outside if you give him space. He can also offensive rebound and score around the rim. On the other hand, opposing teams don’t really need to double team him in the post; he doesn’t really have a skill set for that.
Unfortunately for Arizona, neither Markkensen nor Ristic will guard the rim, which could be a major issue … similar to the type of thing UCLA experienced last season. Last leaves Chance Comanche, who is a better (though not elite) defensive post player but who lags in offensive productivity, Ray Smith, who we doubt will contribute, and surprise newcomer Keanu Pinder, an under the radar juco originally from New Zealand. Pinder is a Jerry Dupree type: long, bouncy, but not much of an offensive skill set. Unlike Dupree, though, he appears to have his head screwed on straight, and plays very hard. At this point, Arizona will be relying on Pinder far more than Miller probably expected.
If Trier plays, we are putting Arizona back to the original spot we had for the Cats: second place to Oregon. If Trier doesn’t play, we will have to re-evaluate. An Arizona team without Trier means that the Cats will be without their top four players from last season, and will be forced to rely on less heralded players who have mainly served in complimentary roles: guys like PJC, Allen and Ristic.
There is still talk about Markkensen blowing up and maybe being the top freshman scorer in the conference; but without Trier, we don’t see that happening. Without Trier, Miller probably focuses like a laser on defense, and tries to grind out wins by being the toughest team in the conference. A Cats team sans Trier may be more like a third, fourth or even fifth place finisher.
G Parker Jackson-Cartwright
G Kadeem Allen
W Alllonzo Trier (Rawle Alkins)
F Lauri Markkanen
C Dusan Ristic
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