Title Odds: +2500
Odds c/o Bovada
The Arizona Wildcats are taking a bit of a schedule-detour from the way it usually goes: The Cats begin the season with a collection of cream-puff opponents that should both bolster their record and give the team some much needed time to gel. “We’re not rebuilding,” coach Sean Miller insisted. That is a bit of a falsity: Arizona lost 61 percent of its scoring and a cast of seniors.
The team is now (very) young, inexperienced, and it is desperately in need of some big wins against the likes of Sacred Heart and Cal-Bakersfield—and so on. The early season coasting will benefit Arizona.
In the meantime as the Wildcats rack up some ‘Ws,’ we will do our best to guard against expecting too much from Miller’s team. Last season Arizona went from being a 34-win team to a 25-win team in 2015-16.
There is likely some more regression to come.
Wichita State blew them out in March, and the team only got worse. To make matters worse for its graduating class, none of them were selected in the NBA Draft. There is only one senior on the team who may start (Kadeem Allen), and he is not even likely to be a huge minutes type of guy. Miller said the “strength of the schedule is good, we’re just going to have to go about it in a different way.”
That sounds like rebuilding, but keep pushing whatever narrative you may, Mr. Miller.
The Cats are likely to go with a small-ball lineup this year, which will be a departure from using a traditional 5-man as it has in the past. That is not to say the roster is devoid of them: Dusan Ristic and Chase Comanche are 7-foot and 6’11”, respectively, and Ristic has a good outside shot despite his defensive shortcomings. Comanche is said to have NBA talent, but it certainly did not show last season when he averaged under two minutes per game.
Freshman Ray Smith tore his ACL in both knees the last two offseasons, but he has undeniable talent if he is anything close to healthy (he is not). He can shoot the ball well, and he has a nice size advantage, but it is all for naught if he is unable to get on the court, and he has no track record of doing so. Freshman Lauri Markkanen is a nice stretch-4, but he may very well be better suited for the NBA. He is considered a possible first round pick, but he is not a center nor true big despite being 6’11”.
Rawle Atkins and Allonzo Trier will split time at the 3-spot, and Trier is the team’s leading returning scorer having avearaged 14 per game a season ago. He played shooting guard mostly last year, and at 6’5” he may be slightly undersized to man the 3 full-time.
The point guard spot is also loaded with uncertainty, even more so than the precarious and odd arrangement of talent in the front court. Parker Jackson-Cartwright is a good shooter and passer, but he is tiny and is definitely not 5’11”—he may be 5’9”. He will be worked by the bigger guards from the better programs, but at least he can compentently run a team offensively, and that is a start.
Freshman Kobi Simmons will steal plenty of his time, though he is mostly a combo guard without the natural playmaking skills of Jackson-Cartwright.
Pick your poison, basically.
Kadeem Allen is the team’s best defender and best guard, and he started 28 games last season while averaging 8.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, knocking down 36 percent from three-point range. The Cats will need Trier to make another jump from his standout season last year. He started 21 of 27 games as a freshman and he is one of the best players in the Pac-12. He will, at a minimum, keep the Cats in games.
But keeping Zona in games is not the hallmark of championship basketball, and this team is not really in contention this year. Miller’s rehtoric be damned: This team is rebuilding. There is talent as usual, but the team lacks experience and the program has been slightly declining the last few seasons. Even with seven incoming freshman, the Cats need some more recruits to build around and some genuine bigs that can stay healthy.