2016-2017 Season Review:
Arizona went 32-5 overall and 16-2 in conference play last season, winning a share of the Pac-12 regular season title with Oregon and winning the conference tournament, but they had to overcome adversity to do that. Ray Smith Jr., a former five star recruit, suffered his third ACL tear and decided to call it quits. To make matters worse, Allonzo Trier missed the first half of the season because of a positive PED test. Despite those obstacles, Sean Miller’s crew found itself on the two seed line on Selection Sunday. They beat North Dakota and Saint Mary’s before falling in the Sweet 16 to #11 seeded Xavier.
The Wildcat’s biggest loss is without a doubt one and done Lauri Markkanen. The seven footer, who was the seventh pick in the NBA Draft, was second on the team in points per game at 15.6, first in rebounds per game with 7.2 and hit a team high 69 three pointers. His 69 threes were 25 more than anyone else on the squad. The Wildcats will miss both his size and his ability to stretch the floor. Arizona also loses Kadeem Allen to graduation. The 6’3 guard put up 9.8/4.0/3.0, in addition to getting 1.6 steals per game. Allen was one of the best perimeter defenders in the country during his tenure at Arizona. Kobi Simmons decided to leave Arizona after just one season for the NBA Draft. Simmons was an ultra athletic guard that started until Trier returned to the lineup. He averaged 8.8 points and 2 assists per game. Chance Comanche also declared for the NBA Draft after only two seasons. The 6’10 big man averaged 6.3 PPG and 3.6 RPG. Both Simmons and Comanche went undrafted.
Allonzo Trier made the decision to return to Arizona for his junior season. He only played 18 games last season after missing the first half because of a suspension, but he made his presence known in those games. The 6’4 guard has a great knack for scoring, shown by his 17.2 PPG and 39.1 three point percentage. Trier also grabbed 5.3 RPG and dished out 2.7 APG. He will be the go to scorer next season and the guy Sean Miller looks to to make big plays.
Another key returner in the backcourt is Rawle Alkins. Alkins is a strong 6’5 sophomore-to-be guard that was second on the team in threes last season with 44 and averaged 10.9/4.9/2.1. He’s another guy that has the ability to score at will, thanks to his strong frame and ability to hit shots. Parker Jackson-Cartwright, a 5’8 senior guard, led the team in assists last season with 4.1 per game. With so many guys that can score around him, Sean Miller will look for PJC to be the distributor for the team. In the frontcourt, the Wildcats return 7 foot senior Dusan Ristic, who shot 55.6% from the field and averaged 10.9 PPG and 5.5 RPG. They also return 6’9 senior Keanu Pinder, who saw limited minutes last season but could see an expanded role in 2017-2018.
Sean Miller brings in 247Sports’ third ranked recruiting class, which is headlined by DeAndre Ayton. Ayton, a seven footer, is the third ranked player in the 2017 class. Ayton’s physical tools (he has a 7’5 wingspan in addition to standing seven feet tall) allow him to dominate down low, although he is a bit unpolished when it comes to finishing and posting up. He also has the ability to hit mid range shots
Emmanuel Akot is another five star recruit in this class. The #20 player in the nation, Akot stands 6’7 and is very athletic. His jump shot is inconsistent, but he can handle the ball, attack the rim and he has the ability to dish the ball out. Akot has a high motor and has the ability to be a lock down defender. Brandon Randolph is a 6’6 SG that is the #36 ranked player in the 2017 class. Randolph is a long, athletic prospect who’s greatest strength is to hit shots from deep. Ira Lee, the #57 rated player in the nation, is a 6’8 big man that has a high motor. He’s a bit undersized for his position, but he is one of the best rebounders in the 2017 class. Rounding out the 2017 recruiting class is Alex Barcello, a 6’2 PG who is ranked #84 in the 2017 class. Barcello can hit shots from the outside and can control the ball at the point. In addition to the incoming freshman, Dylan Smith, who transferred from UNC Asheville, will be eligible to play this season. Smith , a 6’5 guard, averaged 13.8 PPG and hit 81 threes in his freshman season at UNCA.
Arizona is #1 in most of the way-too-early top 25 polls and the hype is warranted. Sean Miller has an army of talented pieces, both in the front court and back court. There’s size, athleticism, shot makers, pure scorers and an established star in Allonzo Trier. Miller will have tons of possible talented rotations, so it will be interesting to see which ones he goes with and how they work out. One question mark I have for the Wildcats is if someone can step up and take control of the point. With so many scorers, they need someone that can run the offense and set those guys up. That makes Parker Jackson Cartwright a “x factor” for this team. Like all teams that have this much talent, it also will be important to watch how all these guys play together. Arizona hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2001 and hasn’t won it all since 1997. A lot can change from now until March, but at this point I’d say anything less than a trip to San Antonio would be a disappointment.