Arizona Adjusting to Life Without Lottery Picks

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 3rd, 2015

Arizona went to the Wooden Legacy tournament last weekend as one of two ranked teams, seemingly on a collision course with Michigan State for a meeting in the title game on Sunday. Instead, they looked only slightly less awake than your average relative post-Thanksgiving dinner in their opening round overtime win over then-winless Santa Clara, then looked exceedingly average in a loss to a Providence team that played almost half the game without star Kris Dunn due to foul trouble. A Sunday bounce-back against Boise State did little to mask the fact that this is not your typical Arizona team, as these Wildcats lack the star power, athleticism and overall upside we’ve come to expect in Tucson.

Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen Form The Core Of An Atypical Arizona Team (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen Form The Core Of An Atypical Arizona Team. (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

When we previewed Arizona in the preseason, we detailed that for once, this is an Arizona team that is without not only an NBA lottery prospect, but also a surefire NBA draft pick. Stanley Johnson, Aaron Gordon, Derrick Williams? Nope, not a guy like that to be found here. Still, this is Point Guard U, right? They’ll at least have a savvy floor general to calm everything down? Not yet. Instead, Sean Miller has been forced to choose between a 5’8” facilitator in Parker Jackson-Cartwright and a JuCo transfer off-guard making the transition to the point in Kadeem Allen. And the elite lock-down defense of the past three seasons in the desert? Miller will certainly get plenty out of this team on that end, but there are no obviously great individual defenders at this juncture, both on the perimeter and in the paint. This isn’t a team that can win by overpowering opponents in any singular way, and the Arizona coaching staff has already accepted it. “One of the things we’ve learned is that room for error and that margin, that gap we experienced the last couple of years isn’t there right now,” said Miller on Friday night after the loss to Providence.

The other big thing that Arizona needs to find this season is an offensive go-to player. Down two on Friday night with 27 seconds left, somehow the best option available for the Wildcats out of a timeout was a pick and roll with Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic. It didn’t end well. Senior transfer Ryan Anderson has been great out of the gate for the Wildcats, averaging 17 points and 11 boards in his first five games while establishing himself as a true team leader. Still though, he’s a guy who is either going to get his points when plays are run for him, or off offensive rebound put-backs. Freshman guard Allonzo Trier came in as a five-star recruit, but has struggled to earn Miller’s trust early. However, because he and Allen appear to be the only guys capable of creating offense off the dribble, Miller might have to give him a ton of rope. And to his credit, Trier is, by all accounts, earning that rope. “Allonzo continues to get better,” said Miller on Sunday afternoon. “He works really hard and gets at it every day. There is nobody on our team who invests more in becoming a better player. Allowing him to play through the mistakes is a good thing.” By allowing him to play through mistakes and (hopefully) learn from them, Miller is hoping he enables his team to play its best ball down the road.

Allonzo Trier Has Had Bumps Early In His Freshman Season, But Possesses Offensive Upside (Mark J. Terrill, AP Photo)

Allonzo Trier Has Had Bumps Early In His Freshman Season, But Possesses Offensive Upside. (Mark J. Terrill, AP Photo)

And therein lies plenty of the reason for hope. No, there aren’t going to be any future lottery picks suddenly walking through the door. But Trier will get better as he adapts to the college game, just as Johnson did last season. Allen will improve at the point with more reps under his belt. And defensively, you can bet that Miller will find a way to get the most out of this group. Allen was singled out for praise from Miller for his play on Sunday. “We really talked about him being a lockdown defender. He has tremendous talent defensively,” Miller said about Allen after the game on Sunday. That talent amounted to harassing perimeter defense, a few steals, a pair of blocks and seven defensive rebounds on Sunday afternoon. Really, the trio of Allen, San Francisco transfer Mark Tollefsen and senior center Kaleb Tarczewski (who missed Friday and Sunday’s games with an ankle injury) provide a strong defensive core around which to build.

In the end, this team probably doesn’t have enough talent to be the squad that breaks through and gets Miller his first Final Four appearance, but if these three issues – point guard, defensive identity and finding a go-to scorer – can be appropriately solved, the Wildcats could again find their way to the Tournament’s second weekend. For now, those answers will be elusive, even when it comes to roles and rotations. “It’s not an obvious answer,” said Miller on Friday night. “There’s a lot more question marks than there are answers. When the answer comes, then I think you’ll see some of these guys solidifying themselves in a greater role. But that can’t be given. You have to earn it in practices and games.” To this point, Anderson has earned his role as the team’s leader and best player. Guys like Allen and Tollefsen are beginning to carve out spots. But game after game, week after week, history tells us that Miller will find a way to mold this team into its best possible shape.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *