Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who Will Play Point Guard for Arizona?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 25th, 2016

Even after graduating the team’s two leading scorers, Arizona has everything it needs on paper to dethrone Oregon and reassert itself as the best team in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have a redshirt senior who is likely one of the best on-ball defenders in the conference. They have a reigning member of the Pac-12 All-Freshmen Team who averaged nearly 15 points per game last season. They have a freshman wing with enough athleticism to put his own coach on a poster. They have a freshman stretch forward from Finland who can bang three-pointers and take awkward photos with local political figures. They also have a cache of athletic big men, led by a Serbian with enough offensive game to make the program’s official Twitter account think it is okay to rip off the nickname of one of the NBA’s greatest players ever. However, there is one position that isn’t represented on this list and that is because there are still very serious concerns about it. That position is point guard.

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona. (

Sean Miller may be the best recruiter in the entire country outside of Lexington, but if one were to start picking at nits, one could easily make the argument that he has struggled to recruit and develop worthwhile point guards in Tucson. In fact, Josiah Turner and MoMo Jones are the only true point guards Miller has recruited in his tenure at Arizona and neither spent more than two seasons in the desert. The best point guards of the Miller era – T.J. McConnell and Mark Lyons – were transfers, and filling McConnell’s sizable shoes last season proved to be a more difficult task than anyone imagined. The Wildcats went from 40th in turnover percentage in 2014-15 to 191st in the category last year, as neither Kadeem Allen nor Parker Jackson-Cartwright were consistent enough to wrestle the job away from the other player. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the position appears to be just as unsettled heading into this season. Miller smartly moved Allen off the ball, which leaves Jackson-Cartwright to fend off five-star freshman Kobi Simmons for the keys to what should be an explosive offense. Pairing a proven player with one of the best freshmen point guard prospects in the country is a luxury most coaches would love to have, but that argument doesn’t work for Miller when his fan base expect to compete for a national championship.

The two players bring drastically different skill sets to the table. Jackson-Cartwright is a proven distributor, steady ball-handler and reliable shooter who turned the ball over far too much last season and whose size makes him a defensive liability. Simmons has NBA size and athleticism with the skill and vision of a point guard, but he doesn’t have any experience or a reliable jumper. The Wildcats played their annual Red-Blue scrimmage last Friday night, and while intra-squad scrimmages are not great indicators of future success, Cartwright looks like he will get the first crack at the starting job. He looked very comfortable running the offense in dishing out seven assists. Simmons was clearly pressing and uncomfortable as he finished 1-of-8 from the field with as many assists as turnovers (two). The problem is that while publicly Miller will undoubtedly say all the right things about Jackson-Cartwright, he can’t possibly believe that his team’s best chances to win are with the Los Angeles native as the team’s starting point guard.

Sean Miller To The Final Four With This Team Would Be The Ultimate Irony (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Oddly, “Point Guard U” has been devoid of quality point guards lately. (Christian Peterson/Getty Images)

Jackson-Cartwright is good enough to be one of the better six or seven point guards in the conference, but, with all due respect, can you see him checking Lonzo Ball or Dylan Ennis for 40 minutes? How about other guys like Frank Mason or Edmond Sumner or De’Aaron Fox? He is a good college basketball player and an excellent complementary piece on a championship-caliber team, but if Arizona fans are being honest with themselves, they know that Simmons needs to develop if the Wildcats are going to compete for a title this season. Simmons has all the ability he could ever need to be an All-Conference point guard. Just watch his high school highlight mixtape. He is a long and slithery athlete who can knock down open shots, score above the rim and find teammates for easy layups once he gets into the painted area. Of course the Pac-12 is an entirely different animal than the elite AAU circuit, and physically, Simmons is no longer a man among boys.

The Wildcats don’t have the same veteran stars to rely upon anymore, but even so, Simmons doesn’t need to be the reincarnation of McConnell for Arizona to be one of the best teams in the country. The team is loaded with scoring, size and depth. If Simmons can keep his turnovers to a minimum and make open shots when they present themselves, maybe Miller’s luck with homegrown point guards will finally change.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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