Getting to Know the Pac-12: Arizona

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 16th, 2017

The footprint of the Arizona fan base is vast and the program’s history and prestige mean few teams on the West Coast get more media attention. But these Wildcats don’t have the same brand names and star power as some of their teams of the past. Casual college basketball fans in fact might have trouble naming more than two players in Arizona’s rotation. But Sean Miller‘s club is a fashionable Final Four pick right now, so there is plenty of time to get acquainted.

Who are the stars?

Allonzo Trier hasn’t missed a beat in his return from a steroid suspension. The sophomore is averaging better than 17 points per game and shoots more than 40 percent from downtown. He also chips in five rebounds per game and has more than doubled his assist rate (16.9%) this season. In short, Trier is becoming the all-around monster many expected him to become after a stellar freshman campaign in Tucson. He has scored at least 19 points in seven straight games and is clearly the team’s best all-around player.

Allonzo Trier is back and better than ever since his suspension. (James Snook/USA TODAY Sports)

Trier is not, however, the best future professional on the roster — that honor belongs to Finnish sensation Lauri Markkanen. After averaging 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and shooting an eye-popping 43 percent from behind the three-point arc, Markkanen is one of the hottest NBA prospects in college basketball. A college basketball unicorn, Markkanen is a legitimate seven-footer who Arizona utilizes as a matchup-wrecking gunner.

Rawle Alkins probably doesn’t belong in the same “star” category as Trier or Markkanen, but he gets a pass here. The Brooklyn native is the offensive opposite of Markkanen — a bruiser who is at his best attacking the rim with his physicality. Alkins shoot  37 percent from three-point range, so his shot is far from broken, but his time is better spent bullying weaker opponents on the blocks. He is also an excellent defender and wing rebounder.

Who are the role players?

The Pac-12 is home to the king of all role players, Kadeem Allen. A flawed offensive player with just a passable jumper and an assist rate (18.8%) that doesn’t even mirror his turnover rate (20.1%), Allen is the team’s best defender. He might struggle to score more than 10 points in a game, but he will bring in-your-face, on-ball defense and some exciting rim attacks.

He took a backseat to Markkanen this season, but junior center Dusan Ristic was Mr. Reliable on the interior. His numbers (10.6 PPG; 5.7 RPG) won’t blow you away but he improved his free-throw shooting by more than 10 percent, cut down on his turnovers, improved his work on the glass and was an efficient alternative weapon. He doesn’t have the athleticism to become an elite-rim protector, but he can hold his own on the blocks defensively and he has become such a smart and trusted player that he anchors Arizona on that end of the floor.

Dusan Ristic has been a dependable inside presence this season. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There was a time when Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s ceiling was set at “excellent backup point guard on a national title contender.” But give the junior credit, he has worked hard on his game and it showed as he settled nicely into a role as the team’s primary (read: only) true ball-handler. His assist rate (28.1%) was one of the best in the conference, he shot better than 40 percent on limited three-point attempts and he trimmed his turnover rate as well. Don’t count out his defense either. Despite limited size, he is pesky in the passing lanes and will pick a ball-handler’s pocket if he isn’t careful.

Who else plays?

Kobi Simmons trails only Markkanen and maybe Trier in future NBA potential, but the return of the latter has sent the freshman and his streaky shooting to the bench. At one time, the 6’5″ Atlanta native was destined to become the team’s point guard of the future, but he averaged just 2.1 assists per game and looked much more comfortable off the ball. The problem is that his jumper is shaky and he struggles to finish at the rim. He can provide instant offense if he gets hot, but he must play enough to get in a rhythm first.

A top 50 recruit in the class of 2015, Chance Comanche has found his niche and seems to be improving with every game. Comanche is long enough to affect opponents at the rim and athletic enough to guard both centers and forwards. He primarily spells Markkanen and Ristic, but when he plays, he scores at the free throw line and from his offensive rebounding.

The last man in the rotation is junior college transfer Keanu Pinder. The Australia native is long (6’9 and 220 pounds) and athletic, which is why he plays. But aside from rebounding and defense, Pinder’s offensive game is a non-entity right now. If he plays more than 10 minutes in a game, someone is in foul trouble.

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