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. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Replacing Allonzo Trier: Arizona’s Conference Title Chances?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 12th, 2016

When Arizona lost senior center Kaleb Tarczewski to a strained muscle in his foot more than a month ago, the Wildcats didn’t miss a beat. They won seven of the eight games that he missed and backup Dusan Ristic performed admirably in his stead. A little more than a month later, Arizona finds itself in a similar situation as freshman Allonzo Trier is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. This time, however, the Wildcats are going to have a much tougher time plugging the hole.

Arizona Will Have A Tough Time Replacing Allonzo Trier

Arizona Will Have A Tough Time Replacing Allonzo Trier. (Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

In a conference full of talented freshmen, Trier has quietly been one of the best. His immediate impact has been a big reason why the Wildcats have been able to weather their talent exodus from last season. Not only does the Seattle native lead Arizona in scoring (14.8 PPG), but he is also the team’s most efficient scorer (64.0% TS%) thanks to his success scoring from inside the three-point line and his ability to make free throws at a near-80 percent clip. He is still a work in progress defensively, but he is the team’s second-best three-point shooter (35.1% 3FG) and has been borderline irreplaceable in the lineup. And therein lies the biggest issue for Arizona moving forward – it doesn’t really have anyone on the roster who can suitably replace him. Ironically enough, when Tarczewski went down, Trier was the primary beneficiary. Before the big man got hurt, Trier hadn’t yet eclipsed 30 minutes in a game and was averaging 11.6 PPG. Since that time Trier played at least 30 minutes in all but three games and was averaging a more robust 16.1 PPG. The problem now is that the perimeter-starved Wildcats don’t have another five-star freshman to take his place in the rotation. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Plugging the Hole: Kadeem Allen Doing Best T.J. McConnell Impression

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 26th, 2015

Everyone talking about Arizona during the offsesaon (even Jay Bilas) seemed to agree that the biggest question facing head coach Sean Miller was how he would replace do-it-all point guard T.J. McConnell; but no one could have expected how quickly transfer junior Kadeem Allen would be able to answer that question.

Kadeem Allen Has Emerged As An Answer at Point Guard for Arizona

Kadeem Allen Has Emerged As An Answer at Point Guard for Arizona. (Arizona Athletics)

The statistical comparison between the two players comes with a rather large disclaimer that Arizona hasn’t played anyone of note this season in its four games; but so far, at least, Allen looks like a competent replacement for McConnell. Without trying to pretend this is an apples to apples review, it is worth noting that Allen has been the more efficient offensive player (125.3 to 118.3 in ORtg; 60.5%  to 53.8% eFG), a better passer (45.0% to 39.0% in ARate) and a more opportunistic defender (4.9% to 4.3% in Stl%). It’s certainly likely that his efficiency and assist rate will fall back to Earth as he faces better competition, but Arizona’s ability to reload instead of rebuild this season depended heavily on the team’s point guard play. Early indications show that Allen and sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright are absolutely ready to fill that role. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 First Impressions

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 16th, 2015

The first weekend is in the books. Everybody’s played at least once and some teams have even gotten a couple games under their belts. There were some positive surprises (hello, Washington!) and some early disappointments (oh, UCLA), but we’ve got already plenty to talk about. Let’s take a spin around the conference and give a sentence or two on every team, while expanding on those teams that have done something — whether positive or negative — to deserve a little more.

Arizona: Ater ofnly one game against middling competition, I’m ready to call the battle for the Wildcats’ starting point guard position over. In something of a surprise, it’s Kadeem Allen. The former JuCo Player of the Year was known as a scoring off-guard coming to Tucson, but after spending his redshirt year playing the point, he’s leaped over sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright on the depth chart. There will be some bumps in the road for the new team orchestrator, but at 6’3” (compared to Jackson-Cartwright’s 5’9”), he allows Sean Miller to put more talent on the floor.

Kadeem Allen Is The One At Point Guard U?

Kadeem Allen Is The One at Point Guard U?

Arizona State: The Sun Devils’ 2-of-17 mark from beyond the three-point arc stands out in their opening night loss against Sacramento State, but more concerning might be the fact that they were outrebounded by a team that was awful on the glass last season. Still, we may look back on this game in three months and see it as just a weird blip.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Arizona Preview: Can These ‘Cats Be Elite?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2015

Leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite has been evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we take one step closer to wrapping up our trip around the league with a visit to Tucson, the home of the repeat champion Wildcats.

Arizona Wildcats

Over the past two season, Sean Miller’s club has dominated the Pac-12 on the way to consecutive regular season conference championships and a pair of Elite Eight appearances. (Damn you, Wisconsin!) But, the past two offseasons, this program has put the likes of Brandon Ashley, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Nick Johnson, Stanley Johnson and T.J. McConnell into the NBA pipeline. Outside of another group of Wildcats out east a ways, there are very few programs in America that can sustain those kinds of losses and yet retain the ability to make deep runs into the NCAA Tournament. Sean Miller hopes to prove this season that they’re among those programs on that very short list.

Sean Miller Is Keeping His Program Stocked With Talent

Sean Miller Is Keeping His Program Stocked With Talent. (Getty)

Strengths. Let’s just get right to the point: talent. They return center Kaleb Tarczewski, the team’s sole returning starter, but bring back contributors from last year’s team like Gabe York, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic. They add in a couple of newly-eligible Division I transfers in Ryan Anderson (Boston College) and Mark Tollefsen (San Francisco), plus a former JuCo Player of the Year in Kadeem Allen, who redshirted last season in Tucson. Throw in another strong Miller recruiting class, highlighted by five-star guard Allonzo Trier, and there is plenty of talent up and down the Arizona roster. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

A Player’s Program in Name Only: Sean Miller Runs This Show

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 14th, 2014

Whatever you think you know about Pac-12 runaway favorite Arizona in advance of tonight’s season opener, head coach Sean Miller can always provide the media with another line of thinking. He is no different with his own players, but what they know is that Miller will not sugarcoat the truth to spare their feelings. That brings us to the Wildcats’ exhibition contest against Cal Poly Pomona last Sunday. Typically there’s little to take away from anything on the court in such a mismatch. Preseason observations can be flawed, misleading and not meaningful. But there sat JuCo transfer Kadeem Allen, who never got off the Arizona bench for the entire 40 minutes of action. Afterward, Miller said the combo guard has welcomed the idea of a voluntary redshirt. The only surprise of any sort was that Miller revealed that much publicly. He is the same coach who last season went back and forth over what Elliott Pitts’ role as a freshman would be. Brandon Ashley’s season-ending injury changed everything, of course, but digging a bit deeper, it’s tough to recall a time when Miller ever wasted words on nonsense. Everything he says, and especially the things he doesn’t say with a sly read-between-the-lines smirk on his face, has a purpose.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller can smile when he has the option of stashing away talent to make managing minutes a bit easier. (Getty)

That brings us to the top prize in Arizona’s 2014 recruiting class, freshman Stanley Johnson. The forward, a unanimous preseason choice for Pac-12 freshman of the year on this site and the same pick for just about anyone else with a clue, came off the bench to produce 12 points in 24 minutes in that game. It was junior Gabe York who earned the start, and those around the program got the feeling that strategy will trickle into the start of the regular season before Johnson inevitably takes over. Miller hinted at as much with that playful smile in his postgame media session, adding, “It doesn’t matter if he’s happy; it really only matters if I’m happy.” Miller also said the starting five on opening night isn’t in cement for the entire season. That’s his way of making sure the players aren’t too comfortable with their status when it comes to competing in practice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Pac-12’s Biggest Questions: Askia Booker, UCLA Point Guards & Arizona Shooters

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 7th, 2014

Little story, probably not all that interesting. With the college basketball season due to tip off a week from today, we here around the RTC Pac-12 microsite are finalizing our preseason rankings and all-conference teams and whatnot. So, in compiling those things, I sent out a poll to our writers and friends of the microsite. Tucked away at the very end of the poll was something of an afterthought; it read, simply “Biggest Question Marks – use any criteria.” Now, when I wrote that and when I filled out my own poll, I was thinking of just individual players and I came up with a list that included Robert Upshaw, Sam Singer, Tra Holder, Bryce Alford and Jordan Loveridge. And then when I looked at everybody else’s ballots, I saw more big picture question marks: Oregon’s mental state, new coaches around the league, Utah playing with expectations. And I thought those were some damn good questions myself. Never one to pass up a good topic to write on that I can easily cherry-pick, I’m going to go through some of the biggest questions that my colleagues came up with and ponder their answers as much as I can.

Askia Booker, Colorado

Question Number One For The Buffaloes Is Whether Askia Booker and Company Can Follow Spencer Dinwiddie’s Example (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

Askia Booker and Life After the Mayor

Adam Butler of listed this as his biggest question mark and it is no surprise. First, Butler absolutely loves writing about Booker (seriously Adam, how many more columns do you think you can get out of ‘Ski in his remaining collegiate eligibility?). Second, if Tad Boyle can find a coherent answer at the point guard position post-Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs are maybe the team with the best chance to challenge conference-favorite Arizona. But after Dinwiddie fell from a torn ACL last year, Colorado went 9-10 down the stretch and got run out of the NCAA Tournament in embarrassing fashion. As Butler loves to point out, Booker began to shelve his freewheeling, bad-shot hoisting, basketball-purist infuriating ways and embrace his inner point guard. Still, for the Buffaloes to live up to their ceiling, he needs to play off the ball on a regular basis and become a high-octane scorer. This means guys like sophomore Jaron Hopkins and freshman Dominique Collier will have to prove themselves worthy of earning the majority of those on-ball minutes. The facts that Hopkins struggled in his first season and that Collier is battling ankle problems do not bode well for positive answers on those fronts. In other words, the Booker point guard experiment (a role the 6’2” guard will probably have to embrace if he hopes to earn a long professional career) may continue.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Season Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 14th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, starting today with Arizona. 

Arizona Wildcats

Strengths: For a team that lost the Pac-12’s Player of the Year (Nick Johnson) and top freshman (Aaron Gordon), head coach Sean Miller sure has a lot of depth around him. The reigning regular season champions will return three of its five starters from last season — including junior forward Brandon Ashley, who missed the final 16 games of the year with a foot injury. The Wildcats potentially have the ability to go two-deep at each position thanks to another top-five recruiting class, headlined by freshman forward Stanley Johnson. A defensive-minded team, Arizona is equipped with loads of size and versatility once again.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Head coach Sean Miller has reloaded the defending Pac-12 Conference regular-season champion Arizona Wildcats. reloaded (AP Photo)

Weaknesses: Expect last year’s questions regarding the team’s outside shooting to be at the forefront again. Nobody on the Wildcats cracked the 40 percent mark from the three-point line last season, and like the previous year, the top two shooters — Elliott Pitts (39.3 percent) and Gabe York (38.5 percent) — are competing for similar minutes off the bench at the same position. But this is where Ashley’s return may help keep defenses honest, as he connected on 11 of 29 long-range attempts with a more refined jump shot as a sophomore. The next-closest criticism of this team may be at the free throw line, where no returnee shot better than 75 percent and most of the roster failed to crack the 70s. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Arizona.

What Went Right

With freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stepping into roles as big-time contributors right away, with Nick Johnson taking his game to a higher – and more consistent – level, with sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York making huge strides in their second seasons, and with T.J. McConnell tying everything together as the team’s consummate floor general, this vintage of the Wildcats came together about as well as Sean Miller could have hoped. Sure, there was plenty of talent on this team. But what made this group a great unit is their ability to function together seamlessly. Defensively, they always had one another’s backs, combining to form the year’s most fearsome defensive squad. And on the offensive end, everybody bought into their roles and found ways to complement each other. Indeed, this 2013-14 group of Wildcats exemplified the word “team” as well as any college basketball squad in the country.

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

What Went Wrong

A whole lot went right in Tucson this season, but if we wanted to pinpoint one thing that went wrong, we’d jump straight to February 1st in Haas Pavilion, where in the opening minutes of a clash with California, Ashley landed awkwardly following a shot and wound up with a broken foot that ended his season. While Miller was able to rejigger his lineup on the fly and keep the Wildcats among the best teams in the nation, there will forever be questions about what could have been without that simple twist of fate in Berkeley.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story