The Arizona Wildcats held their annual Media Day on Thursday, and already I’m changing what I thought would be the starting lineup.
A couple of Sean Miller comments are responsible for that — and we’ll dive into those below — and I suspect this particular game of prognostication is far from over. But, hey, it’s kind of fun — especially for the unofficial opening of basketball season — so let’s have at it.
Kadeem Allen was capable at the point last season, but not dynamic, and now Arizona has a new option in true freshman Kobi Simmons to match with junior Parker Jackson-Cartwright. That is going to allow Miller to move Allen, a combo guard by trade, more off the ball this season.
Allen could still see some minutes at the point, and he certainly can help Arizona get into its offense no matter what perimeter position he plays. But the main duties of pushing the ball at the point will fall to the 5-foot-11 Jackson-Cartwright and the 6-5 Simmons.
Miller raved about PJC on Thursday.
“He’s bigger, he’s stronger, I’ve never seen him more confident,” Miller said.
“There’s nothing like experience, coming back for your third year. I think some of the things that Parker has learned as a freshman and sophomore, he’ll implement this year. I’m really excited about watching him play, and I think he’s going to have a really good year.”
Simmons is going to play both guard spots and “shoots the ball really consistently,” Miller said.
Simmons, with his size, has the upside. But Miller values experience, and it won’t hurt to make Simmons earn his time.
Game 1 point guard: Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
This one is pretty easy. Sophomore Allonzo Trier averaged 14.8 points per game last season, despite battling through a hand injury during Pac-12 play.
No doubt, he had ideas of being a one-and-done college player, but returning to school was smart. He’s a threat to score 20-plus in any game.
“He came back for all the right reasons,” Miller said. “I’m never been around a player that I’ve seen more in the gym than him.”
Game 1 shooting guard: Allonzo Trier.
This is where Allen now fits. We mentioned how Miller values experience. There is something he treasures even more. And that is defense.
Taking the point guard responsibilities off Allen’s plate gives the senior a chance to focus on being the defensive ace. Allen will get a chance to hound the opponent’s best perimeter player, like a Kyle Fogg or Nick Johnson or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
“I think this year, Kadeem, with his quickness, his toughness, his experience, he wants to be that guy,” Miller said. “But it’s hard to be that guy and also be the point guard.”
Freshman Rawle Alkins is another tough-guy option here, and redshirt freshman Ray Smith can play here in a big lineup. You could also see a perimeter lineup of Jackson-Cartwright, Simmons and Trier at times.
“The depth on the perimeter is one of this year’s team strengths, and we have to be able to utilize that,” Miller said.
Game 1 small forward: Kadeem Allen
Chance Comanche on first impression of Lauri Markannen: 'We need more players from Finland.'
Another intriguing spot.
Ray Smith could certainly fit here as the kind of agile 4-man that is prevalent in the Pac-12, but let’s give him some time to get back up to full speed after two torn ACLs.
C’mon. It seems impossible to keep freshman Lauri Markannen out of the lineup.
He’s a 6-11 shooter who averaged 24.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals for Finland in this summer’s FIBA U20 European Championships. He’s already projected as a high pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
“He’s not a rail-thin skinny freshman from Finland,” Miller said. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth. He bench-pressed 185 pounds 14 times, and he wasn’t even here this summer (in the strength program).”
Arizona loses grown-man rebounding with the graduation of Ryan Anderson, but Markannen is confident in his abilities.
“People are talking about my shot and offensive skill-set, but I think I can play defense, too,” he said. “I’m a pretty good rebounder, but that’s what I’m trying to improve the most.”
Game 1 power forward: Lauri Markannen
Miller offered a glowing review of junior Dusan Ristic’s offseason progress. It was a similar story for sophomore Chance Comanche, who brings great energy.
Ristic boxed and trained with UA football strength and conditioning coach Chris Allen to improve his balance and agility.
“He has a desire and a hunger that I haven’t seen of someone his size,” Miller said. “He works at it.”
The combination of Ristic’s uncommon offensive skill in the low post and Markannen’s long-range shooting sounds like a winning blend.
Game 1 center: Dusan Ristic
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More from Media Day:
Steve Rivera: Miller refreshed and ready to go in season No. 8 at Arizona