The Arizona Wildcats, starting 10th in the AP poll, play their first exhibition game of the season Tuesday night. A dynamic season-opener vs. Michigan State is coming up fast, Nov. 11.
Coach Sean Miller has veterans who have added new tricks, young guys ready to make an immediate mark, and a squad that appears to have athleticism, length and depth in all the right doses.
We’ll be writing about and delving into all these storylines as the season ramps up and the months roll on. For now, here are five questions in advance of the exhibition game against College of Idaho:
1. Will Allonzo Trier play?
Your guess might be as good as ours. Miller has had three recent opportunities to address questions of Trier’s potential eligibility problems, but he essentially has given a no-comment each time. He did so again Monday.
Here’s what you should read into that: No news is no news. The absence of good news is not bad news. It’s simply no news. Clearly, whatever the situation is involving Trier, it is in the process of being resolved, one way or another.
We’ll know when we know.
2. Who is this team’s leader?
Last season, we often talked that Arizona lacked an alpha male — a take-charge guy on and off the court — even with the presence of seniors Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefsen.
This season, there is only one senior available to play. That’s combo guard Kadeem Allen.
“Kadeem is our leader, and he’s one of the best leaders we’ve had,” Miller said.
“He’s learned how to play hard. He’s come such a long way in the past couple of years. I wouldn’t have to take a poll with our team to learn who they think is the leader. He is the leader.”
Having that unquestioned role means we should see a more aggressive Allen on the court. He said he looks back at last season’s games and sees himself passing up too many open shots.
“Being the only senior, it’s good,” Allen said. “The guys look up to you knowing you are going to bring it every day.”
While Allen might have deferred to the senior class last year, he has found his voice with the current group of Cats.
“To his credit, he has been much more talkative and verbal than I would have ever imagined,” Miller said. “I think he is the loudest voice in our gym.”
3. Who is the most improved player?
It might be junior center Dusan Ristic, whose boxing workouts this summer improved his footwork and his ability to “hit and move” on defense, Miller said.
It might be junior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who is taking over the starting role while Allen moves off the ball the majority of the time. Miller has not missed a chance to rave about Jackson-Cartwright’s offseason.
But Miller himself asserted that sophomore post player Chance Comanche “might be our team’s most improved player.”
Comanche emerged at the end of last season, providing a spark off the bench with his energy.
“He just has picked right up where he left off,” Miller said.
Comanche has gone from not quite 190 pounds when he arrived in the summer of 2015 to his current listing of 6-11, 215 … although Miller referenced him being 220 pounds on Monday.
“That’s a lot of weight, but it’s a lot of good weight,” Miller said. “He’s much stronger.”
Comanche, an athletic big man who can run the court and be a springy shot-blocker, will play center and power forward. While Ristic has won the team’s gold jersey as its best practice player in each of the past two weeks, Comanche has been close to having that honor, Miller said.
“We’re really counting on him on being a much-improved player from last year,” Miller said.
4. What should we expect from Ray Smith?
Smith has been sidelined for two years because of ACL injuries, and Miller cautioned at his first press conference in late September that the redshirt freshman would need some time to get up to speed.
Smith is 6-8, 220, having added quite a bit of strength and weight since he arrived at Arizona. With his size and length, he could be a matchup nightmare at small forward. Question: Has he retained the agility to guard smaller players at the position?
Smith is a fine fit on most nights at power forward, but Arizona could be a greater need for him at the 3, especially if Trier is unavailable on the wing. Either way, it should be fascinating to watch Smith make his expected early improvement and potentially become the guy who captured the eye of NBA scouts in preseason practice last year before suffering a torn right ACL.
“Ray is doing great,” Miller said. “He’s had no setbacks.”
Excited to play my first college game tomorrow 😬😬😀😀
5. What will we learn from the first exhibition?
Not much. Don’t read too much into whatever happens.
Miller said he will gain a idea of the starting point for players’ attitudes and the team’s collective chemistry, but all that is a day-to-day work in progress, subject to change, and probably won’t be obvious to fans in McKale Center or watching on the Pac-12 Network.
One thing: Miller said he is not experimenting with the starting lineup — the five will be the five who would start a real season-opener … but, of course, that brings us back to the Trier question. Will he be one of the five?
It’s a long season. The ride is just beginning.