The good news is Arizona is more than likely to get back the services of 6-foot-11 center Chance Comanche by Friday’s match up with Michigan State in Hawaii. The bad news is there’s still no word on the availability and eligibility of sophomore guard Allonzo Trier.
Such is life for Arizona for the 2016-17 season just days before its season opener.
Just two weeks ago, it went into the season with lots of promise and high expectations, but with the career-ending injury to Ray Smith and no news surrounding Trier, there hasn’t been so many questions about UA since maybe 2007-08 when Kevin O’Neill took over for Lute Olson on an interim basis.
Soon, we will get a clearer picture about UA. Sunday night’s 78-70 exhibition win over Chico State at McKale Center proved Miller correct in that he said, “We are a work in progress.”
Here are five things to look for or ponder before Arizona’s matchup in Hawaii.
Lauri Markkanen is the real deal
He will give opponents fits beyond the 3-point line. What he does near the basket will be anyone’s guess. On Sunday, he hit UA’s only 3-pointers (three) and had seven rebounds (all coming in the second half). Sean Miller applauded his effort with the rebounds in the second half.
“It really hurt our team (not having any) and in the second half, he had seven, which is a great turnaround,” Miller said. “That’s what I’m really excited about.”
What Arizona also needs is for Markkenan is to be aggressive. In the first half he was tentative, including not taking an open 3-pointer but instead passing the ball.
“We and he have to make sure he utilizes his great size being able to get him the ball in and around the rim,” Miller said of what Markkanen needs to do. “We just want to guard against him just getting perimeter shots. (But) at halftime, it was like, ‘Hey, look if you get an open opportunity there is no one here that has a better chance to make that shot, so take it.’ He’s very unselfish but every time we go out he’s going to be that much better.”
Markkenan said he’s just doing what he can to help the team. What you haven’t seen is his ability to hit the mid-range shot. Can he hit it?
“I’m working on it,” he said, smiling “I know I can make those shots. They didn’t fall today.”
Kadeem Allen is the team’s clear leader
For portions of the game, you could see Allen directing traffic when there were stoppages of play. You can tell he’s going to be UA’s guy with authority and direction.
“It’s something I do every day; coach Miller gave me that job,” Allen said. “I’m doing what I have to do get us better and help everyone on the court.”
Ray Smith will continue to be around
He will be around the team even after stating last week he’s done playing basketball. Miller gave high praise for his one-time best recruit ever after he suffered his third knee injury in three years. Miller called his loss “a tough hit” for everyone.
“He’s someone we will miss on the court but he’s forever a part of our program and team,” Miller said.
He’s not going to travel with the team next week. After his surgery, UA will discuss with Smith what he can do to help the team.
Miller said that whenever Smith had decided to leave – before last week’s injury – he would have been a high draft pick in the NBA.
#ArizonaWildcats seven scholarship players in uniform:
Fewer players means more minutes
With such a short bench, Arizona will have to play a few players a lot of minutes. On Sunday, six of the seven players played nearly 30 minutes. Markkenan played a game-high 34. He said he’s used to playing a lot of minutes and is ready to do so.
“There is a negative effect to that,” Miller said about players playing too many minutes. “You can get away from it after a short period of time.”
Miller said it would be most troublesome during the Pac-12 season when games are every other day on weekends.
“It’s hard to play with great effort for that period of time,” Miller said. “We will welcome back Chase as the eighth guy.”
That said, Miller said teams can do it with eight. It’s about being smart how they practice yet still have to work to get better. “Our players have to do a good job of taking care of themselves,” he said. “Eight affects you more in foul trouble so it’s being smart with our fouls.”
The possible addition of Comanche not only gives UA needed depth but a shot blocker and some good near-the-basket presence.
“Chance being part of our team vs. him not playing at all affects a lot of things,” Miller said. “It’s not the cure all but believe me I’m around him every day in practice and he’s a big part of what we are doing.”
Not to push the panic button, but Arizona is 3 of 20 from 3-point range in 60 minutes of exhibition basketball.
Cold from outside for now
Arizona shot 22 for 50 and just 3 for 12 from beyond the 3-point line. It’s still not clear how good a shooting-from-the-perimeter team UA will be. Who will score from the perimeter besides Markkanen? We may or may not see anytime soon.
As Miller said, “it’s too early to judge us.”