Arizona Basketball

Arizona hopes to reach for the sky vs. shorter Spartans

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Sean Miller will be looking for positive signs from his frontcourt. Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

If you want to know about the Arizona-Michigan State season-opener on Friday, look up.

The Spartans will be.

This is going to be a fascinating matchup of two great programs, two potentially great teams and two great coaches dealing with a great amount of uncertainty.

But just one of these teams has great height.

That, of course, would be the 10th-ranked Wildcats.

In a close, tough-to-predict matchup, if Arizona establishes any kind of edge on the 12th-ranked Spartans, it will be because of a starting front line with a pair of 7-footers (Dusan Ristic, Lauri Markkanen), with 6-11 Chance Comanche and 6-9 Keanu Pinder in reserve.

Michigan State’s tallest player available — given knee injuries to post players Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling — is 6-8, 250-pound freshman Nick Ward, expected to come off the bench.

“Our worries is just our depth and size right now,” Izzo said in a press conference this week in advance of the game at the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu. “Our strengths are I think we can shoot the ball and I think we can be a team that can run very well. Our other worry is whether we can defend and rebound.”

(Hint: Michigan State will play a zone.)

Questions, questions, each team has questions.

Arizona has one fewer because Miller said Comanche most likely will be back after two sitting out two games because of academics. The Wildcats, in the aftermath of Ray Smith’s career-ending third ACL injury and the ongoing absence of guard Allonzo Trier, will be back to eight available scholarship players with Comanche’s return.

“That helps our defensive rebounding, that helps our offensive rebounding, it allows everybody to take a bigger break,” Miller said. “Chance is one of our most improved and best players.”

Arizona’s size is one thing, but it’s also fair to wonder which Wildcat is going to put the brakes on Michigan State freshman wing Myles Bridges, a 6-7, 230-pound matchup nightmare. (This is where a healthy Smith would have been the piece to the puzzle that completes the picture.)

Bridges, who had 53 points and 15 rebounds in Michigan State’s two exhibition victories, figures to be the Spartans’ tallest player in their starting lineup. He’ll be surrounded by 5-10 junior point guard Tum Tum Nairn, 6-3 senior guard Eron Harris, 6-4 sophomore guard Matt McQuaid and 6-6 sophomore forward Kenny Goins … with freshman help off the bench for possibly 20-plus minutes each, Izzo said.

“To play against three 7-footers for our team is kind of the exact opposite of our team right now,” Izzo said. “It will be a good measuring stick. They are very, very big team and hopefully, we are a very, very athletic team, although they have some good athletes.”

Arizona guard Kadeem Allen, in the absence of Trier, is the team’s top returning scorer at 8.4 points per game. Overall, Arizona’s available players averaged only 22.6 points per game last season.

“We have a number of new guys out there, and everybody on the court has a different role than a year ago,” Miller said. “It takes some time to get better. You have to learn, not only through practice, but through game experience.”

Harris is the Spartans’ top returning scorer at 9.3 points per game. Overall, Michigan State’s healthy players combined to average just 22.5 points per game last season.

So, one team has 22.6 points per game returning. The other 22.5.

At least the Wildcats are tall.

Beyond that … questions, questions, each team has questions.

“Nobody can really judge Arizona in the month of November this year,” Miller said. “We have too many new faces, players in new role, to look at ourselves as a finished product.”

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