This is college basketball as we know it today: Returning starters are a bonus, not a necessity, especially if you have a coach who knows how to immediately fit new pieces to the puzzle.
Arizona is 18-2 overall, 7-0 in the Pac-12, fresh off an upset win over then-No. 3 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. Just like everybody thought, right, after losing Gabe York, Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefsen?
Who needs experience to pull off an impressive win at a packed Pauley Pavilion?
Last season, the Wildcats finished 25-9 and 12-6 and they were 5-4 at the end of the first half of the 18-game conference regular season. They were swept in Los Angeles by this time last season with their senior-laden lineup.
Arizona, notching it up in talent with the likes of freshmen Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins, stands a good chance of being 9-0 at the first-half turn this time around with the struggling Washington schools coming to town.
A testament to why Sean Miller is worthy of coach of the year honors: None of his productivity leaders in each of the 20 games this season was a starter last season. Nor are any a senior.
Simmons was the productivity leader against the Bruins, feeding off Allonzo Trier’s return. It was the first time Simmons led the team in productivity since the season-opener against Michigan State.
Dusan Ristic, a backup for Tarczewski last season, has led the team the most in productivity at seven times followed by Markkanen (six), Alkins (two), Simmons (two), Parker Jackson-Cartwright (one), Keanu Pinder (one) and Chance Comanche (one).
Jackson-Cartwright backed up Kadeem Allen at the point last year with York playing at the off-guard position. Pinder is a junior college transfer. Comanche was low in the rotation last year behind Tarczewski and Ristic at the post.
Looking back at Arizona’s four Final Four teams, each had significant returning starters from the previous season in the lineup:
1987-88: Steve Kerr, Craig McMillan, Sean Elliott, Anthony Cook and Tom Tolbert.
1993-94: Damon Stoudamire, Khalid Reeves and Ray Owes.
1996-97: Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson.
2000-01: Gilbert Arenas, Jason Gardner, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright and Loren Woods.
If Arizona reaches the Final Four in Phoenix, Allen and Trier would be the returning starters, similar to the 1996-97 season with only Simon and Dickerson. Allen and Trier averaged 23.2 points a game in a combined 1,605 minutes last season while Dickerson and Simon averaged 25.1 in a combined 1,791 minutes a year before advancing to the Final Four and winning the title.
Simon and Dickerson were strong complimentary parts in 1995-96 to Joseph Blair, Ben Davis and Reggie Geary.
Trier was behind but close to the production of Anderson and York last season.
The 1996-97 team had the same framework with important newcomers Mike Bibby and Bennett Davison and a post player in A.J. Bramlett who Ristic resembles now by starting after biding his time. Jackson-Cartwright as a junior coming off the bench embodies what Terry brought to the Wildcats 20 years ago as the ultimate team player.
This is not to say Arizona is destined for what happened in 1997, only that up to now similarities exist.
WHAT IS PRODUCTIVITY RATING?:
PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)
SEASON PRODUCTIVITY RATING
|AVG 5-9.9 MIN|
|AVG 1-4.9 MIN|
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR:
|Derrick Williams (2011)||38||38||1190||1141||1.043|
|Sean Elliott (1989)||33||33||1128||1125||1.003|
|Chris Mills (1993)||28||28||838||870||.963|
|Sean Elliott (1988)||38||38||1167||1249||.934|
|Damon Stoudamire (1995)||30||30||964||1092||.883|
|Mike Bibby (1998)||35||35||905||1124||.805|
|Jason Terry (1999)||29||29||877||1107||.792|
|Nick Johnson (2014)||38||38||848||1254||.676|
ARIZONA 96, UCLA 85
* — STARTERS
|LESS THAN 10 MIN|
ARIZONA SCHEDULE/PRODUCTIVITY RESULTS
|11/11||*Michigan State||W/65-63||.395||Kobi Simmons||SG||22||26||.846|
|11/15||Cal State Bakersfield||W/78-66||.560||Lauri Markkanen||PF||48||36||1.333|
|11/18||Sacred Heart||W/95-65||.805||Dusan Ristic||C||31||22||1.409|
|11/21||Northern Colorado||W/71-55||.565||Parker Jackson-Cartwright||PG||35||34||1.029|
|11/24||**Santa Clara||W/69-61||.510||Keanu Pinder||PF||12||12||1.000|
|11/30||Texas Southern||W/85-63||.705||Lauri Markkanen||PF||35||29||1.207|
|12/10||at Missouri||W/79-60||.556||Rawle Alkins||SF||27||37||.730|
|12/14||Grand Canyon||W/64-54||.450||Dusan Ristic||C||19||31||.613|
|12/17||****Texas A&M||W/67-63||.545||Dusan Ristic||C||27||26||1.038|
|12/20||New Mexico||W/77-46||.680||Chance Comanche||PF||25||23||1.087|
|1/19||at USC||W/73-66||.490||Lauri Markkanen||PF||34||35||.971|
|1/21||at UCLA||W/96-85||.735||Kobi Simmons||SG||34||33||1.030|
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.