Arizona Wildcats 2016â17 team preview
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Read scouting reports on every team in the top 20 here, and find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.
Pekka Markkanen was a glorified grunt in his one season as a Kansas starter (1989–90), setting screens and grabbing rebounds. His 19-year-old son, however, will be much more than a spare part in Tucson. A 7-foot freshman from Jyväskylä, Finland, Lauri Markkanen not only plays above the rim but also stretches the floor. Draft Express projects him as the Pac-12’s No. 3 NBA prospect, behind Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and Cal power forward Ivan Rabb. Arizona coach Sean Miller points out that one of Lauri’s two brothers, Eero, plays for the Finnish national soccer team. Plodders, they are not.
Last year’s low-post tandem of Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski couldn’t step out to stretch defenses, and the Wildcats played slow, ranking No. 150 in possession length (17.1 seconds). Markkanen’s speed and three-point shooting should inject new life into the attack, which will include five-star guard Rawle Alkins and McDonald’s All-American point guard Kobi Simmons. “Lauri has great range,” Miller says, “and we tend to play a little faster when the floor is spaced.”
That should be a huge benefit to wing Allonzo Trier, who averaged 14.8 points in 2015–16 and surprised Miller by returning for his sophomore year. (There are rumors that Trier may be facing a suspension. Arizona has declined to comment.) Trier is among the Pac-12’s most gifted scorers, an eclectic slasher whose slippery hips allow him to wiggle into the lane and draw contact. Combine his skill with Markkanen’s versatility, and a new look for Arizona is no stretch.
Sidelined for the past two seasons with ACL tears in each knee, redshirt freshman Ray Smith, a former five‑star recruit, can be a beast on the offensive glass, but “every time he lands, you worry,” says coach Sean Miller.
Coach’s Take: Sean Miller
“I think some of the things that you’ve come to expect from our program will remain a constant. The pillars of our program are man-to-man defense and a lot of movement on offense. We’re going to have a lot of depth at guard, which is going to help us play faster. Allonzo had 31 assists last year for the entire season. He missed seven games with a broken hand, but 31 assists. That’s not something he does intentionally. It’s how he’s been wired. When he jumps up levels and has to play with other good players, it will help him if he can beat them with the pass. He needs to become more than a guy who just scores.
“We lost nearly 20 rebounds per game with Kaleb and Ryan gone. Not a lot of teams in the country can say that. Both were big guys who were physically strong. Traditionally, we’ve been a very good defensive rebounding team. We’ve been in the Top 15 in defensive rebounding in KenPom the past four years. It will be interesting to see how we figure out how to rebound this year without all that size.”
Projected Depth Chart
Projected Pac-12 Standings
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