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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


The good, bad and the ugly with Arizona men’s basketball

Rebecca Noble
Arizona guard Rawle Alkins (1) dribbles during Arizona’s 78-66 win over CSUB at McKale Center on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016.

Arizona basketball is only two games into the season, but it’s already been full of excitement. A victory over Michigan State in the final seconds to open the season followed by a dazzling performance from a pair of freshmen has all of Tucson buzzing for college basketball season.

A few other things have Tucsonans in a tizzy, most notably the continued absence of Allonzo Trier.

There are a lot of questions surrounding this year’s Arizona squad, and the answers will unfold throughout the year. For now, you get the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good: freshmen trio

It’s pretty obvious that Lauri Markkanen is really, really good. I could have a section dubbed “the great” and spend it talking about the 7-footer through his first two games. Arizona head coach Sean Miller has been talking up the freshman like he is the top NBA prospect for the Wildcats, à la Aaron Gordon and Stanley Johnson.

“He really, really knows how to play,” Miller said. “It’s almost like he has the game of a 6-foot-7 forward, he just happens to be 7-foot.”

Markkanen will play three positions for Arizona this season, and his silky shooting stroke allows him to score from anywhere on the floor. What is most outstanding about the young Finnish prospect is his scoring ability while putting the ball on the floor.

That’s unstoppable. Good luck Pac-12 Conference coaches. The only problem pull-ups like this represent for Arizona is that he’s probably gone after this season.

Seriously, to any Pac-12 coaches reading this, good luck. I mean it.

The other two freshmen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins, are no slouches. Simmons sparked Arizona in its victory against Michigan State, leading the team with 18 points. Alkins shined against CSU-Bakersfield, knocking down four 3-pointers and gaining confidence with his first big college performance. Consistency from these two could really make Arizona unstoppable on offensive.

The bad: rebounding, defense

Arizona led CSU-Bakersfield by as many as 21 points, but allowed the Roadrunners a 17-0 run in the second half to bring the game within a few buckets. Most of it was due to second chance points, where Arizona was throttled 21-5 in the contest, and that boils down to defensive rebounding.

Arizona was able to out-rebound the Roadrunners, but still surrendered 10 offensive boards.

The Wildcats will have matchup issues on the defensive end to begin the season, and possibly for the whole year. Markkanen can develop into an adequate defensive small forward, but for now, the defense will suffer with him having to guard smaller players. So far, it’s just not fair to ask him to stay in front of smaller, faster players.

Yes, I only had GIFs of Markkanen for this article. Yes, it’s the first time I have done GIFs. Yes, there will be more of other players as the season continues.

As the season progresses for Markkanen, though, he will become a better defender and he is athletic enough to do so. Or, Trier comes back at some point and the Wildcats can let Markkanen terrorize opponents at power forward.

The ugly: Dusan Ristic

After hearing about Ristic winning the golden jersey, awarded to the best player in practice each week, and hearing about his offseason workout regimens, he still looks like he is a work in progress. Sophomore Chance Comanche has seen the floor as much as Ristic, and the latter has had trouble finding his touch in the paint.

Ristic scored just two points against the Spartans and six against the Roadrunners. Arizona desperately needs him to grab defensive rebounds, and Miller believes the issue lies with confidence.

“Dusan is going to be fine,” Miller said. “One thing I have learned with him is confidence is really big; he’s our starter for a reason.”

Other nuggets

  • Junior Keanu Pinder has been the team’s most surprising player. It seems like there are two Pinders on the floor at times, though. He has 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks through two games and is Arizona’s grinder.
  • Kadeem Allen is the team’s unquestioned leader and clearly embraces the big moment. His winning layup against Michigan State came on a sprained left knee. He’s the type of gamer Arizona needs to win big games down the stretch this season.
  • Comanche had 8 points and 4 rebounds in each of Arizona’s first two games and has so far lived up to the hype he had coming into this season. Look for him to grab more minutes while Ristic continues improving.  

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.

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