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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Pieces starting to fall into place for Miller, Markkanen, young Wildcats

Arizona+forward+Lauri+Markkanen+%2810%29+fights+for+poession+of+the+ball+during+Arizonas+95-65+win+over+SHU+in+McKale+Center+on+Friday%2C+Nov.+18%2C+2016.+
Rebecca Noble
Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen (10) fights for poession of the ball during Arizona’s 95-65 win over SHU in McKale Center on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.

The fluid puzzle that is Arizona men’s basketball is becoming more and more clear after three games. 

Freshman Lauri Markkanen is the team’s best scorer, while senior Kadeem Allen is the best defender and unquestioned leader. The freshmen duo of Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins can go off at any time, and junior forward Keanu Pinder has a never-ending supply of energy. Sophomore Chance Comanche looks like a different player than last year, and after struggles in the team’s first two games, junior Dusan Ristic had a bounce back performance against Sacred Heart and logged the Wildcats’ first double-double of the season.

Markkanen has been Arizona’s offensive catalyst. He had back-to-back 20-point games last week, and he sparked the Wildcats’ second-half surge against Sacred Heart on Friday.

Arizona will head to Las Vegas this week to take on Santa Clara on Thanksgiving Day for a second straight year, and will face either Vanderbilt or Butler the following day. With every game presenting a new test for Markkanen, these matchups in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational will be a step up from what the big man has seen so far. 

It’s a long season and head coach Sean Miller has already toyed with multiple lineups. His thin rotation, however, could haunt him late in the season. 

After the career-ending injury to Ray Smith, Arizona had just nine scholarship players entering the season (not including redshirt Dylan Smith). Due to sophomore Allonzo Trier’s mysterious absence through the first couple weeks of the season, Miller has had only eight scholarship players dressed for each game. It’s a recipe for disaster. 

One injury could mean a walk-on playing 20 minutes per game. It also means Arizona can not get into any kind of foul trouble, and that alters the defensive game plan and intensity game in and game out. 

Allen played a mere five minutes against Sacred Heart on Friday due to a sprained left knee. Miller says the senior’s knee is structurally OK, but noted that Smith’s devastating knee injury had an impact on the rest of the team. Allen seemed hesitant against Sacred Heart, and without him, Arizona could get all it can handle in its Thanksgiving matchups. 

In the two games Allen has missed, including the five-minute appearance against Sacred Heart, Arizona has allowed 31 and 22-point scorers. Allen is this team’s defensive heartbeat, and without him on the court, inferior opponents have taken advantage of Arizona’s youth.  

The mystery of Trier still hangs over this team as well. Rumors that the star sophomore would be out for the season started to swirl around the time of the Red-Blue Game, and came to a head when Trier did not travel with the team to Hawaii for its season opening tilt with the Michigan State Spartans. There are more rumors out there from this weekend that Trier will return to the team at some point this week. But with emphasis on the fact that there has been no official word, Arizona would be in great shape if Trier were to return. The Wildcats would have all the puzzle pieces that a team needs to make a deep run. 

It already has a player who causes a mismatch for any team in the country in Markkanen, an elite on-ball stopper in Allen, and Trier would be the player who can create his own shot with the ball in his hands. 

It remains to be seen how far a team filled with freshmen and first-time starters can go with only a few veteran leaders. If the Wildcats can get their returning scorer from last year back, the puzzle becomes much more clear.


Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.


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