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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona basketball notebook: Wildcats survive Chico State scare; Comanche expected to return against Michigan State

Heather Newberry

Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller preaches to his defenders to get their hands up during Sunday’s exhibition game against Chico State. The Wildcats created 13 turnovers in a 78-70 victory.

The No. 10 Arizona men’s basketball team had arguably the most bizarre and twisted week under head coach Sean Miller. Arizona entered the season with high hopes of a national championship and are now in the midst of a whole world of concern looking forward to its first game against No. 12 Michigan State on Friday.

Arizona “got punched in the mouth” by Division II Chico State and escaped a home loss 78-70. Here’s Sunday’s notebook touching on points and takeaways against Chico State as well as looking ahead to the anticipated Armed Forces Classic matchup with Sparty on Friday.

The Ray of sunshine

After tearing his third ACL against College of Idaho Tuesday, combo forward Ray Smith announced his retirement from basketball Thursday via social media, but will still be a part of team activity. Arizona basketball paid tribute to Smith in the intro video at the end where usually head coach Sean Miller says, “This is Arizona”, but Smith was the finale of the video.

“He’s a phenomenal kid and he’s somebody that we’re going to miss on the court,” Miller said. “He’s forever a part of our program and the team… He’s not just a college player that lost his way or the rest of his career. He lost a career way beyond Arizona.”

Miller said that Smith was a prototypical NBA small forward and a lock as a first-round pick in the NBA Draft and his ability to play multiple positions is a “tough hit” now that he’s gone.

Lauri Markkanen’s development

Who would’ve thought entering the season, Arizona’s best shooter was a 7-footer? Freshman Lauri Markkanen found his touch from the 3-point line shooting 3-of-4. As a team, the Wildcats shot 4-of-25 from beyond the arc in the exhibition games, so Markkanen poised as the only outside threat.

With Markkanen’s size and ability to stretch the floor, teams will struggle to match up with him on the perimeter. He can put big men in uncomfortable situations on the outside or back down perimeter players, so his game will cause havoc.

“It will help our offense if the other team puts a small guy against me,” Markkanen said. “I can go to the low post too, so I think it helps Dusan [Ristic] a lot to get a smaller matchup. Overall it helps our matchup.”

Game of zones

Chico State’s biggest rotation player was 6-foot-9 so using a man-to-man defense would’ve exposed its size especially in the frontcourt so the Wildcats used a zone defense against Arizona.

Chico State caused six turnovers with 13 points off of turnovers and outrebounded Arizona 30-28.

“I think we’ll see a lot of zones this season, because we’re so good on offense and with the mismatches Lauri will have, Dusan, a lot of teams can’t guard our front court,” Allen said. “With those guys and the guards that we have, we should be a good team.”

With Arizona’s length, we’ve seen zone defense reveal weaknesses on the offensive end for the Cats. Michigan State’s tallest player much like Chico State is 6-foot-9 so a more talented zone defense utilized by Sparty can give Miller headaches.

Welcome back, Chance Comanche

Reserve forward and center Chance Comanche was ruled academically ineligible for the two exhibition games and his absence was missed against Chico State especially when Dusan Ristic picked up two early fouls in the first half. The Wildcats went from a long team to using Markkanen at center while 6-foot-8 Keanu Pinder took over minutes at power forward.

Miller said that Comanche is expected to travel and play against the Spartans.

“With Chance, we’re a much different team,” Miller said. “We’re anxious to get him back and I think against Michigan State as long as everything checks out here in the next couple of days, that he should be back and with us.”

What to expect for Michigan State

Even with Comanche possible returning to the rotation, Arizona still has eight players and the depth presents an issue. The Spartans have 2016 five-star small forward Miles Bridges who will create problems for Miller if he doesn’t have an answer right away.

A player like Rawle Alkins who’s known for his defense will probably be matched up against Bridges, but at the end of the day, an 8-point win at home against a Division II team isn’t easy to swallow when preparing for a blue blood like Michigan State. 

On a brighter side, the Spartans got a scare in an exhibition game against Saginaw Valley State and won by 10 points so maybe the Wildcats are in solid shape after all. 

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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