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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Is Arizona basketball ready to justify top-10 ranking?

Rebecca Noble
Arizona head coach Sean Miller gets heated during the Wildcats’ win over Pacific in McKale Center Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.

Although Arizona football is in full swing right now, basketball season is right around the corner to the delight of many Tucsonans.

While the hoopla surrounding Arizona right now is the 2017 No. 1 recruit DeAndre Ayton,  there is still a season before that comes to fruition. Even if next year’s team is destined to be world beaters, this year’s team will be no slouch by any means.

Arizona is coming off of a lackluster season, by Wildcats standards, that saw it lose to 11th-seeded Wichita State 65-55 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Many still see last season as a fluke, though, and expect Arizona to make at least the Sweet 16—like four of Arizona’s previous five seasons.

Publications have Arizona at the tail end of the top 10 to start the season, and that seems like a fair spot. The top teams consist of defending champ Villanova,  recruiting powerhouse Kentucky and the usual suspects Duke and North Carolina. Rounding out the top five is Arizona’s newest rival: Oregon.

The Oregon Ducks are the Pac-12 favorites and a trendy pick to reach the Final Four this season, and who can blame them? They return everyone except for Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin. A healthy Dylan Ennis will take the court for the Ducks, too. 

This team lives and dies by the fiery forward Dillon Brooks that gave many teams fits last year. The junior forward from Canada is coming off a year where he earned First-team All-Pac-12, AP Honorable Mention All-American, so it might be tough to top that year. 

Brooks is complemented by the sweet-shooting Tyler Dorsey,  shot-blocking Chris Boucher  and the steady Casey Benson running the point. 

Arizona lost two heartbreaking games to Oregon as the Ducks snapped the Wildcats’ 49-game home winning streak and then knocked them out of the Pac-12 tourney in the semifinals. 

With Allonzo Trier in the fold, the Wildcats have an elite scorer who should be on preseason lists for Pac-12 Player of the Year  and All-American after his solid freshman season. The sophomore can switch between shooting guard and small forward, which allows coach Sean Miller  the flexibility to tinker with his lineups. If Miller elects to go small, a quintet of Kobi Simmons or Kadeem Allen, Rawle Alkins, Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith and Lauri Markkanen could give teams nightmares. 

We do not know who will complement Trier as a secondary scorer, but there is a solid list of options for coach Miller. Be it Markkanen, Smith, Simmons or Alkins, Arizona should have no issue putting the ball in the basket. The Wildcats should also contend for top defensive team in the conference with Allen, Smith and Alkins playing tight, pressure defense. 

Miller could spend his non-conference schedule testing lineups and determining which work best. But come January, the Pac-12 better watch out because the Wildcats may just be ready to reclaim the throne.

Follow Ivan Leonard on Twitter.

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