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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona men’s basketball notebook: On Markkanen, consistency of Alkins and Simmons and the Trier saga

Alex McIntyre
Arizona head coach Sean Miller, center, gestures to his players as they come in for a huddle in McKale Center on Tuesday, Dec. 6. The Wildcats beat the Anteaters 79-57.

The Wildcats are set to face the Grand Canyon Lopes tonight and with the conclusion of finals on campus the team will travel to Houston for a showdown with the Texas A&M Aggies. 

Beginning with their game against GCU, the Wildcats will play three games in seven days to wrap up their out of conference schedule. They will then take a ten-day break and jump right in to Pac-12 play beginning on December 30 when they travel to the bay area to open the conference season with both Cal-Berkeley and Stanford.

As the Wildcats prepare for the über important conference slate, here’s what we know about this team right now, and a few questions that remain unanswered.

No matter what, Markkanen is this team’s best scorer

The absence of Allonzo Trier continues to be the biggest storyline surrounding this team. The lack of a “go-to” scorer is still on the minds of Tucsonans everywhere and fans are concerned that his absence will inevitably catch up to the Wildcats at some point. Well, even if Trier comes back this season, freshman Lauri Markkanen will still be Arizona’s best scoring option. Markkanen leads the Wildcats in every single offensive category, outside of assists.

He also has the least amount of turnovers for any player who has played at least 150 minutes.

Even with the return of Trier, Markkanen is by far the team’s best shooter.

(Low key, you should probably close out on this guy.; Courtesy 

It’s remarkable how much trust head coach Sean Miller has in him, and how well Markkanen has done thus far. His worst two games, Butler and Missouri, are results of foul trouble limiting his minutes, but expect Miller to continue correcting that issue. Trier’s return could impact the amount of usage Markkanen has on offense, but will also lead to more open looks and one-on-one situations.

Freshmen Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins are trending up, and that won’t stop

To begin this season, Simmons and Alkins were Arizona’s two big recruit landings. Both were five-star recruits along with Markkanen, but because Markkanen came from Finland he was more of an unknown. Alkins and Simmons had torn up the high school and AAU circuits and arrived in Tucson with great expectations. Both have been inconsistent so far.

Right away, it looked like Simmons was ready to fill the scoring void left by Trier when he dropped 18 points in Arizona’s opener against Michigan State. Simmons sparked the Wildcats after a slow start by Arizona in that game, and that is still his best game as a Wildcat. Alkins meanwhile, had three points in 26 minutes in that same contest.

Since then, both have had stretches of inconsistency. Simmons played well after the Michigan State game, but when faced with Gonzaga, he struggled mightily. He also struggled against UC Irvine following the loss to the Bulldogs, and confidence was seemingly an issue.

Alkins looked lost on occasion defensively during Arizona’s first two weeks. Alkins has mainly played small forward for Arizona, and there was a learning curve for the youngster who played guard in high school. Alkins would have a big game followed by a no-show, and it had to do with his positional struggles.

Against Missouri this past weekend, we saw both players put together huge games. Both players finished with 19 points and had efficient shooting performances. Alkins connected on four three-pointers while Simmons hit three of his own, and it’s clear both players are becoming more comfortable in their roles.

Simmons picked his spots against the Tigers and is learning how to utilize his elite quickness.

(*meep meep*; Courtesy ESPN)

Alkins continues to evolve in to his forward position, and is improving every single night as a rebounder.

(Yeah, you should probably box this guy out.
; Courtesy ESPN)

Expect both players to keep this type of play up.

What kind of three-point shooting team is this?

Another year of Wildcat basketball, another year of inconsistent play from the perimeter. 

The Wildcats are shooting 39 percent from deep which is actually really, really good. However, if you take out Markkanen’s statistics and the game against Missouri when the Wildcats shot 13-24 from three, they are only shooting 32 percent. That percent will not be good enough in Pac-12 play, and you can be sure Pac-12 coaches will be better suited to stop Markkanen from beyond the arc then Arizona’s competition so far. 

Against Missouri, we saw the Wildcats get it done without Markkanen. If Simmons, Alkins, and Allen can shoot it like that, you can get ready to say bye-bye to that pesky 2-3 zone that every one uses against the Wildcat offense.

Finally, let’s talk Trier

At this point, everyone in Tucson from reporters to fans have an “inside scoop” on the Trier situation. Whatever the case, what we know so far is that every report has been unsubstantiated in regards to whether he will return or not.

What we do know is that the Arizona basketball program has had direct contact with the NCAA, whatever that could mean. Miller specified that it was the NCAA that allowed Trier to travel to the Gonzaga game a little over a week ago, so for better or worse, Trier and the program have been dealing with the NCAA. Now, if he has in fact been cleared by the NCAA, his continued absence could be a situation within the program. 

We may never know. If he comes back, Miller may not disclose the reason he was out due to student privacy protections. To be honest, I’m not sure how much fans will care what he was out for as long as he returns.

If he does step foot on the court for Arizona this season, Glendale is certainly in their sights. 

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.

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