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Arizona basketball roundtable: On Allonzo Trier, road games, and Pac-12 competitiveness

This conference is going to get really weird, really fast

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

While the Arizona Wildcats are just 1-2 in conference play, there's no real need to panic just yet. The conference is extremely wide open, and Arizona hasn't even played a home game yet.

With that said, it is concerning that the Wildcats will be without their best freshman for at least the next four weeks. How does that change our expectations for the rest of the year? We discuss that and other issues facing Arizona in the coming weeks:

Jason Bartel: How does Allonzo Trier's injury change your outlook on this season?

Brandon Hill: It's a significant loss and comes at a really, really bad time. I think, based on where this team is at overall, losing Trier is perhaps a bigger loss than was losing Brandon Ashley in 2014, when the Cats were ranked No. 1 with clear national title aspirations. Because Arizona as presently constituted has to win in shootout fashion, losing arguably the team's best scorer (and one who was ascending) is going to be tough to manage, at least in the short term. Recent Wildcat teams, which could grind out wins on the defensive end, wouldn't suffer as much losing this scoring punch. But 2015-16 Arizona needs every point it can get and losing Trier is a major blow to a team starting Pac-12 play 1-2. Four weeks out and he's back around the time the SoCal schools come to Tucson. If it's more like six weeks he could miss those games plus the Utah/Colorado road swing, which is already tough. And even when he comes back you have to wonder how long it will take him to get back into the flow with shooting, dribbling, etc. I think Trier's loss clearly knocks Arizona from conference favorite status, at least in the regular season, and likely knocks the Cats down from two-seed contention in the NCAA Tournament to the three or four range, best case (ESPN's Joe Lunardi agrees. His latest bracket dropped the Cats from a 2 seed to a 4 seed). A home tilt with first-place and undefeated-in-conference Washington this week looms large.

Ryan Kelapire: Admittedly, it does change things a lot. Even after the 1-2 start, I felt as though Arizona was the far-and-away favorite to win the conference. Now, it's anyone's conference to win. Without Trier, Arizona lost one of its best shooters, and its leading scorer as well. And they don't really have a natural replacement. Elliott Pitts could replace his shooting ability, but not his scoring ability, and we still don't even know when (or if) he's going to return this season. Justin Simon could emerge in Trier's absence and he probably has the most diverse skillset of any of the other options, but he hasn't played much this year and isn't a threat from the perimeter.

So basically, Arizona lost a major piece for at least a month and doesn't have a player that can come close to replacing his production. Now, they might be able to step up in other areas and stay afloat until Trier returns, but it's going to require a major effort from the entire team.

Gabe Encinas: Going into the season I expected this to be a 10 loss team. Losing four starters and relying on guys who had never played a game in an Arizona jersey just didn't sit well with me. Of course, Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen were in the system, with Gabe York and Kaleb Tarczewski coming back, but you get the point. Going through non-conference play, I figured this might just be a five or six team loss. Now, with this injury, I'm going to push it back to the 10-loss team. There's just little-to-no depth at the wing spot now, especially without Elliott Pitts.

James Schlittenhart: Honestly, this team has already outperformed my preseason expectations. If I return to that benchmark, then the Trier injury does not alter my outlook all that much. I expected Arizona to be a competitor in a parity-filled Pac12, and end up with a 6 - 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I think both of those are still exceptionally viable outcomes. There's no denying this is a huge loss, and that Arizona would have been a much better team with Allonzo in the lineup. But, given many of the reasons Gabe stated earlier, it does not alter my preseason view of the Wildcats. It is up to Sean Miller to continue what some have argued is one of his career best coaching performances and pull this Arizona team through Trier's injury.

JB: Would more true road games in non-conference play have helped this weekend?

BH: This is an interesting question. Arizona hasn't started conference play with three-straight road games since the 1994-95 season. I think playing at Gonzaga was a great test because that's a tough place to play, and was against a quality opponent. Perhaps at least one other true road game, even if it wasn't against a team as good as the Zags, could've helped acclimate the Cats to the road atmosphere and schedule, knowing the way the conference slate started with that trio of away games. But who knows.

RK: I don't think so, to be honest. It wasn't like Trier and Allen, the two major contributors that are inexperienced in D1 basketball, played poorly and were rattled. Road losses happen to every team, and this team is especially prone to them because, well, they're just not a dominant team.

GE: I don't think so. UCLA is always going to be tough no matter what. It also didn't help that it was a terrible defensive performance. USC I have a little trouble swallowing, simply because they were able to compete with Arizona for four overtimes. That's where I have the issue. But I don't think that was a product of the road environment. Every team gives Arizona their best when they host, but I don't think it was that much of a factor. Like Ryan said, road losses happen to every team. The USC game at McKale shouldn't be within 15 points.

JS: No matter how many road games Arizona plays, teams are always going to be geared up to play their best ball against the Wildcats. It's not like Arizona got laughed out of the gym in these games; it took four overtimes to lose by a combined five points. Basketball feels very different than football in this regard. I have zero statistical evidence to back this up, but my gut instinct is that the better football team has a much higher chance to win than the better basketball team. I can count on one hand the amount of times a significantly overmatched football team ended up pulling out victories (Appalachian State over Michigan, Boise State over Oklahoma), but it's an epidemic in basketball. That's what makes March so special. I'm not willing to write off the Wildcats after two exceptionally hard-fought wins against teams that are by no means slouches. Road games are tough. Let's see what happens in McKale.

JB: Can you physically handle an entire Pac-12 season of these types of games throughout the conference?

BH: Definitely not from the Arizona perspective, especially if you have a significant other who can't understand what all the fuss is about. Very exciting games for a basketball fan in general, but a very unhealthy recipe for those of us with a significant, if unexplainable, emotional investment. The worst part of both the UCLA and USC games was the thrilling, clutch comebacks late... only to have hope dashed (and in two very different ways).

RK: Barely. I will say that I really enjoy close games at McKale Center because it creates an awesome atmosphere. We haven't gotten to have many of those types of games in recent years, and I'm looking forward to them this season.

GE: It honestly doesn't matter to me. Losses are going to happen and I think that the close games are going to help Sean Miller prepare his team. At the end of the day, Arizona will be in the mix for a Pac-12 Championship and make the tournament as a 6-seed or better. From there, you can expect to reach at least the round of 32, likely falling prior to the Final Four. That's just how it's been for Arizona basketball.

JS: My satellite went out during the UCLA game with 3:47 left due to heavy snows in my home city of Flagstaff. My Pac-12 Network subscription stopped working in the first overtime of the USC game. As long as I can't physically view the ends of these games due to Force Majure, I see no reason why I shouldn't be just fine.