The Arizona Wildcats' first exhibition game, at least versus another team, is now in the books. It was a game that doesn’t count, against a much lesser foe in the College of Idaho, in the friendly environs of McKale Center. Sean Miller is still formulating his starting lineup and his rotations. All that said, there are still a number of things we can glean from Tuesday night’s game.
There are significant roster question marks
This became apparent before the game even tipped, as word began spreading that Allonzo Trier, he of the now long brewing eligibility concerns, would not even dress out for the game. Joining him in an Arizona polo shirt on the bench however was Chance Comanche, suspended indefinitely due to academics. Trier was not a surprise but Tuesday’s development does become the clearest evidence yet that there are indeed dire questions regarding his eligibility, and thus availability, for the season.
Trier is Arizona’s leading returning scorer from last year and was expected to be among the most important roster pieces. Comanche figures to be arguably the most important interior defender, particularly important with the defensive uncertainties (if not flaws) in the games of both Dusan Ristic and Lauri Markkanen, particularly with regard to rim protection. Now Comanche's availability going forward is thrown into question.
Finally, Ray Smith may be facing a significant injury and thus joins the pool of Maalox-inducing questions swirling right before the start of the season proper.
We may never see Ray Smith play high-level basketball… in Tucson or anywhere else
I really hope this is not the case, particularly as Smith’s post-Arizona future is concerned. This is a young man who was projected as an NBA Lottery pick with a very bright professional (and financial) future. His long road back from multiple ACL injuries is well-documented, and Wildcat fans know he missed all of last season but worked himself all the way back from his second ACL tear in as many years.
Smith came down awkwardly early in Tuesday night’s tilt and, like most fans, my heart skipped a beat, thinking, "There’s no way it can happen again like this". He went to the locker room, but returned quickly. So it seemed like nothing more than a scare and he seemed to be moving fine when he returned to action.
But when Smith went down again with about 12 minutes left in the first half, it seemed like much more than just a scare. Sean Miller would say after the game, "It’s heartbreaking. I don’t have any words to really couch it, make it better than it really is, it’s just awful." That certainly does not sound good coming from the head coach, nor did it look good to see Smith carried off the floor.
This of course throws Smith’s entire future into doubt, and not just his Wildcat future. It will be truly heartbreaking if injuries derail a promising career before it can ever get off the ground. Fingers crossed, but things unfortunately do not look good.
The offensive attack is well balanced
The pall cast on Arizona following the news of Trier and Comanche, coupled with Smith’s injury, can’t be ignored. But in the spirit of looking on the bright side (if there is one), the offense was balanced. Arizona scored 50 first half points with no player in double digits (six players would finish with double digit points).
Ristic and Markkanen played well together in the high-low game, combining for 22 points and 19 rebounds, both showing adeptness passing from the high post and in the pick and roll game. The "twin tower" lineup with both on the floor could provide a very difficult matchup for any opponent, not just the relatively diminutive College of Idaho (which has no player above 6-foot-7).
Kobi Simmons led all scorers with an efficient 17 points. Kadeem Allen did a little bit of everything with 11 points, 8 assists (and 0 turnovers in a game with sloppy-at-times Arizona ball movement), 4 rebounds, 7 steals, and even 2 blocks. Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Rawle Alkins likewise kicked in 11 points each. Keanu Pinder contributed with a high energy double-double, particularly heartening given what necessarily appears to be an expanded role going forward.
Obviously we take all the stats with a significant grain of salt given the opponent, but overall, the offense was well balanced and it appears that an array of viable scoring options will be available on any given night (though shooting 1 for 13 on 3-point attempts as a team is something to monitor).
That’s one positive (perhaps the only one) fans can take away from what we saw on Tuesday night versus COI.
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