The Arizona Wildcats dropped their first game of the season on Friday, losing to Butler 69-65 in the Las Vegas Invitational championship game.
Through six games, the Wildcats sit with a 5-1 record and they return to action Wednesday when they host Texas Southern.
And starting this Monday, I will be answering your Arizona basketball questions and compiling them into a weekly mailbag.
If you want your questions answered, you can tweet them to me at @RKelapire or you can email them to me at email@example.com.
Here is the first installment!
Q: After Lauri Markkanen (and you can't count Allonzo Trier) who is the second most important player on Arizona’s active roster?
It has to be Parker Jackson-Cartwright. The Wildcats have 71 assists as a team and Jackson-Cartwright has accounted for more than half of them (36). No other player on the team has more than ten (!).
In other words, Jackson-Cartwright is the only true distributor on the roster. If, say, something were to happen to him, Kadeem Allen would likely take over at point guard, and he has had rough year offensively so far (more on that later).
Jackson-Cartwright racks up 3.6 assists for every turnover, and the next best on the team is Kobi Simmons at seven assists to five turnovers.
The Wildcats have not been particularly great on either side of the ball — they are 26th in offense and 28th in defense, per Kenpom.com) — but they are turning the ball over the lowest rate since T.J. McConnell’s senior season and the second lowest rate since Sean Miller became the UA head coach.
Without Jackson-Cartwright, that would not be the case and this team would be far worse.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise/disappointment about this year's team so far?
The biggest surprise certainly has to be how much the freshmen have contributed offensively. Arizona’s top three scorers — Markkanen, Rawle Alkins, and Kobi Simmons — are all freshmen. And they’re all doing it at an efficient clip. I expected Markkanen would be good from the get-go, but I was unsure about Alkins and Simmons.
So far, both have been contributing just as much — if not more — than any other player on the roster, excluding Markkanen.
Granted, things would be much different if Allonzo Trier were playing since Alkins would not be starting, but still, Arizona is getting about as much from the freshmen as one could realistically expect from them.
The biggest disappointment? Well, there are two, in my opinion — Kadeem Allen and Dusan Ristic. Both players have had a brutal year offensively.
Ristic is shooting just 45.7 percent from the field, a ten percent drop from his field goal percentage a year ago. Plus, he is averaging only 1.3 free throw attempts per game.
Meanwhile, Allen is shooting 36.4 percent from the field and only 2-8 from 3. He also has more turnovers (5) than assists (3). He is playing off the ball more this season, and that was expected to translate into higher scoring numbers, but that has not been the case so far.
The good news is that Allen is still Arizona’s best perimeter defender, plus one could argue that Allen’s struggles are tied to his health. He has been hindered with a knee injury since the season opener.
Perhaps as his recovery continues, his offensive production will rise. However, I do think that it has become clear that Allen will never be the type of scorer at Arizona that he was in junior college, when he was the nation’s leading scorer.
Q: Are there any concerns about Markkanen’s defense? He seems to get scored on a lot.
If there is any flaw in Markkanen’s game this far, it’s his defense (which his dad pointed out!) with his two main issues being covering pick-and-rolls and defending off the dribble. Two of his fouls against Butler (a game in which he fouled out) were because he was late hedging on a pick-and-roll.
Markkanen, despite being a 7-footer, is not much of a rim-protector either (only Kobi Simmons and Parker Jackson-Cartwright have lower block percentages this season).
However, there are two things you have to factor in when evaluating Markkanen as a defender. One, he is playing 32 minutes per game, and two, he has to be extremely weary of getting into foul trouble because of his importance on offense.
Naturally, those two things will make him less effective as a defender, and Arizona has to live with that, since he is easily the team’s most important player and has to be on the floor as much as possible, given how much of an impact he makes offensively.
Plus, Markkanen should improve as the season goes on, and although his defensive ability might be the worst part of his game, he’s not a liability in that regard.
Q: When we look back, will Friday show that Arizona wasn't as good as advertised? Or that Butler is for real?
It showed us that Arizona was overrated, and is about equal with Butler. Without Allonzo Trier, the Wildcats are a top 18-25 caliber team — not top-10 — and so is Butler.
Heading into that game, Butler was actually ranked one spot ahead of Arizona by Kenpom.com at No. 19. Now, Arizona is at No. 24 and Butler is at No. 20 and I think that is more than fair.
This Arizona team has clear flaws — 3-point shooting, depth, and rebounding — and clear strengths — free throw shooting, athleticism, low turnovers — but as a whole it’s not a team that is particularly dominant on either end of the floor. To be a top-10 team, you have to be.
And I don’t think will change unless Trier returns. Which brings me to the next question....
Q: What is Allonzo Trier’s status?
Trier is out for unspecified reasons and the UA has not commented on the matter. We do not know if or when he will return. Obviously we’re hoping to get more clarity on what is going on, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Trier is practicing with the team, though.
Q: How is U of A standing with Brian Bowen?
Well, Arizona is looking to add one more recruit to its 2017 class, and Bowen is a guy Miller and company have gone hard after.
ESPN’s Jeff Borzello reported that the Wildcats “could be the favorite”, but the experts believe Michigan State has a leg up on the rest of the field.
The predictions from the 247Sports’ Crystal Ball are heavily in Michigan State’s favor right now.
Q: Is there anyone on the roster we can count on to shoot from deep until Trier returns?
So far, no.
Alkins and Simmons, while hitting 3s at a respectable 36.8 percent rate, have both been streaky and Jackson-Cartwright and Allen have both struggled from that range.
Jackson-Cartwright’s inability to shoot so far is definitely head-scratching because he shot 48.6 percent from 3 in Pac-12 play last year, but it hasn’t carried over this season.
Yet, he is a career 36 percent 3-point shooter, so to think he will continue to shoot as poorly (26.3%) as he has from 3 would be misguided.
He will start hitting them at a higher rate but, still, aside from Markkanen there isn’t much in terms of consistent perimeter shooting. Undoubtedly, Trier would help immensely in that regard.
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