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Arizona basketball: Should Parker Jackson-Cartwright or Kadeem Allen be the Wildcats' primary point guard?

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Both Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright bring a distinct skill-set to the team, but which one should be team's primary point guard?

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Before the Arizona Wildcats started their season, the point guard position was a question mark. With T.J. McConnell's departure, it left the team in position without an overly-experienced point guard on the roster.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright had played a season at Arizona, but his role was limited. Meanwhile Kadeem Allen, a junior college transfer, hadn't played Division 1 basketball yet, plus he was more of a combo/scoring guard than a true point guard.

As the season began, Allen was the one starting and playing a majority of the minutes. He played well, but has been dealing with the effects of an illness since late January, and that resulted in him being a bit limited on the court. As such, Allen's minutes decreased and Sean Miller inserted Jackson-Cartwright into the starting lineup. The team and Jackson-Cartwright have been successful since the switch, and it leaves Arizona with a good problem to have -- which one should be the team's primary point guard moving forward?

Here's the argument that can be made for each player:

Why it should be Parker Jackson-Cartwright

Right now, Jackson-Cartwright is the "hot hand" as they say in basketball. In Arizona's six-game winning streak, Jackson-Cartwright is averaging 8.5 points and 4.2 assists per game and has a remarkable assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.2-to-1 in that span. He's also made 10 of his last 16 3-point attempts dating back to the loss against Oregon, and his minutes are up as a result.

"Parker Jackson-Cartwright is playing his best basketball of his career," Sean Miller said after his team’s win vs. ASU. "He’s running the team and making players better."

Jackson-Cartwright's been lighting it up from downtown, while also doing a terrific job of finding his teammates for open looks. My favorite part of PJC's game is his willingness to push the pace and get the transition game going.

That said, there are also two overlooked aspects about Jackson-Cartwright's game. The first is his improved defensive prowess.

"It’s his defense that we’re the most proud of," Miller said. "He’s a much better defender than he used to be this season and that’s what you hope with young players as they continue to work."

The second is his durability.

"Parker has not missed one day," Miller said. "He hasn’t missed one practice, not any time from the beginning of school until now and it’s that consistency and effort that as allowed him to grow and play – at a very crucial time for our team – at the highest level that he’s played."

One very important characteristic of being a starting point guard is not only being a talented player, but also being present -- not missing games, practices, etc. That way, when game time comes around, the team is prepared to hit on all cylinders and not having to make up for lost practice time. Obviously it's not Allen's fault that he had an illness and was forced to miss time because of that, but we do have to credit Jackson-Cartwright for being on the court everyday, and it certainly turns this situation in his favor.

Why it should be Kadeem Allen

As mentioned earlier, the reason Allen was taken out of the starting lineup was not because of performance, but because of the virus that he contracted, which made him sluggish and lose about 10-15 pounds.

Before Allen was ill, he was one of Arizona's most consistent players. Since the Wildcats' game against UNLV on Dec. 19, Allen had scored at least nine points in each of the Wildcats' games up until the team's game against Washington State on Feb 2 -- the first game he didn't start because of his health.

That started a rough stretch for him, and it continued until this Wednesday when he broke out, scoring 15 points against Arizona State in 15 minutes. But it makes sense considering that two days before that, Miller said Allen's health had noticeably improved.

When Allen is healthy, he's not quite as consistent as a shooter or a passer as Jackson-Cartwright is -- though he's more than capable on that end -- but his defensive ability alone could make him the better choice.

One could argue that no matter who the point guard is, this Arizona team should be able to score the basketball. With Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski in the middle and Gabe York and Allonzo Trier (plus Mark Tollefsen) on the wing, there's plenty of offensive firepower there. But what there isn't enough of is defensive talent. Other than Tarczewski, none of the players listed are above-average defensive players. Putting Allen in the lineup with that group of players provides some much-needed balance to a team that has struggled all season to put together a consistent defensive effort.

Yes, Jackson-Cartwright's defense has improved since the beginning of the season, but Allen is still the team's best perimeter defender. His combination of quickness and length makes him a tough matchup for opposing point guards, not to mention that it allows him to guard multiple positions. Where as in PJC's case, he struggles to defender bigger, stronger point guards.

For comparison, the team's defensive rating (an estimate for the number of points allowed per 100 possessions) when Allen is on the court is 93.3, while Jackson-Cartwright's is 99.1. Only Gabe York's is higher than that (a higher rating is worse in this case).

When you take into consideration the defensive impact Allen makes, he might be the better option than PJC even if he's not as good offensively as PJC -- Allen's offensive rating is 109, while PJC's is 111.6.

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But when all is said and done, Arizona is in a favorable spot. The difference between Allen and Jackson-Cartwright probably isn't that significant. Both are good players and the team has had success with both running the point. At the same time, however, each does present a unique set of strengths and weaknesses.

With Jackson-Cartwright, you get a guy who's currently playing "the best basketball of his career", shooting it extremely well from behind the arc and efficiently running the offense. Yet he has noticeable limitations, like defending or finishing at the rim. Meanwhile with Allen, you get a stingy perimeter defender but, even though he is an effective slasher and can hit a jumper from time to time, he does represent an offensive downgrade from PJC.

The most important part of the season is just around the corner, and Sean Miller has a decision to make. Does he return to what was working earlier in the season and give Allen a bulk of the minutes? Or is time to hand the keys over to the PJC?

Or should Miller take it game-by-game and play the matchup?

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