A familiar sentence for every Arizona Wildcats fan this year: expectations are high.
In this week’s round of “bests”, “favorites”, and “top picks,” NBC Sports is anointing Arizona as having the best backcourt heading into the 2017-18 season and the third-best frontcourt.
Arizona is deep all-around this year, but has a mix of veteran leadership and versatility that’s been recognized.
A team’s backcourt typically refers to the point guards, shooting guards, and any combo guards. As a collective unit, Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Brandon Randolph, and Dylan Smith were picked by NBC Sports as the year’s top backcourt in the country.
Let’s start with the good, because there is plenty of it.
Allonzo Trier is going to be in the mix for National Player of the Year. He could end up averaging 20 points for a team that could end up being the best in the country. I’m not sure there is a better pure scorer in college basketball this season. He’s joined on the perimeter by Rawle Alkins, a former five-star recruit and a potential first round pick that should be in line for an uptick in shots once he returns from a foot injury.
Brandon Randolph is an impressive freshman that will give some good minutes early in his career, and UNC-Asheville transfer Dylan Smith is, at worst, a serviceable backup at the point.
A consistent distribution of shots going around the team may be Sean Miller’s hardest coaching obstacle, but when you have an elite scorer like Trier, it’s easy to have him take the helm from a scoring standpoint.
Jackson-Cartwright heads arguably the biggest question mark in the back court: point guard play. Despite being the team’s lone senior backcourt player with plenty of game-time experience running the team:
The one constant with Arizona over the course of the last four years has been terrific leadership and a defensive menace at the point guard spot. First, it was T.J. McConnell. Then it was Kadeem Allen. Now, it looks like that job is going to be Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s to lose. And he’s not bad.
“Not bad” is not good at representing how valuable PJC’s contributions can be this year. If the Red and Blue game was any indication on how he’s approaching the season, filling in the shoes of his predecessors as a defensive menace appears to be a goal.
Jackson-Cartwright recorded three steals in the scrimmage and hounded Alex Barcello. PJC has had steady improvements on the defensive end all three years thus far, doubling his steals per game from his sophomore to senior season (0.6 SPG to 1.2). It would not surprise if he increased that number this season.
Barcello, who participated in the dunk contest and could provide backup minutes as the season progresses, was not mentioned by NBC.
Within the frontcourt, we have the forward and centers Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic, Keanu Pinder, Emmanuel Akot, and Ira Lee. As a group, they were named the third-best front court behind Michigan State, headed by Miles Bridges, and Kentucky, a collective group of 5-star recruits.
It’s no secret that Deandre Ayton leads the group with expectations as high as his vertical. Here’s what NBC’s Scott Phillips wrote:
Rated as the No. 1 player in the country for much of his high school career, most of the freshman chatter seems to be centered on Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. and Duke’s Marvin Bagley when it comes to potential No. 1 picks. If Ayton plays motivated and capable he’ll put his name in that conversation. College basketball hasn’t seen many 7-footers with the athleticism and skill of Ayton.
Ristic brings familiarity and steadiness down low as a senior coming off of a season with 10.9 PPG and 5.5 RPG. Pinder, a fellow senior, will bring another flavor of athleticism down low, and while it will be tough to maintain improved output with Deandre’s presence, as Phillips put it:
It’s pretty safe to assume that Ristic can remain productive and that Pinder will be an energy guy off the bench.
While the Wildcats haven’t been unanimously ranked as No. 1 in all polls, the inputs are there with a strong backcourt and frontcourt pairing that could have the team dancing in March.