Earlier in the season, the Arizona Wildcats were limited to seven or eight scholarship players, and distributing minutes wasn’t a problem for Sean Miller.
If you were healthy and you were a scholarship player on Arizona’s roster, you were going to play — and most likely you were going to play a lot.
At one point, the Wildcats had five guys tallying nearly 30 minutes per game.
But with the return of Allonzo Trier from suspension, the return of Parker Jackson-Cartwright from a high ankle sprain, and the recent emergence of Chance Comanche, minutes suddenly aren’t as easy to come by for some Wildcats.
Kobi Simmons, for instance, was playing over 30 minutes per game before Trier was reinstated. Since then? He has only reached the 30-minute mark once, and that was in Trier’s debut against UCLA.
After that game, the most minutes Simmons has played is 27. And in Arizona’s last seven games, Simmons is only playing 20.3 minutes per game.
The same is true for fellow freshman Rawle Alkins, though to a lesser extent. In the last seven games, Alkins is averaging 23 minutes per game. Before Trier’s return, Alkins was playing 30.8 minutes per game.
On Thursday against USC, Alkins came off the bench for the first time this season. Meanwhile, Simmons started in every game from Dec. 3 to Feb. 4, but has been a reserve in the last six games.
Of course, they aren’t the only players that have seen their minutes fluctuate, but Miller hinted that changes in a player’s minutes or a player’s role can lead to outside distractions, and therefore he is concerned about his team staying focused as the season winds down.
“What’s the hardest thing to control in a situation like ours,” Miller said, “is when you’re 26-4 and 15-2, there are a lot of great moments that we’ve had. Every once in a while, people can distract players on your team. (They will say) ‘you need to play more minutes. Coach doesn’t know what he’s doing, etc,’ and I think my worry … is to keep our team on point. To make sure that we have our circle and our locker room and we’re focused like we’ve been.”
It is not clear which players Miller was referring to, and he may have been speaking hypothetically, but he says those same distractions can be illuminated when a team like Arizona loses like it did Saturday to UCLA.
“Moments like this,” Miller said after the UCLA game, “you learn a lot about the character of your team. You learn a lot about the character of the families that you coach.”
One thing to keep in mind is that the NBA Draft is quickly approaching, and it is not unusual for draft prospects and their families to begin thinking about the future instead of the present.
Aside from a select number of elite prospects, a player’s draft stock can fluctuate dramatically in the last few weeks of a college season.
Therefore, how a player performs down the final stretch of the season could have a fairly significant impact on his future earnings.
And if a player is not getting the playing time he (or his family) believes is needed to showcase his talent, that’s an instance when those so-called distractions Miller is talking about can arise.
Not to say Arizona is experiencing that at the moment, but the Wildcats do have at least five underclassmen (Simmons, Alkins, Trier, Comanche, and Lauri Markkanen) that have NBA aspirations, so they certainly seem susceptible to it.
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