The offseason is in full force for the Arizona Wildcats, but it’s never too early to look ahead to next season.
So I had you guys send me your questions about the 2017-18 season and I tried to answer them as best I could.
Here we go!
Q. What is your realistic roster for next season and a starting 5?
It’s still difficult to sort out what Arizona’s roster will look like next season since we’re still waiting to see if Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, and Chance Comanche will return, but I tend to think all three of those players stay (originally, I thought Trier was going to leave, but I’ve flip-flopped in recent days).
If they all stay, here’s a breakdown of what Arizona’s roster will look like (not including walk-ons):
- Dusan Ristic
- Parker Jackson-Cartwright
- Keanu Pinder
- Chance Comanche
- Allonzo Trier
- Rawle Alkins
- Dylan Smith
- DeAndre Ayton
- Ira Lee
- Alex Barcello
- Brandon Randolph
- Talbott Denny/2017 recruit/transfer
- 2017 recruit/transfer
In this case, my starting lineup prediction would be:
- PG: Parker Jackson-Cartwright
- SG: Allonzo Trier
- SF: Rawle Alkins
- PF: DeAndre Ayton
- C: Dusan Ristic
Q. Which basketball prospect do you suspect the team will pick up for next year?
I have felt pretty confident for a while that Arizona will land Brian Bowen, but that might be contingent on the decisions of Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins to go pro.
Bowen admitted that he is waiting for NBA decisions to shake out before picking a school, and should Trier or Alkins leave, it would open up a spot for Bowen in UA’s starting lineup next season.
If both stay, Bowen would likely be relegated to the bench, which makes heading to another school more appealing.
Bowen isn’t the only 2017 recruit Arizona is chasing — Trevon Duval and Brandon McCoy are the two other premier targets — but he does seem to be the player most likely to land in Tucson.
If the Wildcats strike out on all three, they could pick up a lower-level recruit — former Cal signee Jemarl Baker comes to mind — and/or another transfer or two.
Q. What is Dylan Smith’s role next year?
Speaking of transfers, Dylan Smith is an interesting and often overlooked piece to the 2017-18 team. As a brief background on Smith’s game, he was UNC-Asheville’s leading scorer as a freshman in the 2015-16 season, averaging 13.5 points per game.
He also has some NCAA Tournament experience, as he scored 14 points in UNC Asheville’s first-round loss to Villanova, which of course went on to win the national championship.
Listed at 6-foot-5, 170 pounds, Smith played the 2 and the 3 as a freshman, per KenPom. Offensively, he was asked to take on a major role offensively, leading the team in shot percentage.
Relatedly, his field goal percentages were fairly low. He shot 40.5 percent on 2-pointers and 34.9 percent on 3-pointers (he did shoot over 80 percent from the free-throw line, though). He was not much of a distributor either as he had more turnovers (88) than assists (63).
It’s worth pointing out that he took nearly seven 3s per game with the Bulldogs, and presumably, the biggest change for Smith at Arizona will be his usage rate.
As mentioned earlier, the ball was in his hands a ton at UNC-Asheville, as it relied on him to create offense. Given the talent Smith will have around him as a Wildcat, he will likely be a secondary or tertiary option in Tucson.
It will mean fewer shot attempts — he took 10.7 per game with UNC-Asheville — but likely a higher field goal percentage. Sean Miller did say earlier in the year that Smith is one of Arizona’s best 3-point shooters.
Personally, I see Smith having a Kobi Simmons-type role on offense. And that is that he’ll have open catch-and-shoot opportunities and will mostly play off-the-ball, but will also have a chance to create his own shot if need be.
Like Simmons, I don’t think Smith is a guy you would pencil in as a point guard — or even a combo guard — so I would not expect him to play the 1 that often. That position will probably belong to Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Alex Barcello.
Defensively with UNC-Asheville, Smith had length but not strength. Therefore, adding weight was a priority for him in his off-year in Tucson.
“In Dylan’s case, a big part of (becoming a better player) is strength and conditioning,” Miller said in December. “He was very thin when he got here. He’s gained strength, he’s gained weight, and he still has the rest of the winter, spring, summer. By the time you see him next year in the Red-Blue game, he’ll look like a different person.”
Given Smith’s length, he could be a guy that guards all three perimeter positions in due time. At UNC-Asheville he did not rate well as a defender as he had the team’s second-worst defensive box plus-minus at -1.3, but the off-year at Arizona should help him improve immensely.
Not to mention Smith still has three years left at Arizona, so he has plenty of time to develop.
Q. Will a Romar hire result in a change of the offensive style? Should it?
I personally don’t think adding Lorenzo Romar will result in drastic changes to Arizona’s offense, but there is one area where he is distinctively different than Miller: Tempo.
Romar’s teams at UW often played at one of the faster paces in the country (in 2015-16, for instance, UW played at the second-fasted tempo in the country). Miller’s teams are usually below average in pace. Sometimes far below average, like this season when UA ranked 276th (of 351) in adjusted tempo, per KenPom.
The problem is Arizona’s sluggish pace is partly a function of Miller’s packline defense. Packline defenses in general aren’t set up to force turnovers, thus limiting potential transition opportunities.
In the last two seasons, the Wildcats have ranked 250th and 294th in opposing turnover percentage.
Secondly, the Wildcats crash the defensive glass hard instead of having perimeter players leak out in transition. The result is Arizona is continually one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country. The downside? Again, it limits transition opportunities.
The reason why I don’t think Romar’s presence will affect Arizona’s style of play much is because Miller’s packline defense and emphasis on defensive rebounding isn’t going anywhere. That’s who he is.
Two years ago when UW was second in the nation in tempo, it rebounded at one of the worst rates in the country, but also forced turnovers at a relatively high rate.
The opposite is true for Miller-coached teams, and that’s not changing.
As far as whether or not Arizona should change its style of play, I would lean toward no. Look, Arizona’s execution against zone defenses could improve, but the Wildcats have had extremely efficient offenses in recent seasons. In the last five seasons, Arizona’s worst offensive output came in 2015-16 when it finished 20th in the country in efficiency.
A Romar-coached team has not had a top-20 offensive efficiency since 2011 and he has had some pretty darn good offensive players at his disposal recently.
If Romar can help Arizona’s zone offense a bit, great, but the Wildcats’ offense isn’t exactly broken. It’s not always the prettiest, but it has been effective under Miller and that’s all that matters.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire