With a strong group of returning players and the addition of a top-five recruiting class, the Arizona Wildcats are expected to be one of the top teams in college basketball in 2017-18.
In fact, several publications list Arizona as their No. 1 team in their “way-too-early” preseason polls.
The Wildcats bring back their leading scorer in Allonzo Trier, and sophomore standout Rawle Alkins will start on the wing beside him.
That tandem should prove to be one of the best perimeter duos in the country — but it might not even be Arizona’s best duo.
According to ESPN, Trier and No. 1 recruit DeAndre Ayton are one of the top eight “1-2 punches” in college basketball in the upcoming season.
Sean Miller's squad could enter 2017-18 ranked first in every reputable poll with Trier, a preseason Pac-12 player of the year candidate, and Ayton, ranked second in the 2017 class by ESPN.com. Trier thrived after missing most of last season due to a suspension by the NCAA. He's back to bulk up impressive numbers from a year ago -- 17.2 PPG, 39.1 percent from the 3-point line -- before his pro career begins. Ayton, an ambitious and aggressive big man, will help Trier and Arizona with his ability to attack at all levels of the floor.
Still, it is a little surprising that Alkins isn’t included.
Statistically, Alkins is Arizona’s best returning player as he boasts the top box plus/minus — a box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player — among returning players.
The do-it-all guard averaged 10.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while shooting a relatively high percentage from the field (46.3) and from 3 (37.0) — all while playing solid defense.
One could argue that Alkins is more valuable to Arizona than Trier and/or that Alkins is more worthy to be included than Ayton because the latter has not played in a college game yet.
Nonetheless, Alkins being “snubbed” here is a good “problem” to have for Arizona, which is clearly loaded with talent.
Here are the rest of the top duos that ESPN listed (in no particular order):
Miles Bridges & Jaren Jackson — Michigan State Spartans
Devonte’ Graham & Svi Mykhailiuk — Kansas Jayhawks
Jock Landale & Calvin Hermanson — Saint Mary’s Gaels
Chris Chiozza & KeVaughn Allen — Florida Gators
Deng Adel & Quentin Snider — Louisville Cardinals
Khadeen Carrington & Angel Delgado — Seton Hall Pirates
Andrew Jones & Mohamed Bamba — Texas Longhorns
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire