The Arizona Wildcats are set to begin their three-game Spain exhibition tour Sunday morning, and here are a few things you should watch for during the trip.
For UA’s complete schedule and viewing info in Spain, click here.
DeAndre Ayton is the No. 1 prospect in his class, Sean Miller called him a once-in-a-generation talent, and Rawle Alkins compared him to Joel Embiid. So it’s more than fair to say Ayton is entering his collegiate career with incredible hype around him, and this trip to Spain will be the first time we see him take the floor for the Wildcats.
Ayton is a do-it-all 7-footer with a physically imposing frame, but how he fits with Arizona obviously remains to be seen. Ayton will essentially be replacing Lauri Markkanen in Arizona’s starting lineup, and it’s expected he will provide more of an interior presence with a slight drop-off in shooting.
It’s obviously hard to evaluate any player in a three-game sample size, but you can’t blame Arizona fans for being excited and intrigued to see Ayton play in Spain where he can quickly prove he’s the real deal.
Emmanuel Akot and Alex Barcello at point guard
Senior Parker Jackson-Cartwright is Arizona’s clear-cut starter at point guard heading into the 2017-18 season, but who will be his main counterpart at the position?
Based on Miller’s recent comments, freshmen Alex Barcello and Emmanuel Akot are first in line, and it will be interesting to see how they handle that position in Spain, and the skill sets that they each bring to the table.
If there is one weakness this Arizona team may have, it’s its point guard play, so Barcello and Akot may very well wind up being two of Arizona’s most important players in the upcoming season.
The rest of the freshmen
We can’t forget about Brandon Randolph and Ira Lee, Arizona’s two other freshmen.
The 6-foot-5 Randolph has been lauded for his athleticism and shooting ability, while Lee, a 6-foot-8 forward, has been praised for his defensive ability, drawing comparisons to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The three exhibitions will give us a chance to get a feel for their games and what their roles may be in the upcoming season.
Rawle Alkins said the addition of Lorenzo Romar to the coaching staff brought “a lot” of changes to Arizona’s offense, but he also said we would have to wait until the team plays in Spain to see what those are.
Will one of those changes be a quicker pace? More ball screens? Fewer post-ups? Miller said only about 50 to 60 percent of Arizona’s offense will be installed in Spain, but maybe any changes that have been made will be noticeable enough to spot.
Chase Jeter & Dylan Smith
Chase Jeter has to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules, so the Spain trip will be the only time we’ll see the former Duke Blue Devil in action this year, aside from the Red-Blue game.
Seeing that there is a strong chance Jeter will be Arizona’s starting center in 2018-19, his stint in Spain could be a preview of what to expect next season when Jeter does have a major role.
Dylan Smith is in a similar boat, only he can play this year.
Aside from last year’s Red-Blue game, Arizona fans have not seen Smith suit up in red and blue yet, so this trip will provide some clarity as to what type of player he is and/or what his role will be with the Wildcats this season.
Miller said Tuesday that he doesn’t see the 6-foot-5 Smith as an option at point guard, so will he be a so-called “microwave scorer” like Kobi Simmons? Will he be a 3-and-D player? Will he even be a difference maker at all?
These are the kind of questions Smith may be able to answer in Spain.
Do NOT pay much attention to the rotations
Miller said he plans to play everybody, and will likely not have players exceed the 22-minute mark.
Thus, we will probably see some wacky rotations and groupings in Spain, which should not be cause for alarm.
It’s also important to remember that Arizona has only practiced 10 times prior to these games, so it would be understandable if the team looks out of sorts at times.
Basically, enjoy the fact that there is Arizona basketball happening this time of year, and don’t look too much into the results.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire