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Arizona Wildcats projected to have top offense in college basketball by ESPN

The talent is there, but replacing Lauri Markkanen will be difficult

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Arizona vs Saint Mary's Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

How good will the Arizona Wildcats be in 2017-18? That obviously remains to be seen, but that hasn’t stopped the hype train.

Arizona has been picked as the No. 1 team in several publications already, and now ESPN believes the Wildcats will have the best offense in the country this season.

Here’s why, according to John Gasaway:

Arizona's going to get its fair share of preseason votes as the No. 1 team in the nation, period, and rightly so. With an attack led by Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and incoming freshman Deandre Ayton, Sean Miller will have possibly the most talented and potent nucleus in the country.

In a sophomore season that was abbreviated due to a suspension for PED use, Trier, 6-foot-5, was a foul-drawing machine who made opposing defenses suffer both from beyond the arc and in the paint. Alkins put together a freshman season that qualifies him as a borderline Trier clone, only beefier (and with fewer fouls drawn).

Lastly, Ayton, 7-1, is projected as a top-three pick in the 2018 draft. Keep in mind that in Pac-12 play last season, the Wildcats' only (and I do mean only) brush with statistical mediocrity came in the form of 2-point accuracy (50.1 percent). Ayton will see to it that this number rises in 2017-18. This could be Miller's strongest team yet in Tucson

The Wildcats finished 16th in offensive efficiency last season, per KenPom. If you don’t adjust Arizona’s numbers for its opponents, the Wildcats finished 17th in college basketball in offensive efficiency, posting a 113.8 offensive rating (the number of points scored per 100 possessions).

The best the Wildcats have ever finished under Sean Miller is seventh back in 2014-15.

One thing Arizona will have to overcome this season is the loss of Lauri Markkanen.

Markkanen was crazy efficient in his lone season in Tucson, posting a shooting line of .492/.423/.835. Markkanen had the best offensive rating on Arizona’s roster (134.1) and according to KenPom, he was the 15th-most efficient player in college basketball. Not to mention that the spacing he created benefitted Arizona’s entire offense.

The good news for Arizona is there is plenty of talent on the roster to fill that void, mainly Deandre Ayton.

Plus, Trier, Alkins, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, and Dusan Ristic are all a year older, and Arizona’s third-ranked freshman class and UNC-Asheville transfer Dylan Smith should give the Wildcats a plethora of scoring options off the bench.

There’s also the addition of former Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who is expected to bring some change to Arizona’s offense — perhaps an increased emphasis on transition offense and/or ball screens.

One area the Wildcats could improve is 3-point shooting. Not their efficiency — Arizona shot an excellent 39 percent from 3 as a team last year — but their volume.

Arizona was 309th in the country in 3-point rate — the number of 3s taken per field goal attempt — last season.

Jackson-Cartwright, Alkins, Trier, Smith, Brandon Randolph, and Alex Barcello are all expected to be above-average shooters, while Ayton should be able to stretch the floor a bit as well.

With that many shooters, it may not be a bad idea to give them the green light. At minimum, Arizona should strive to finish better than 11th in the Pac-12 in 3-point attempts as it did last season.

The other top offenses in college basketball are projected to be owned by the...

2. Duke Blue Devils

3. Michigan State Spartans

4. Saint Mary’s Gaels

5. Kansas Jayhawks

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire