Wildcats mix-n-match lineups provide depth despite absences
Arizona guard Kadeem Allen (5) makes a break for the basket during the Red-Blue Game in McKale Center on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. Allen is the veteran on a Wildcats team with a plethora of freshmen talent.
When Arizona Wildcats kick off their basketball season on Nov. 11, one thing to look for is how coach Sean Miller uses his roster. The Wildcats return two starters along with a top-10 recruiting class and look to win the Pac-12 Conference. However, there are some question marks surrounding the availability of many key players now.
Per 247 Sports, the 2015 Wildcats had the third best recruiting class behind only Duke and Kentucky, but their impact may be minimal. After Justin Simon transferred last spring, Wildcats fans did not panic due to who else was in the fold. Allonzo Trier was returning, Comanche played well in spot minutes, and Ray Smith was coming off of two ACL injuries.
While Comanche figures to come back, we do not know how much impact Trier will have this season.
With or without those players, Arizona still has an extremely versatile roster remaining. How many rosters have bigs that can shoot threes, guards that distribute and score along with wings that can guard three positions?
Save for Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic, Miller has it so he has a plethora of chess pieces at his disposal to unleash on the Pac-12. Arizona finished third in the conference last year trailing Oregon and Utah but are aiming to return to the top this year.
How did Oregon run away with the Pac-12 last season? Take a look at the unorthodox lineup they rolled out against opponents. The Ducks forte' was rolling out a lineup that included two 6-foot-6 forwards in Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook and a 7-foot Chris Boucher to flank them.
Cook is gone but Brooks is back and a possible All-American candidate this year. Before drawing attention for angering Duke, he led Oregon to a 28-6 record while averaging 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. Boucher averaged almost three blocks a game and hit 33 threes last season, so bigs guarding him were put in compromising positions.
With opposing big men so far from the basket, Brooks and Tyler Dorsey were able to penetrate and consistently create scoring opportunities.
Like Oregon, Arizona has its own big man with a deft touch in Lauri Markkanen, but Miller plans to utilize him everywhere.
“To coach him and bring out the best in him, it cannot be that he just is adept outside the three-point line,” Miller said. “He has to be able to use his size around the basket and that blend is what will bring out the best in our team."
“[With] Kadeem we talked about using him away from the point guard position some to use more energy as a defensive stopper,” Miller said. “I think he has more talent in that area as a perimeter player than anyone on the team."
In three of the last four seasons, Miller implemented a rotation where seven players receive 15 or more minutes per game. With a variety of players fighting for significant minutes and Ristic and Jackson-Cartwright penciled in at permanent spots, Miller has many roles to dole out.
Keanu Pinder is a name that could emerge and gain significant frontcourt minutes. He is an explosive leaper with a high motor and there is always room at Arizona for those players.
While Miller is a great coach, he has his work cut out for him if wants to finally make a Final Four.
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