Basketball beat writers Alec White, Mark Lawson and David Skinner answer questions about some key points for the upcoming men’s basketball season:
Q: The starting five are gone from last year, but there are plenty of younger returners for this season. Which one do you see playing the biggest role?
Mark: My first thought was Brandon Randolph, because he’s a top-50 recruit who proved at the high school level he could shoot and score and had to take a backseat last season to more experienced guys like Allonzo Trier and Dylan Smith. I think that for this team to go further than expected, however, it starts on the defensive end of the floor. Emmanuel Akot was a player Sean Miller spoke highly of, even before last season, as somebody who could guard multiple positions and be that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-type of player who you knew could disrupt the opposing team’s best scorer. Being that he was supposed to be a high school senior last season, I think he will come in more mature and adjusted to the college game, and I look for him to be somebody who can set the tone defensively.
David: For me, the biggest returning player is Chase Jeter. Much like for Mark, Randolph came to mind, but I believe the front court, an area that Sean Miller has prided himself on having depth in during his time in Tucson, is the biggest question coming into this season. Coming out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Jeter was a consensus top-15 overall prospect in his class, where he turned down offers from Arizona, UConn and Gonzaga to play at Duke, where he ended up finding little playing time and hurting his stock as a prospect in the process. But sitting out a whole year after a season where he was rarely featured has led many, including myself, to have doubts about the player. The natural talent is there, as we saw with the 14-rebound performance during the 24 minute Red-Blue scrimmage, and now we will see if Jeter’s experience and maturity will help him put it all together in a crucial time for Arizona.
Alec: Even though he hasn’t suited up for the Wildcats yet, I consider Chase Jeter a returner since he was on roster last year, so I agree with David here. I think he is someone Miller is going to lean on to get the scoring done down low to help open up shooting areas outside for the guards. Jeter’s big, 6-foot-10 frame will be felt most on the rebounding end. With two seven-footers on each of the last two years’ teams, Arizona ranked just fourth (2017-18) and sixth (2016-17) in the conference in rebounding. Jeter won’t necessarily be the team’s most dynamic player, but he’ll be a reliable scorer and rebounder that the team can depend on.
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Q: There are a lot of pieces to the backcourt this year, and Sean Miller expects his team to play a fast style of play because of that. Is this the right strategy?
Mark: This style could work, because he has the pieces to play a small-ball style, sort of like the Warriors do. Ryan Luther and Ira Lee can both guard an opposing team’s center, and I think Justin Coleman and Brandon Williams will form excellent chemistry and play well off each other. The fact that Miller has so many guys who can play multiple positions this year will allow them to thrive in a faster system, I think.
David: There is no doubt in my mind that Arizona trying to play faster is the right move. On top of the increase in shots and the floor spacing, the most interesting thing about the scheme shift is something that Sean Miller said in a press conference this spring. Miller mentioned that great big men are hard to find, hard to land and even harder to keep on campus. Former Wildcat Deandre Ayton is a perfect example, as he was the first selection in this past spring’s NBA Draft after spending just a few months in Tucson. If Miller can keep his top guards on campus for multiple years on top of the change of pace, then I think Arizona can be a program that is not only fun to watch but dangerous in March.
Alec: I agree with both of you guys on this one: Playing fast is the right move. Miller’s usual slow style of play is most effective when he has an elite pack-line defense to pair with it. But the last two years have been among Miller’s worst defenses at Arizona, statistically speaking. This year, the Wildcats boast enough guards and wings to be able to space the floor and rely on shooting from outside, especially with the lack of a traditional big man.
Q: By February/March, who will be the go-to scorer on the team?
Mark: I think that, by season’s end, Brandon Williams will grow into the go-to guy for the team. He can score in transition and has a smooth jump shot that extends well out beyond the three-point line. I think that, as he grows and gets accustomed to the college game, he will continue to gain confidence and want the ball in his hands when Arizona needs a bucket.
David: I hate to have the same answer as another panelist, but I just can’t see anyone besides Brandon Williams being the go-to guy by season’s end. I think he has a real chip on his shoulder after being left out of multiple All-American showcases during his senior year, and I could see the combo guard having the entire nation talking about why he was so overlooked by the time Arizona’s plane touches down from Maui, much like Trae Young last season. I think he’s that good.
Alec: I’ll go with Brandon — Brandon Randolph. One of Miller’s biggest talking points so far is the improvement players have in their second year. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but Randolph looks prepared to take the next step and be a go-to scorer. The 6-foot-6 guard flashed that potential last year when he scored 10.7 points over the span seven games between Nov. 24 and Dec. 18. He scored 20 in the exhibition, hitting 6-8 shots. Williams’ moments will have explosiveness, but Randolph will be a consistent threat to score anywhere on the court.
Q: Which new face (transfer or freshman) will have the most impact on the program’s success?
Mark: Justin Coleman. Coleman has experience playing big-time college basketball already and has gotten nothing but praise since arriving on campus, as he was already named a team captain. Miller has described him as a “pass-first” point guard, but he has also shown the ability to score, averaging a little over 13 points a game for Samford last season. I think that if he can be a steadying presence at the point guard position, the team will feed off of his leadership qualities, and he will set them up in the right positions to be successful.
David: I am basing this off a scrimmage and an exhibition game, but I think Devonaire Doutrive could have a season that not many people expected him to have. I think if he continues to impress in practice and take advantage of the snippets of playing time, he will receive early in the season. He could push Alex Barcello further down the guard depth chart and establish himself in the nine-man rotation.
Alec: My choice will probably catch some by surprise, but I will go with Ryan Luther. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward will be the X-factor for Arizona. Luther is a player that can play multiple positions on the court and has the ability to knock down 3’s when the Wildcats elect to play small ball. The transfer from Pitt averaged a double-double in 10 games last year and hit 39 percent (12-31) of his 3-pointers.
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