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Pac-12 Basketball Team Preview: FBI Investigation Aside, Arizona Has All The Makings Of A Final Four Team

If Arizona can keep the focus on the court, the Wildcats can be one of the country’s top teams.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Providence Practice Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats

  • Last Season: 32-5 (16-2)
  • Head Coach: Sean Miller (9th Season)
  • Projected Media Poll Finish: 1st (273 Points - 22 First Place Votes)
  • Leading Returner In Scoring: Allonzo Trier (17.2 PPG)
  • Leading Returner In Rebounds: Dusan Ristic (5.5 RPG)
  • Leading Returner In Assists: Parker Jackson-Cartwright (4.1 APG)

The Skinny

It didn’t take more than one play into Arizona’s annual “Red-Blue” scrimmage to recognize the serious potential of Wildcats freshman DeAndre Ayton.

Ayton, a 7’ 1”, 250-pound freshman with an NBA-ready body, made a baseline jumper from just feet inside the three-point stripe to break the ice, in what would be a signature debut for the top-ranked prospect. From then on, it was official. Ayton was here to be a focal point for head coach Sean Miller and company and simply not just a face in the crowd.

While it was the oversized, versatile rookie’s 21 points on 10-14 shooting from the field and 9 rebounds in just 19 minutes of action that showed just how comfortable Ayton looked playing within the college game, it was even more the way that the seven-footer worked seamlessly with teammates Allonzo Trier (17.2 PPG), Keanu Pinder (2.2 PPG) and UNC-Asheville transfer Dylan Smith (13.5 PPG) throughout the modified exhibition contest, that showed his true plug-and-play ability. If Arizona was lacking any crucial piece that would help head coach Sean Miller bring the program to it’s first Final Four since 2001, there were suddenly missing it no more.

High School Basketball: McDonald's All-American Portraits
Freshman DeAndre Ayton could help the Wildcats to their first Final Four birth under Sean Miller.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

What was also evident through the scrimmage (and the team’s two exhibition games) was just how ahead of the curve the Wildcats looked to be as a group, even without star guard Rawle Alkins (10.9 PPG), who will be sidelined to start the season with a foot injury.

Arizona’s offense was in mid-season form, even when operated by fresh faces in Alex Barcello or Brandon Randolph, the latter of which has legitimate superstar capabilities down the line, or reliable veterans like Parker Jackson-Cartwright (5.9 PPG). The Wildcats just seemed to be one cohesive unit, who can both play in transition and execute in the half-court with the passion, effort and focus needed to be a top-tier team in the country. The question for Arizona now is will they keep the selfless, team-oriented style of play up when it counts?

Yet, no matter which way you look at it, when you can discuss a team like Arizona and not even have to mention talents like senior forward Dusan Ristic (10.9 PPG) and freshmen Emmanuel Akot and Ira Lee from the onset, it’s not hard to see how deep and loaded this Wildcats roster truly is. Forget about Arizona being contenders in the Pac-12, this team should have the National Championship game circled on their calendars.

They are simply that good.

Player To Know: Allonzo Trier (JR)

At this point, it’s almost the question of what can be said about Arizona star Allonzo Trier that hasn’t been said before. In terms of the top talents in all of college basketball, Trier can proudly sit alongside players like Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Duke’s Grayson Allen, as one of the best overall players currently in the game. But what Trier may be wanting to add his resume (before he likely jumps to the NBA) is a long-coveted trip for his team to the Final Four. If Arizona is to make it that far, not only will Trier need to become more of a leader for this group, but he’ll have to take on that role while still being the focal point of everything the Wildcats do on the floor. Pressure burst pipes, as the old adage goes, but it also makes diamonds.

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Arizona
Allonzo Trier may be the preseason front-runner for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Key Non-Conference Games

  • 11/22 v. North Carolina State* (Battle 4 Atlantis)
  • 12/5 v. Texas A&M*
  • 12/9 v. Alabama