Arizona filled with expectations despite turnover
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona's top recruit left to play overseas and its leading scorer may or may not be facing a suspension.
Looks like a down year at McKale Center.
Not a chance. Not with Sean Miller at the helm.
The Wildcats' coach never leaves his team bereft of talent and has another stacked team this season. It may take some patience early in the season while Miller figures out what pieces fit where, but expect Arizona to be in the running for the Pac-12 title and an NCAA Tournament berth by the time it's over.
''We have a lot of new players, we have a lot of returning players who won't return to the same role; we have players who will return to a different role,'' Miller said. ''So it's going to take us some time.''
Arizona entered last season loaded with expectations, its roster filled with veteran players and talented newcomers. The Wildcats won 25 games, but were upset by Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona lost some key players from that team - Gabe York, Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson - but does have a solid returning core.
It's unclear if Allonzo Trier, the Wildcats' leading returning scorer, will be suspended to start the season, but he's expected to take a big jump in his sophomore season.
Swingman Kadeem Allen is back for his senior season, point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright is bigger and stronger, and 7-footer Dusan Ristic has a chance to become one of the Pac-12's best offensive big men. Center Chance Comanche also is expected to have more of an impact with an expected bigger role with this team.
Miller signed another stellar recruiting class, but headliner Terrance Ferguson opted to play professionally overseas instead of in Tucson.
Even without Ferguson, this is an athletic group, including 7-foot Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen, athletic guards Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons.
The Wildcats also will have plenty of motivation after such an early exit last season.
''We had a lot of success, we won 25 games, but we pulled up short,'' Miller said. ''All of those who experienced that last season came back hungrier to not do that (again) and try to be better.''
A few more things to look for from Arizona in 2016-17:
TRIER'S STATUS: Trier considered a jump to the NBA before deciding to return for his sophomore season. When he starts it is still up in the air. Trier was replaced by Allen at the last minute for Pac-12 media day and Miller would not comment on reports that he will be suspended. An athletic 6-foot-5 guard, Trier was Arizona's third-leading scorer last season at 14.8 points per game and is expected to take more of a leadership role.
SMITH'S RETURN: Arizona should get a huge lift from a player who was already on the roster. Ray Smith was expected to join Trier in giving Arizona a talented 1-2 freshman punch last season, but he tore his right ACL in preseason practice after tearing his left one as a high school senior. Miller plans to ease Smith into the rotation and possibility limit his minutes early in the season, but the 6-8 forward will likely play a big role in Arizona's success by the end of the year.
LAURI'S MARK: The most intriguing player on Arizona's roster is Markkanen. He may be a 7-footer, but has the agility and shooting touch of a much smaller player. Markkanen played in numerous international championships for Finland and is projected to be a top NBA draft pick when he leaves Arizona. Until then, he will likely be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
BIGGER PJC: Of all the players on Arizona's roster, Miller had the most effusive praise for Jackson-Cartwright. The 5-10 point guard learned as the backup to T.J. McConnell as a freshman and picked up valuable experience a year ago as a sophomore. Jackson-Cartwright was one of the hardest-working players during offseason conditioning and has the know-how of a player who's entering his third season under Miller.
''He's bigger, he's stronger, I've never seen him more confident,'' Miller said. ''And it's a reminder for me as a coach that when you're in a program for more than one season and all of a sudden two; there's nothing like experience.''