- Arizona still faces some key questions it must sort out, but if the Wildcats can generate the right answers, they have the makings of a run to the Final Four.
The college basketball off-season is long and largely lacking in major news developments. Programs are still finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes and dealing with the aftermath of which of their players opted to return for another season or jumped to the professional ranks. We’ve got a long way to go until Midnight Madness. To help pass the time, SI.com is asking and answering three key questions about each of the teams in our Way-Too-Early Top 25. Here’s No. 1, Arizona.
1. What does a full season of Allonzo Trier look like?
This is a question to which Sean Miller will be very eager to learn the answer. As a freshman in 2015–16, Trier missed seven games after breaking his right (shooting) hand. Last season he sat out half of his sophomore campaign due to a PED suspension. (Trier said the positive test resulted from taking a substance he had been given by “a well-intentioned but misguided person not associated with the University” to help his recovery from a car accident last September.) When Trier has been on the court, he has lived up to his five-star billing, averaging 14.8 and then 17.2 points in his two respective seasons, plus 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists last season; he also shot 39.1% from three.
After Trier’s decision to return to school rather than declare for the NBA draft, the Wildcats hope to finally have him from start to finish. With another year’s improvement and his health potentially fully intact, Trier could emerge as an All-America honoree.
2. Can the new recruits hit the ground running?
Yet again, Miller has amassed a consensus top-three recruiting class, a quadrumvirate of top-120 recruits split between a pair of frontcourt and backcourt prospects. This is something of an annual tradition in Tucson these days: The last time Miller brought in a class rated outside the top five was 2013, a haul that contained some dudes named Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
With Kadeem Allen’s graduation and Lauri Markkanen and Kobi Simmons early entries to the pros, there will be plenty of room in the rotation for the new recruits. The headliner will be DeAndre Ayton, a 7-footer who transferred from San Diego’s Balboa City School to Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix to finish his high school career. Ayton is the No. 2 recruit in his class and has the talent to make an immediate impact on offense and, more likely than not, move on to the NBA as a high lottery pick next year. (There has been some concern over Ayton’s being cleared by the NCAA, which is believed to have dampened some of his recruitment, but he has maintained that he will be eligible.)
Brandon Randolph, a lanky, 6’ 6” wing, is the next most likely to make an early impact as a knockdown shooter. 6’ 8” forward Ira Lee and 6’ 2” guard Alex Barcello, both four-star recruits, round out the class.
3. Is this the year Miller breaks through?
This is obviously thinking a little too far ahead even for a pseudo season preview. But for a team with few real doubts surrounding its talent and ability—and one we are ranking as our too-early No. 1 squad—the biggest question is what all of this adds up to.
For Miller, that could be the first Final Four of his highly successful, often underrated career. Miller has made four Elite Eights (one at Xavier, three at Arizona) but has yet to reach the tournament’s final weekend. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have not been there since 2001, under Lute Olson, when they lost to Duke in the national title game. If Trier continues to elevate his game and the freshmen live up to their billing, both of those droughts could come to an end.