Arizona Basketball: Examining the Lineup heading into March Madness

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 15: Rawle Alkins
TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 15: Rawle Alkins /

Arizona Basketball will be able to maintain its current lineup heading into postseason play when Ira Lee comes back.

Arizona Basketball had its world turned upside-down when it was announced last Thursday Allonzo Trier was ruled ineligible. The very next day ESPN dropped its unsubstantiated bombshell that coach Sean Miller allegedly solicited money for DeAndre Ayton to commit to the University.  These events caused the team to alter its lineup and rotation even on the coaching staff.  Allonzo Trier’s absence left a large void in the lineup.

The turmoil caused Arizona to alter its lineup and subsequently came up short against Oregon in overtime 98-93 without trier and Ira Lee who didn’t make the trip due to concussion protocol.  There was no respite following the weekend’s firestorm, as multiple conflicting reports and corrections were published.  Questions about Trier, Miller, and the program were up in the air.  Both individuals are key to making a deep postseason run.

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The media frenzy continued until yesterday when head coach Sean Miller released a defiant statement aired live on the Pac-12 Network.  University of Arizona president Robert C. Robbins also spoke publicly, offering his support of Miller.  The Arizona Board of regents added their support as well. The best news came when Junior guard Trier was reinstated by the NCAA and cleared to play.  With Trier back in the fold, the Wildcats look to finish the season strong, as they have already clinched a share of the Pac-12 title.

Heading into the Senior Day game vs. Cal and March Madness starting with the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, the lineup, and rotation Arizona will deploy should look familiar.

Starting Line up

At point guard, Senior Parker Jackson-Cartwright will be the guy running the show.  He has been Arizona Basketball’s primary floor general all season long.  PJC logs more than 31 minutes per game, and will be relied upon to run the offense (7.5 ppg, 4.7 apg), hound the opposing ball handler, and hit timely threes (41%).  His value offensively is important to the team’s success.

Trier retakes his spot at the two. Despite his two-game absence, the Junior is averaging 19.5 points on 54% shooting (42% from three) while chipping in 3 helpers each game.  Trier is undoubtedly the emotional leader of Arizona Basketball.  His recent adversity should serve to motivate an already fierce competitor.  His ability to take over games, create his own shot, draw fouls, and clutch shooting are crucial traits for teams with high aspirations.

King Rawle Alkins is a fantastic wing player.  Like Trier and PJC, he is another player who plays around 30 minutes per game.  His versatility makes him a matchup nightmare.  His quickness, size, and strength make him tough to guard and is the kind of X-factor that thrives come March.  Arizona needs Rawle to be our best defensive player and set the tone defensively.

Deandre Ayton mans the power forward spot as he has all year.  Besides Trier, Ayton has been the offensive focal point for Arizona Basketball.  The double-double machine is essentially unstoppable on the low block and isn’t fazed by double teams.  The Wildcats must continue to run the offense through him (19.7 ppg, 11.1 rpg) because of his talent and size advantage.  Arizona goes as far as the 7-foot, 260 pound Bahamian Beast can take them.

Anchoring the team down low is Dusan Ristic, the winningest player in University of Arizona hoops history.  The Serbian is having a career year, averaging 12 points and nearly 7 boards per contest.  He is playing the best basketball of his life, with a 14.8 ppg average since the start of February.  In Last night’s 75-67 win over Stanford, Ristic went OFF for 21 points.  It seems like Dusan is primed to shine going forward alongside DeAndre Ayon down low.

The Supporting Cast

Throughout the season, Arizona Basketball’s big question mark has been the depth.  The starting five has been stellar, but the bench play has been inconsistent.  Barring injury, foul trouble, or eligibility concerns, the Wildcats need to find others to step up.

Two players who will certainly be relied upon are Keanu Pinder and Dylan Smith.  Pinder is usually inserted to provide defense, energy, and allows Ayton and Ristic rest.  Meanwhile, Smith has had ups and downs but has hit many clutch three-pointers though conference play.  If he can be a 3-and-D player off the bench, it would add another wrinkle to Arizona’s offensive attack.

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Arizona Basketball will need some of their younger newcomers to make an impact.  Ira Lee, who has been out with concussion symptoms, is one youngster Coach Miller might look to.  While still learning to adjust to D1 basketball, Lee’s size and athleticism will help the Wildcats in tournament play.  The 6-foot-7 freshman will need to play defense, rebound, and hustle. Emmanuel Akot is the other freshman who will see more playing time.  His versatility to play the wing and the post is vital. Like Lee, Akot doesn’t need to light up the scoreboard.  Brandon Randolph is another name to watch, even though he never saw the court against Stanford but got in Cal game.  He can be a valuable scorer and spark a run with his shooting.  With these pieces, Arizona Basketball has the personnel in place to get to its first Final Four since 2001.