The No. 7 University of Arizona Wildcats may no longer be the highest-ranked team in the Pac-12 after Saturday’s 77-72 loss to the No. 3 UCLA Bruins, but they remain one of the top three teams in the conference and a viable national championship contender.
This is why, when Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis spoke with anonymous coaches about the best teams in the country, he sought out some thoughts on the Wildcats.
They’re not a bunch of guys with the agendas, which hasn’t always been the case, like when Stanley Johnson was there. Sean does a great job keeping those guys grounded. Consistent outside shooting can be a problem for them. They’re zone-able. Nobody talks about how good [Dusan] Ristic is. He’s a load down low. [Lauri] Markkanen just keeps getting better. He can stretch the floor, but he’s getting better around the basket. Markkanen moves fairly well but he’s not super quick, so you want to try to take your chances with him putting it on the floor.
The coach’s dig is aimed at Johnson’s 2014-15 Wildcats team that went 34-4 and lost in the regional round of the tournament to the No. 1 University of Wisconsin. Johnson left for the NBA Draft after averaging 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game as a freshman.
This year’s team is hoping to make it even further in the tournament on the backs of the a frontcourt combination that features Markkanen and Ristic.
The 7-foot freshman forward Markkanen is one of the best shooting big men in the game, averaging 15.4 points with two three pointers per game, while shooting 49 percent from the field. His 44.4 percent three point percentage is the highest in the nation for anyone over 6-foot-8. The big man also leads the Wildcats in rebounds, with 7.4 per game.
Ristic, a 7-foot, 240-pound junior center, is averaging a career-high 10.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game this season, while shooting 54.1 percent from the field. His game in the paint works as a nice complement to Markkanen’s prolific outside shooting.
They have unusual depth in the post. This is not a knock on Sean, but they’re very predictable. He’s not a big in-game adjuster. Hopefully you have someone with size you can put on [Allonzo] Trier, because he’s big and he’s really good. You want to try to make [point guard Parker] Jackson-Cartwright score and not draw help, or else he’s kicking it guys who can make plays. Even though his shooting percentages are better, as a shooter he’d be low on the list of priorities when you’re game planning against them.
Trier comes in at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, making him tough for smaller guards to defend. The sophomore has gotten into a groove after being suspended for the first 19 games of the season and set a career-high with 28 points against UCLA Saturday.
He is currently averaging a team-leading 16.2 points per game on 48.6 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three, while adding five rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
Jackson-Cartwright has also rejoined the Wildcats after a break, his due to a high right ankle sprain suffered early in the season. He currently leads the team with 4.4 assists per game, while scoring six points per game.
The 26-4 Wildcats will look to finish off their season with a win against the rival Arizona State University Sun Devils Saturday in Tempe before heading to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament.
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