Despite key losses, Arizona Wildcats in Sporting News’ preseason top 25

Sep 20, 2018, 11:39 AM | Updated: 11:40 am

Arizona coach Sean Miller talks to his team during the first half against UCLA in an NCAA college b...

Arizona coach Sean Miller talks to his team during the first half against UCLA in an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 men's tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. Arizona won 78-67 in overtime. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

After a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament, involvement in a looming NCAA investigation and the departures of Deandre Ayton, Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier, some doubt Arizona basketball’s chances to contend in the 2018-19 season.

Not Sporting News.

In the publication’s preseason top 25, Mike DeCourcy ranked Arizona at No. 25. While the article acknowledges the contributions of Ayton, Alkins and Trier, it said the graduate transfers and recruits will play a larger role in 2018-19.

Too many are ignoring wings Brandon Randolph and Emmanuel Akot, who were elite recruits. Big man Chase Jeter has been waiting as a transfer for a chance to be a significant contributor.

Randolph and Akot were four- and five-star recruits, respectively, but neither of the two made significant contributions last year, both averaging just above 10 minutes a game. Jeter, a 6-foot-9 transfer from Duke, sat out last year but is expected to be one of the most important players on Arizona’s roster this season.

In the offseason, head coach Sean Miller and Arizona also landed grad transfers in Ryan Luther and Justin Coleman.

At Pittsburgh, Luther was a three-point specialist, shooting 41.5 percent from beyond the arc. Coleman, who previously played at Samford, averaged 13.5 points and 6.6 assists per game last year with the Bulldogs.

According to the Sporting News, even more valuable is Brandon Williams, who recommitted to Arizona in May. Williams originally decommitted from Arizona in wake of an NCAA investigation in March, but decided to remain a Wildcat a couple months later.

Williams, a four-star prospect, averaged 24.7 points per game in his senior season at Crespi High School in California.

With all of these additions, DeCourcy said the defense will improve this year.

This will be a better defensive team than last year’s — not a grand compliment, admittedly — and will at least be functional on offense.

A year ago, Arizona won the Pac-12, finishing 16-2 in league play. All of this was in spite of reported allegations claiming Miller and his staff discussed paying Ayton up to $100,000, but the Wildcats kept focus through it all, winning the conference tournament.

However, the Wildcats were upset in the first round by No. 13-seed Buffalo.

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