clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Arizona has to realize DeAndre Ayton is its best player and 2 other problems with the Wildcats

New, comments

The Wildcats lost all three games they played in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Arizona vs SMU Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Battle 4 Atlantis was supposed to be a coronation for No. 2 Arizona. Star guard Allonzo Trier entered as the country’s leading scorer, averaging 30 points per game during the Wildcats’ 3-0 start. Stud freshman DeAndre Ayton was set for a coming out party in front of his hometown fans in the Bahamas. A title game matchup with Villanova loomed and with it the opportunity to make a statement that this was Sean Miller’s most talented team yet.

Instead, Arizona ended the tournament in last place after getting routed by Purdue on Friday. Three games they were heavily favored to win turned into three losses that leave the Wildcats with serious questions both in the immediate and long term.

NC State entered the tournament ranked No. 100 on KenPom but scored on Miller’s vaunted packline defense at will on the way to a 90-84 victory. Arizona had the opposite problem against SMU on Wednesday: an anemic offense that turned the ball over 20 times and never found a rhythm in a 66-60 loss.

Arizona is still one of the most purely talented teams in America, but there are real court problems that stretch even beyond the program’s role in the FBI corruption scandal that hangs over everything. This is what’s bugging the Wildcats right now:

Point guard play remains a big issue

Braxton Beverly’s fight for eligibility with the NCAA drew national headlines for a freshman ranked only No. 322 in his recruiting class by 247 Sports. He had scored all of two points on the season entering the Battle 4 Atlantis, where he exploded for 20 points to help key the NC State win.

Point guard was always going to be a question mark for Arizona. Parker Jackson-Cartwright is a senior, but he’s never averaged more than 5.9 points per game and his size (generously listed at 5’11) puts an obvious limit on his two-way effectiveness. Beverly being able to consistently score on him is not a positive sign.

There’s also not much depth at point guard on a roster that’s seemingly stacked everywhere else. UNC-Asheville transfer Dylan Smith isn’t a natural facilitator, and he’s yet to prove himself at this level. More often than not, the offense devolves into Trier isolating for tough looks in the halfcourt.

That transitions nicely into the Wildcats’ next problem.

Arizona has to realize Ayton is its most talented player

Trier is one of the best guards in the country; there’s no doubt. We had him ranked as the No. 7 player in college basketball at the beginning of the season. But for all of his skill as a scorer, Trier still too often gets tunnel vision with the ball.

Arizona paid for it last season when it failed to get Lauri Markkanen involved for the final 11 minutes of its Sweet 16 loss to Xavier. The Wildcats can’t let it happen again with an even more talented freshman in Ayton.

Ayton should be the most unstoppable force in the country. He sure looked that way against NC State on his way to 27 points and 14 rebounds. Trier also finished with 27 points in that game...but he needed eight more shots to get there.

On the season, Trier has taken 76 shots to Ayton’s 58. On a team without a proven point guard, it’s on Trier to play winning basketball and feed Ayton when he’s at the controls on offense. If it doesn’t happen, Arizona is handicapping its own ceiling.

Arizona will have to knock down shots to win

Arizona shot 2-of-17 from three in the loss to NC State. The Wildcats weren’t much better against SMU, shooting just 5-of-20 from deep. Not many teams are going to be able to win like that, even with a dominant center like Ayton.

Freshman Brandon Randolph is supposed to be a shooter for Arizona, but he hasn't hit a three yet this year in limited minutes. Without him, there just aren’t many dependable shooters in the lineup. If Trier has a cold night and Ayton isn’t consistently getting the ball, the Wildcats are going to find themselves on upset alert again.

The Wildcats still have the pieces to make their first Final Four under Miller. They’re good enough to win it all. But beneath the four- and five-star recruiting rankings and the preseason hype lie some real problems with the on-court product. This trip to the Bahamas has proved that. Now it’s on Miller to figure out a solution.