One of the best parts about the SB Nation network is that you can get the scoop on almost every single major college team with a simple email. So thanks to Ryan Kelapire of AZ Desert Swarm, we have the answers to a few burning questions coming out of Spokane.
1) Arizona started out the season looking super good. But that was too close of a score in a win over Santa Clara and that loss to Butler stings a little bit. What happened to Arizona in those games?
Truthfully, Arizona wasn't as good as its ranking. The Wildcats have had seven to eight healthy/eligible scholarship players available this season, and are without two of their best players in Ray Smith (torn ACL) and Allonzo Trier (unspecified reasons). And now they're without starting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright — who got hurt Wednesday — for a considerable amount of time because of a high-ankle sprain, pushing them back to seven scholarship players for the foreseeable future.
And while the Wildcats still have talent on the roster despite the losses, it is inexperienced talent. With Jackson-Cartwright out, Arizona will be starting three freshmen and will have just two scholarship players available off the bench.
Arizona was able to hide these issues — namely the lack of depth — early in the season with a weaker schedule, but they got exposed against Butler. Lauri Markkanen was in foul trouble and only limited to 21 minutes and the team didn't have nearly enough to replace him. Plus, Arizona wears down in the second halves of games because, as Sean Miller says, they "run out of gas."
2) We've all heard about Lauri Markkanen now. Who are the other big name players on the Wildcats that Zags fans need to keep their eyes on?
The two main others to know are Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons.
Like Markkanen, Simmons and Alkins are both are freshmen and have been forced into major roles right away. And so far, they're both playing well. They're terrific athletes — Alkins is strong and mobile, while Simmons and quick and an incredible leaper — and are capable from scoring at all three levels. The issue Arizona is going to have is with Jackson-Cartwright out, Simmons will be playing more point guard and Alkins will be more at the 2. Essentially, they are going to be asked to do things that they have done much — if at all — this season and it will be interesting to see how that affects their play.
Kadeem Allen is another to watch for. He is Arizona's best defender and will now shift from shooting guard to point guard with Jackson-Cartwright out. He's coming off his best game — a 14-point, 7 assist, 6 rebound performance — and is Arizona's leader on the floor.
If you're wondering what type of player Allen is, well, aside from being a great defender he's kind of decent, but not stellar, at everything else. He doesn't make a ton of 3s, he's not usually the type of guard that will pick apart a defense, and he's not a guy that will put up huge scoring numbers (though he was the nation's top scorer in junior college a few years ago). Essentially, he fills up the stat-sheet in a lot of different ways, but his numbers don't explode off the page (if that makes any sense).
3) Does anyone have any idea what is going on with Allonzo Trier?
Not really. He is apparently ineligible and there are plenty of theories as to why, but officially he's out for unspecified reasons and there really isn't a timetable for his return. He averaged nearly 15 points per game as a freshman last season though, so not having him is obviously a major loss for Arizona, especially now that the team's depth is what it is.
4) Arizona has had Gonzaga's number over the past few years. So a two part question: what goes right for the Wildcats to win, and what goes wrong for the Wildcats to lose?
This will be Arizona's first game without Jackson-Cartwright so, to win, they're going to need Kadeem Allen and Kobi Simmons to handle the point guard duties well. If there is one thing Arizona has been great at this year it's not turning the ball over. Yet, that was largely because of Jackson-Cartwright, who had an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 3 to 1. Allen did play a lot of point guard last season, but he is just not the same type of pure-point guard that Jackson-Cartwright is. Meanwhile, Simmons is still learning the position. I could see Arizona losing because Allen and Simmons either are turning the ball over, or simply cannot efficiently run Arizona's offense.
And the second thing is staying out of foul trouble. Arizona — like I've mentioned 32817 times already — has only seven scholarship players available at the moment. So if the Wildcats are going to win, they cannot afford to have players limited because of fouls. If foul trouble hits, that means walk-ons are going to have to play extended minutes.
At the same time, if Arizona does stay out of foul trouble, its seven-man rotation is still solid enough (even with the players missing) to beat anyone in the country. There's a nice blend of talent and athleticism on the roster.
Another wild card about this Arizona team is its 3-point shooting. The Wildcats have capable shooters in Markkanen, Alkins, and Simmons. Markkanen is as good of a college shooter as you'll see, but Alkins and Simmons tend to be streaky. Their ability to hit shots from the perimeter could very well determine how efficient Arizona's offense is and/or who wins this game.
Ultimately, I think Gonzaga wins this game, and I honestly think the Bulldogs will win handily. This Arizona team is a mess right now. There's really no way getting around it.
The hope is Arizona is a much different team come Pac-12 play or tournament time if/when Jackson-Cartwright and Trier return. Right now, Arizona is a Sweet Sixteen team at best. If it gets Jackson-Cartwright and Trier back, though, the Wildcats are capable of reaching the Final Four.
But for Saturday's game, a short-handed Arizona team will be playing in Los Angeles, so the advantage definitely is with Gonzaga.
Thanks to Ryan for answering our questions. You can follow him on Twitter here, and you can see my answers for AZ Desert Swarm here.