The story of the Arizona Wildcats this season has been a struggle with consistency. While starting from a seemingly strong record, the 7-2 ‘Cats are still searching for an identity as they await the return of Allonzo Trier. Trier has been absent all season stemming from a sort of vague ‘eligibility’ concern. He began traveling with the Wildcats, but has yet to play a single minute this season.
Normally, players ineligible under NCAA standards are unable to travel unless they pay their own way, but some situations are handled in a case-by-case manner. UA athletic director Greg Byrne also confirmed via text message Monday that Trier “is able to travel,” but did not respond when asked if something changed with Trier’s situation between the Las Vegas and Los Angeles trips.
To make matters worse for Arizona, Parker Jackson-Cartwright suffered a high ankle sprain three games ago against Texas Southern and will be out for the foreseeable future. With Trier and Jackson-Cartwright out, the Wildcats are down to just 7 scholarship players on the roster, only three of whom are considered perimeter players which should make for an interesting rotation. The roster situation should leave them ripe for the picking when it comes to an upset. That upset hasn’t happened yet, as the only games Arizona has dropped have come to Butler and Gonzaga, two teams ranked higher in KenPom at the moment.
If the Tigers hope to prevent another disaster like last years trip to Tucson, they’ll have to compete with a very talented but young group. The 2016 version of the Wildcats was deeper and more experienced, while this season the Wildcats are 326th in experience and are led in scoring by three freshmen.
It’s a bit of a flip but it’s not like the Wildcats are terrible this year, those three freshmen they’re relying on just happen to all be 5-star recruits which usually makes things a little easier. They’re led by Lauri Markkanen, a highly skilled 7-foot Finnish forward who can stretch the floor. Markkanen should not to be confused with ILOVEMAKONNEN the Atlanta Rapper/Singer, but will be a difficult matchup for Mizzou because of his combination of size and skill. He’s a good rebounder and can even be pressed to the wing when the Wildcats need him there.
Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons (a former Mizzou target) are the other two star freshmen, and they’re slightly different players. Truth be told they’re near opposites. Simmons is a freakish string bean of an athlete who simply bounces like a pogo stick off the floor, while Alkins is the same height, but about 50 pounds heavier and a bulldozer who steamrolls his way towards the basket instead of waterbugging his way through defenders. Both are capable, both have been streaky, and both are future pros.
In lieu of Jackson-Cartwright, Sean Miller turned to something called Tyler Trillo to soak up some minutes against Cal-Irvine. Aside from having a terrific name, Trillo is a D3 transfer and walkon at Arizona who saw his first serious action of the season against Irvine and contributed by not screwing up a bunch. He had 2 assists and no turnovers which you’d have to imagine is exactly the kind of production Miller is looking for in a walk-on guard. He’s not somebody you have to worry about, he’s akin to your 8th grade brother playing in a varsity game, he’ll be asked to play as safely as possible when he goes in.
Seven players will likely play over 90% of the minutes as long as the game is close.
Likely starters are Kadeem Allen, Simmons, Alkins, Markkanen and Dusan Ristic, with Keanu Pinder and Chance Comanche coming off the bench... and TYLER TRILLO!
WHAT TO EXPECT?
This is a team ranked 23rd in KenPomeroy’s ratings, and the 20th ranked team in the AP and Coaches poll. They are traveling to Missouri to take on an unranked and 147th rated team in Pomeroy. Arizona is projected to win by eight points with 77% confidence, this is the difference in 124 spots and playing on the road. Now this basically means there is a one in four chance the Tigers pull off the upset. An eight point spread is just a handful of possessions, but the Tigers are going to need to play their best game of the season to take down the powerful Wildcats.
The parallel to the Xavier game is prescient because the Musketeers were a team who lacked depth and relied heavily on a few players for offense. Arizona is a team lacking depth and rely heavily on a few players for offense. The difference between Xavier and Arizona is size, the Wildcats are quite big across all positions, and for a team like Missouri who struggles on the interior and aren’t what you might call a good rebounding team, this presents a challenge. Against Xavier the Tigers were out rebounded by 13, they’re gonna have to win the expected rebound battle which is a lot to ask against a team typically known for controlling the glass.
The great equalizer is the 3-point line, where the Tigers are currently the top ranked 3-point defense, and they’ve got just enough firepower from the outside to make things scary if somebody like Frankie Hughes, Cullen VanLeer or Terrence Phillips gets hot from the outside. Quite frankly this is Mizzou’s best shot at the upset, the great equalizer of the 3-point shot. This year the Tigers have been more than erratic from behind the arc, but all it takes is one game.
WHAT TO WATCH?
- Arizona’s eFG%: Missouri is the #3 ranked eFG% defense. Part of this is due to it’s #1 ranked 3pt defense, but Mizzou had held opponents to just 40% eFG%. This stat takes 3 point shooting into account when figuring FG%, so it adds value to a 3pt make basically. If Arizona is able to push that number over 50%, it’s hard to see Missouri winning.
- Blocked shots: Eh, rebounds are obvious, but the bigger impact will likely come in shots altered or blocked by the size advantage of the Wildcats. Mizzou gets their shot blocked a lot, on almost 13% of their shots. They average around 62 shots a game which accounts to about 8 blocks per. Less of that would be good, more of it would be bad.
- Push Pace: We know Missouri isn’t very good. They won’t have many advantages in this game but the ones they will have is the ability to play more players than Arizona. Get the Wildcats into foul trouble or simply exhaust Arizona and you have a chance.
Run, play D and don’t get your shots tossed all over the gym. Shooting well will help of course. In the end, I’ll be stunned if Missouri wins this game. But it would certainly go a long way towards building some much needed good will for the Tigers. They’ll need to start the long road up to respectability, and nothing will do that like taking down a top 25 team, no matter how much the Wildcats are limping right now. It would still be THE marquee win for Missouri in the Kim Anderson era.
Here’s to hoping.