Arizona began Tuesday as the No. 10 team in the country and ended it a wreck.
“We don’t have any depth,” lamented coach Sean Miller.
The occasion of the first exhibition game was supposed to be like Christmas morning for the Wildcats, unwrapping a deep, long, athletic team with Final Four potential. By the end of an 86-35 exhibition victory over College of Idaho, the Wildcats were down to seven scholarship players, and Miller was talking about having to use walk-ons and possibly teaching 7-foot-1 freshman Lauri Markkanen the small forward position.
Here’s what we know:
— Sophomore guard Allonzo Trier was not in uniform. Miller has had to deliver multiple no-comments in recent weeks about rumors of Trier’s potential season-long ineligibility, including as recently as Monday. As for now, no news is no news — as in, it’s an ongoing situation. Stay tuned. Trier was expected to be the team’s leading scorer after averaging 14.8 points as a freshman.
— Sophomore post player Chance Comanche, who met with the media Monday — when Miller said Comanche “might be our team’s most improved player” — was in street clothes. Something changed from Monday to Tuesday, as the university released a statement before the game that Comanche was indefinitely suspended because of a “lack of academic responsibility.”
— Worst of all, forward Ray Smith might have suffered another serious leg injury.
“A tough night for us, watching Ray go down,” Miller said.
“We’ve been involved with him for a couple of years now, watching him fight. Going through surgery is hard; rehab is even harder. Doing it more than once, not being able to play the game you love, being so talented and so young … we don’t know what happened but it certainly didn’t look good.
“To me, that trumps everything else tonight.”
@raysmith2297 I’m thankful for what god has given me. End of discussion. Thank you but save the sorrows.
— Ray Smith (@raysmith2297) November 2, 2016
Smith suffered a torn left ACL before his senior year of high school. He suffered a torn right ACL about last year at this time before playing a game for Arizona.
As recently as Monday, Miller said Smith had “no setbacks” as the team went through preseason practice, but the redshirt freshman didn’t look comfortable Tuesday night, twice heading briefly to the locker room. When he went down on the court for a third time, he made gestures that suggested something serious and he needed help getting off the court.
“We’ve watched him for 22 practices, and he’s landed and jumped and done everything everyone else has done,” Miller said. “We’ve given him maybe one day off from soreness.”
This lack of depth is a new and opposite problem from the beginning of the summer. Arizona had too many players and still only one basketball. How was Miller going to get everyone their minutes and keep a stacked roster happy?
Well, incoming freshman guard Terrance Ferguson — a McDonald’s All-American, a high-flying athlete and 3-point shooter — opted to turn pro in Australia. Then, graduate transfer guard Talbott Denny, returning home to Tucson after playing at Lipscomb, suffered a season-ending knee injury in offseason workouts. Arizona had so many riches that Denny was supposed to be a luxury as a practice player and a hedge against disaster.
Disaster is here. Denny is not.
Sean Miller said even though Arizona won, tonight felt like a loss. pic.twitter.com/QhQXKxwzKQ
— DailyWildcatHoops (@WildcatHoops) November 2, 2016
Here was Arizona’s starting lineup against College of Idaho:
— PG Parker Jackson-Cartwright
— SG Kadeem Allen
— SF Rawle Alkins
— PF Lauri Markkanen
— C Dusan Ristic
The scholarship backups are guard Kobi Simmons and forward Keanu Pinder.
That’s a good seven, but Alkins, Markkanen and Simmons are freshmen. Pinder is a junior college transfer. That is not the roster of deep, versatile players Miller wanted to have with a season-opener against Michigan State looming on Nov. 11 in Honolulu.
Perhaps Arizona will get good news on Trier. Maybe Smith’s injury isn’t as bad as feared. Don’t count on either.
Comanche should be back at some point; even then, Arizona goes just eight deep with little margin of error for foul trouble or the small injuries that often come up during a long season.
“Every one of these guys has come to Arizona for a big, big opportunity,” Miller said. “And the guys we have on our team, all them have a big opportunity now.”