Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Arizona will be one of the top contenders to win the national championship. Now, before you come after me with your “Sean Miller is an overrated choke-artist” takes, look at the roster that the Wildcats are putting out next season and try to make an argument that this won’t be one of the best teams.
It’s not that Miller’s choke artist reputation is unfounded. One only has to look as far back as the Sweet Sixteen back in March. Arizona blew an 8-point lead against Xavier, allowing a 12-2 run in the final 3:44 of the game, to have their hearts broken in a 2-point loss to the heavy underdogs. Arizona has also been on the verge of making the Final Four plenty of times under Miller, losing in the Elite Eight three times in eight years. Miller just hasn’t been able to break the barrier to reach his first Final Four, but the players he’s returning and a strong recruiting class could be enough.
While the Wildcats lost four talented players — Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons, Kadeem Allen and Chance Comanche — to the draft, they still have a very strong set of returning players. Arizona managed to retain three of its top four scorers, including leading scorer Allonzo Trier and standout freshman guard Rawle Alkins. Four of the seven players who played over 20 minutes per game for the Wildcats last year elected to return.
Arizona certainly helped its chances to bring another title to Tuscon by managing to keep a substantial portion of last year’s key players, but the strong recruiting class could be what puts Arizona over the top. Arizona currently has the no. 3 recruiting class in the country on 247sports, with five incoming players who are ranked in the top 100. The star of this recruiting class will be DeAndre Ayton, a 7-footer who has been a consensus top 3 recruit for 2017.
The Wildcats were also able to get a little lucky and add another five-star player when Emmanuel Akot announced Monday that he would be finishing high school this year and will reclassify as a 2017 recruit, bringing his talents to Arizona a year earlier than anticipated. Akot will have to battle for minutes with some of the more experience wings that the Wildcats have, but a five-star recruit as a backup option is never an issue for a school to have.
Arizona won’t be everyone’s choice for preseason no. 1, but the team will likely be jumbled in with Kentucky and Duke for the top 3 spots. Arizona won’t have the most five-star recruits out of these teams, but will have a strong blend of talented veterans and freshmen that could give the Wildcats an advantage. Bringing back Trier was probably the most important move of the off-season, because he will be able to guide some of the younger wings on the roster while likely leading the team in scoring for the second year in a row. There’s a long way to go, but Arizona is already looking like a favorite to go into next season at no. 1. Of course, the ultimate goal for the season will be a national championship, and 2018 could finally be the year Sean Miller breaks into that elusive Final Four.