After being limited to just eight scholarship players for its season opener, Arizona will welcome back at least two more Sunday.
Compared to the other programs impacted by the FBI’s investigation into college basketball, that’s nothing to complain about.
- Over at USC, the Trojans have benched standout forward De’Anthony Melton indefinitely while looking into his eligibility. USC assistant coach Tony Bland was arrested on federal charges along with Arizona’s Book Richardson, Auburn’s Chuck Person and Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans on Sept. 26.
- Oklahoma State is sitting Jeffrey Carroll, the leading scorer in the Big 12 last season.
- Auburn is holding out two players, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, over concerns about their eligibility.
- At Louisville, highly regarded freshman Brian Bowen is suspended.
- And at Alabama, five-star guard Collin Sexton sat out the Crimson Tide’s first game for a violation of NCAA rules. Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne, who held the same role at Arizona last season, initiated an internal review of the men’s basketball program that also led to the resignation of a team administrator.
Arizona and Miami are the only schools implicated in the federal report that have not sat out players as a result.
However, UA senior forward Keanu Pinder and assistant coach Mark Phelps were suspended for Friday’s season-opening win over NAU for breaking unspecified NCAA rules. Phelps will sit out a second straight game Sunday.
The UA says the two suspensions were not related to the federal probe. Coach Sean Miller would not say if the suspensions of Pinder and Phelps were related.
Sophomore guard Dylan Smith also sat on Friday for the fourth straight game, the result of an unspeficied violation of team rules.
Smith is expected to return Sunday, meaning only injuries are now holding the Wildcats back.
Wing Rawle Alkins remains sidelined with a broken foot, while freshman forward Brandon Randolph has missed UA’s Nov. 4 exhibition with Chico State and Friday’s opener with a concussion.
Randolph may miss Sunday’s game, too, though he is close to returning after having been cleared to practice fully for Saturday. Randolph will have to test clear of any symptoms following participation in full practices.
“If he can play we have to be careful with him in terms of how ready he is and also what’s best for our team, but he’ll work his way back,” Miller said of Randolph.
“He’s had a great preseason and when you get hit with that injury, it can set you back a couple of weeks. But I have great confidence once he’s 100 percent healthy and is able to practice again he’ll be somebody we really count on.”
Regardless of Randolph’s situation, the Wildcats are expected to return Pinder and Smith on Sunday. With or without the two, they still have plenty of punch.
NAU found that out Friday, when Allonzo Trier had 32 points, Deandre Ayton collected 19 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, and Dusan Ristic had 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“Those two big guys have begun to play together really well, which is not easy to do,” UMBC coach Ryan Odom said of Ayton and Ristic on Saturday.
“They pass the ball well and complement each other. That’s a problem. That’s like old-school basketball there, and they’ve got some fabulous guards and wings.”
Smith will add to UA’s wing depth in what will be his first appearance in an intercollegiate game of any sort for the Wildcats. He played in the 2016 and 2017 Red-Blue scrimmages, sitting out last season after his transfer from UNC Asheville.
Miller said Smith has turned a corner.
“He’s had a really good summer. He’s worked hard. Academically he’s really in a good place,” Miller said. “Off the court, I don’t think he’s ever been better. You can see that in practice. His practice habits are excellent and he’s one of our team’s best passers which says a lot. At Asheville, he hit a lot of 3s so he can do that as well.”
Miller said the redshirt season helped Smith, as it did with Miller-era transfers such as T.J. McConnell, Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen.
“Dylan Smith in a very quiet way has progressed,” Miller said. “No one talks about him because he’s not a part of this year’s recruiting class and he wasn’t a highly touted guy, but a lot of the transfers that we have had have been here for a full year. They can hit the ground running, and I believed he’ll add some much need depth for us.”
While “up-transfers” such as Smith’s have become a worry for coaches at low and mid-major levels, especially now that they can leave as grad transfers and become immediately eligible, UMBC managed to keep standout guard Jairus Lyles this season even after he was a second-team America East pick.
Lyles is a veteran scorer who can attack the rim and pick up fouls, a savvy kind of player to key the Retrievers’ offense.
“We’re certainly lucky,” Odom said. “He’s a graduate who didn’t leave. He’s good enough to play at a high level, and that says something about our university (and team). He’s going to be playing somewhere after college.”