Sean Miller

Top 25 Countdown: No. 17 Arizona Wildcats

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 23-12, 12-6 Pac-12 (4th); Lost in the first round of the NIT

Head Coach: Sean Miller

Key Losses: Josiah Turner, Kyle Fogg, Jesse Perry, Brendan Lavender

Newcomers: Mark Lyons, Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley, Gabe York

Projected Lineup:

G: Mark Lyons, Sr.
G: Nick Johnson, So.
F: Kevin Parrom, Sr.
F: Solomon Hill, Sr.
C: Kaleb Tarczewski, Fr.
Bench: Grant Jerrett, Fr.; Brandon Ashley, Fr.; Angelo Chol, So.; Gabe York, Fr.; Jordin Mayes, Jr.

Outlook: The recruiting job that Sean Miller has done since he landed at Arizona is simply undeniable. Even with a pair of top 100 recruits — Josiah Turner and Sidiki Johnson — leaving the program after last season, Miller has a roster brimming with talented college players and potential pros. The problem is that almost every player currently on the roster brings with him a question mark. In other words, not much about Miller’s roster and rotation is a known quantity.

The biggest question mark that Miller is going to have to deal with is youth. He three most talented big men — Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley — are all freshmen while Angelo Chol is a sophomore. In the back court, Miller will likely be starting a sophomore, Nick Johnson, while using another freshman, Gabe York, for major minutes off the bench. All things considered, six of the top eight players in Arizona’s rotation — and all of their big men –will be underclassmen.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily preclude Arizona from competing on a national level the way that it has in the past. Obviously, Kentucky won the national title last season with a roster based almost solely on freshmen and sophomores. But John Calipari is the best in the business when it comes to dealing with freshmen, getting them to buy-in to a system and making them accept their roles. I’m not saying that Miller can’t do that as well, but we just don’t know. And while every single player in that group is talented — there is a reason that Arizona has one of the top three recruiting classes in the country — they aren’t exactly Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, either.

As if that wasn’t enough of a question mark, one of Arizona’s veterans, senior wing Kevin Parrom, is coming off of one of the most difficult seasons for any player in recent memory. Not only did his lose both his mother and grandmother last offseason, but Parrom was shot twice when someone broke into his home last September. If that wasn’t bad enough, he broke his foot last January. All signs point to Parrom being back to 100%, but there really is no way to tell if he will be the same player that he was — and it should be noted that he was a very good player — before all of that happened.

But the biggest question mark for the Wildcats will be at the point guard spot. During the offseason, Miller brought in a pair of transfers — Mark Lyons from Xavier and TJ McConnell from Duquesne, although McConnell will be redshirting this year — to solidify the point guard spot. The problem is that it has been four years since Lyons was needed to play the point. He redshirted his first season with the Musketeers and spent the last three playing off the ball while Tu Holloway put up all-american numbers running the show. Lyons is a veteran, a tough kid that is a proven scorer, but he also developed a bit of a reputation during his time there. He didn’t have the best shot selection and he was a bit of a hothead.

Does that mean he can’t be the kind of leader and facilitator that Miller needs him to be? Of course not. Lyons was recruited as a point guard out of high school. But he’s spent the past four years proving himself to be a certain kind of player, and there’s no way for us to know if he’s going to be anything different until we actually see it unfold.

Predictions?: The Pac-12 should be improved from where the league was a season ago, and, for my money, Arizona will be the best team in the conference. But how good they end up being on a national scale depends on how a number of different factors end up playing out. They have all the pieces, but will all those pieces fit together the right way? Can Lyons truly be a point guard, a guy that gets the ball to his big men where they need it and is willing to share the glory with his younger teammates? How good will that trio of freshmen big men prove to be? Will Solomon Hill embrace the role of veteran leader the way that Darius Miller did for Kentucky last season? I can see this scenario playing out a myriad of different ways. If everything breaks the right way, having the Wildcats ranked 17th heading into the season will look silly. But if everything goes wrong, it will as well. I’d say a Pac-12 title, a three or four seed in the NCAA tournament and a trip to the second weekend should be the expectation for this group.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Michigan’s Spike Albrecht to finish his career at rival Big Ten program

Michigan guard Spike Albrecht (2) makes a layup between Northern Michigan forward Brett Branstrom, top left, and center Vejas Grazulis (52) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Michigan won 70-44. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
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Spike Albrecht’s career isn’t over, as the former Michigan point guard and graduate transfer has committed to play his final season for Big Ten rival Purdue.

“I’ll be playing my 5th year for Purdue University,” Albrecht tweeted on Tuesday morning. “Boiler Up.”

Albrecht’s career has been fascinating to follow. A very lightly recruited high schooler, Albrecht picked Michigan over Appalachian State, playing very limited minutes behind National Player of the Year Trey Burke before popping off for 17 points in the first half of the national title game that season (and launching the greatest heat check in the history of heat checks). He would play a bigger role as a sophomore before averaging 7.5 points and 3.9 assists in 32 minutes as a junior in 2014-15.

But as a senior, Albrecht cut his season short after just a couple of games due to a degenerative issue in his hips. He had surgery on both hips prior to last season and initially announced that his career was over. That changed, but Michigan’s scholarship situation didn’t: They had already recruited someone to take his scholarship after his graduation, so Albrecht was forced to transfer.

Purdue is a good fit for him. He’ll provide veteran leadership on a team with just one other senior on the roster — redshirt junior Basil Smotherman — and he’ll help anchor the point guard spot currently held by junior P.J. Thompson.

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.