All anyone wanted to talk about with Arizona heading into the season was the addition of Xavier transfer Mark Lyons.
And to be perfectly fair, Lyons is a huge x-factor for this team. He’s the point guard that Sean Miller was missing, even if he’s not exactly a prototypical point guard.
But one of the most under-discussed aspects of this group was the assumption that Arizona’s freshmen big men weren’t going to play like freshmen. Three games into the season, that assumption has proven true for one of those three.
Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett have combined to averaged just 11.3 points and 9.7 boards thus far in the season, and those are numbers that Miller likely hopes will improve. But as long as Ashley is anchoring the front line, Arizona will be just fine this season.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.