2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 4 Arizona Wildcats

Leave a comment

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 27-8, 12-6 Pac-12 (t-2nd); Lost to Ohio State in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Sean Miller (5th season at Arizona: 96-43 overall, 48-24 Pac-12)

Key Losses: Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Grant Jerrett, Angelo Chol

Newcomers: Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, Zach Peters, Elliott Pitts

Projected Lineup

G: T.J. McConnell, Jr.
G: Nick Johnson, Jr.
F: Aaron Gordon, Fr.
F: Brandon Ashley, So.
C: Kaleb Tarczewski, So.
Bench: Jordin Mayes, Sr.; Gabe York, So.; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Fr.; Zach Peters, Fr.

They’ll be good because …: Once again, Sean Miller brought in a loaded recruiting class, this one with enough firepower to offset the fact that Arizona not only lost three of their top four scorers from a season ago, but that two former blue-chip recruits left the program with eligibility remaining. The biggest name of the bunch is obviously Aaron Gordon, a top five recruit that is spending his one-and-done season in Tucson.

He’s far from the only addition, however. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell will take over the point guard role where he will be a better fit than Mark Lyons was. Losing Solomon Hill’s leadership will hurt, but freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be capable of replacing his versatile role in the lineup. Add in the return of the underrated Nick Johnson as well as sophomore big men Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, who should improve as sophomores, and Miller will have plenty of talent to work with this year.

Nick Johnson (AP) and Aaron Gordon (Arizona Athletics)

But they might disappoint because …: The reason that Gordon is at Arizona is because they will allow him to play on the perimeter. Gordon, who has drawn comparisons to Blake Griffin for his ability to posterize anyone and everyone between him and a rim, believes that his future lies as a small forward in the NBA, and that may be true. He’s a gifted athlete that is capable of knocking down a three. If he keeps working, there’s no reason that can’t happen … down the road.

Those last three words are key, because as of right now, Gordon simply won’t be as effective on the perimeter as he will playing inside. Remember how good Derrick Williams was for Arizona during the 2010-2011 season? Well Gordon is basically a more athletic and more skilled Derrick Williams. Now let’s factor in that Arizona’s roster makeup is perfect for him to play the four. He’ll share front court minutes with Ashley and Tarczewski while allowing natural wing Hollis-Jefferson to see more minutes. Instead of struggling to prove himself against college threes, Gordon would be dominating college fours that try to stay with him on the perimeter while also defending the rim on the defensive end of the floor.

Outlook: Even with the additions that Oregon made this offseason, Arizona is the most talented team in the Pac-12. They have a potential all-american in Gordon, two promising big men in Ashley and Tarczewski, and a back court of McConnell and Johnson that is much better than it looks on paper. Winning the conference should be the bare minimum for this group; they enter the season as a Final Four favorite and a legitimate contender to win the national title.

While I hate to beat the point to death, the bottom line is that Arizona’s best chance of reaching those lofty expectations will be if Gordon plays the majority of his minutes in the front court for a couple of reasons. For starters, Arizona has a pair of terrific defenders in the back court with McConnell and Johnson. Add in Hollis-Jefferson, and Miller’s club will be able to apply nightmarish pressure defensively. Now imagine if, by chance, any of those three got beat to the rim. Can you imagine trying to finish over someone as athletic as Gordon?

That’s not the only issue. Arizona is already going to have issues shooting the ball from the perimeter. Gordon is capable of hitting a three, but he’s anything-but a great perimeter shooter. Playing the four, he’ll have a lot more time and space to get off those threes, because opposing big men aren’t going to want to close out long and risk getting burned for a dunk. Arizona can still win the Pac-12 if Miller plays Gordon on a wing, but the Wildcats won’t be nearly as dangerous.

Purdue’s Isaac Haas unlikely to play on Friday

Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BOSTON — Isaac Haas has become the biggest story in the East Regional, as he, with the help of a group of mechanical engineering grad students at Purdue, tries to find a way to play through the broken elbow that he suffered in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

And head coach Matt Painter threw a glass of cold water on those dreams on Thursday.

“He didn’t practice the last two days,” Painter said, “and when you don’t practice, you don’t play.”

“I don’t see him playing until he can practice and show me he can shoot a right-handed free throw and get a rebound with two hands,” he added. “I would think he’s done. To me, it’s the eye test. It’s going out and watching him. He can go practice today if he wants, and I can evaluate him. But if he doesn’t practice, nothing changes, right? No matter what I say or you say or he says especially, he fractured his elbow. You know what I mean? So if you fractured your elbow and you can’t shoot a free throw, I don’t know how it changes in two days.”

No. 2-seed Purdue plays No. 3-seed Texas Tech in the East Regional semifinals on Friday night.

That hasn’t stopped Haas from lobbying his head coach to let him on the floor if the officials clear the brace that was rigged for him. The brace was not cleared on Saturday for Purdue’s second round game against Butler.

“I told him multiple times, that hey, even if it’s one minute, it’s worth it to me,” Haas said. “I’ll just keep trying and giving my best effort to be out there. I don’t care if I’m out there or not, you do what you need to do, but if I’m an option, call me up.”

Haas’ ability to shoot isn’t the only concern. If he falls, he could do more damage to injury, requiring more extensive surgery after the season. He said that the injury should keep him out for 2-to-3 months, but those Purdue engineers, they’ve been trying to find a way to get him on the floor.

“My email’s been blowing up with people saying here’s some stuff you can do, here’s some stuff that we have,” Haas said. “It’s funny because they’re all saying this stuff and or trainer and doctors have all that stuff already. I reply, ‘thank you for your consideration. Means a lot, but we have those same machines here.'”

Crash survivor Austin Hatch back in LA with Michigan hoops

AP Photo/Tony Ding
Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Austin Hatch finished high school less than two miles from Staples Center, playing basketball at Loyola High and golfing throughout the warm California winter four years ago.

But he mostly spent his one year in Los Angeles simply learning how to live again after surviving the second tragic plane crash of his young life, a crash that killed his father and stepmother.

When Michigan’s run to the Sweet Sixteen brought Hatch back to downtown LA this week, he was grateful for the chance to see his uncle, his extended family and his Loyola coach, Jamal Adams. They all plan to be in the stands Thursday when Michigan faces Texas A&M, with Hatch helping the Wolverines from his spot on the bench.

“It was only a year of my life, but it was a big year of my life,” Hatch said Wednesday before going through a workout with his teammates. “It was the year that prepared me for Michigan. Great people out here. I was very, very blessed to be a part of it.”

Hatch scored one point in his Michigan playing career, which ended in 2015. He is a student assistant coach now, watching the Wolverines in a suit and tie — except on Senior Day last month, when he suited up and received a stirring ovation at Crisler Center.

With the Wolverines needing only two wins in LA to reach the Final Four, Hatch is grateful to play any small role in their success.

“Obviously what I contribute to the team doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” Hatch said. “But the fact that I’ve been able to add something has given me a sense of fulfillment, if you will. I couldn’t control what happened to me, but I knew I could control how I responded to it. And I think that given the circumstances, I’ve done my best to make the most of it. I know all my teammates appreciate that.”

Hatch’s impact has been immeasurable on the Michigan program and coach John Beilein, who lived up to his scholarship commitment to the promising prospect from Fort Wayne, Indiana, after the June 2011 crash that left him in a coma for weeks. Hatch had already survived a 2003 crash in which his mother, brother and sister died.

Given the traumatic circumstances in which he arrived on the West Coast, his return is a reminder of his resilience. Hatch healed during his year in Los Angeles — and he relished the chance to hit the links in January while Michigan was buried under snow.

“In hindsight, I’m really glad I was here,” Hatch said. “It broadened my horizons a little bit. I’m from the Midwest. I’m from Fort Wayne, a small town. Now I’m in Ann Arbor, which is relatively small in comparison to LA. It was good to come out here and experience a different way of life.”

While his time with the Wolverines will end soon, Hatch isn’t slowing down. He is getting married to former Michigan volleyball player Abby Cole in the summer, and he’ll explore a career in business while deciding what he wants to do next.

But first, he’s hoping for two more weeks of hoops ending in a national title.

“My chapter at Michigan has been incredible,” Hatch said. “I wouldn’t change anything about it. I have no regrets. There’s nothing I wish I would have done. Everyone here has invested so much in me, and I’ve really done my best to show my appreciation by working hard.”

CBT Podcast: 2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview, Picks and Predictions

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sam Vecenie of the Athletic and the Game Theory podcast stopped by to chat with Rob Dauster about the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. The two went through each of the eight Sweet 16 matchups, detailing how each one of those eight games projects to play out and going over which lines — spread and over-unders — they like.

Dan Hurley will accept UConn head coaching position

Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley will be the next head coach at UConn, replacing the 2014 national title winner, Kevin Ollie.

Hurley will be signing a six-year deal, according to multiple reports, that could be valued as much as $18 million. Hurley picked UConn over Pitt, who had also offered him a similar amount of money.

Hurley turned the Rhode Island program around during his six-year tenure, capped off with a pair of seasons where the Rams won a game in the NCAA tournament. UConn, which is one of the best jobs but has not been one of the best teams in the AAC in recent years, should be a place where he can continue to recruit talent. Under Ollie, the Huskies have been able to get players. The issue has been the performance and development of those players once they get to campus.

The Huskies finished 14-18 this past season.

Dan Hurley is the son of New Jersey high school coaching legend Bob Hurley and the brother of former Duke guard and current Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley.

VIDEOS: Villanova team bus stuck on icy roads trying to leave campus

Getty Images
1 Comment

Villanova’s road to the Sweet 16 hit its roughest patch yet on Wednesday as the team attempted to leave campus for the team’s flight to Boston.

Since the Philadelphia area has been slammed with a snowstorm, the Wildcat team bus had issues leaving to get to the team’s chartered flight.

A struggle between team bus and ice ensued. The bus was delayed by 30 minutes before finally being able to leave.

Villanova continues its NCAA tournament journey on Friday when the No. 1 seed Wildcats play No. 5 seed West Virginia in Boston.