2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 4 Arizona Wildcats

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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.

source:
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.

4-star center commits to Purdue

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With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Dowuona, a 6-foot-11 big man who attends Westwood Christian School in Miami, joins fellow four-star prospect Trevion Williams in Purdue’s 2018 class to date.

Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.

Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.

Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.

Dayton freshman Toppin ineligible for 2017-18 season

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Dayton announced Tuesday afternoon that one of the program’s incoming freshmen will not be eligible to compete this season. 6-foot-8 forward Obadiah Toppin has been ruled by the NCAA to have not met initial eligibility requirements, and he will have to sit out the 2017-18 season as a result.

Toppin will be allowed to remain a member of the team and participate in practices, and he will have four seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2018-19 season. While the NCAA’s decision leaves the Flyers short a front court option in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season at the helm, it did not come as a surprise.

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Grant said in the release. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

Toppin, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game at Mt. Zion Academy last season, is one of five freshmen who have joined the program. Matej Svoboda and Jordan Pierce will look to earn minutes alongside returnees Josh Cunningham and Xeyrius Williams, and the same can be said for redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Toppin being declared ineligible is the third hit Dayton has taken to its front court this offseason. Ryan Mikesell, who played in 32 games last season, will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries. And Sam Miller, who was also part of the team’s front court rotation last season, was suspended from school for the fall semester after he was arrested during the summer.

Four-star forward commits to Ohio State

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Ohio State is on the board with regards to the 2018 recruiting class, as Chris Holtmann’s program received a much-needed verbal commitment from four-star forward Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 Houston native announced his decision via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

In receiving a verbal commitment from LeDee, Ohio State beat out California, Houston, Iowa State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA. The Buckeyes hosted LeDee for his official visit the weekend of September 9, which coincided with the football team’s matchup with Oklahoma. Originally scheduled to visit Cal this past weekend, LeDee instead visited Texas A&M.

With LeDee’s commitment to Ohio State, visits to LSU (September 30) and UCLA (October 6) are likely off the board.

Currently attending the Kincaid School, LeDee played for the Texas PRO grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit this summer. The four-star prospect will likely be a combo forward for Ohio State, playing either the three or the four depending on the matchup.

With Jae’Sean Tate beginning his senior season and Keita Bates-Diop being a redshirt junior, Ohio State had a need to address in the front court. In landing a verbal pledge from Jaedon LeDee, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Among the front court players who will have eligibility remaining beyond the 2017-18 season are Bates-Diop, current sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.