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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
– 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.