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.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.

Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. returning to school

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Nebraska received some important news on Friday night as senior guard James Palmer Jr. will be back for next season.

The 6-foot-6 Palmer had tested the NBA draft waters, but he decided to return to the Cornhuskers. After putting up 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season, Palmer is expected to be an All-Big Ten candidate once again this season. Palmer shot 44 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point range last season.

After transferring in from Miami, Palmer became the Huskers’ go-to scorer last season in helping Nebraska to a 22-win season and NIT appearance.

With Palmer back, Nebraska will have some legitimate expectations for the upcoming season, especially if the team’s second-leading scorer, Isaac Copeland Jr., also returns from the NBA draft process.