TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona lost two key players last year and still went to the Elite Eight. The Wildcats lost four more starters heading into this season.
No doubt, this will be a new-look Arizona team in Sean Miller’s seventh season as coach.
But rebuilding at Arizona isn’t like most places. Miller seems to have a revolving door of top-level recruits heading to the desert every year and will likely have the Wildcats competing for a third straight Pac-12 title.
The conference’s media seem to think he will; Arizona was picked to win the Pac-12 title in the preseason poll.
“When those six leave, it’s going to feel different and for us it does,” Miller said. “That doesn’t mean that we can’t have a great season, but I believe that part of us having a great season this year is to maybe handle November and December, and the ups and downs that may come with a team like ours.”
This team has quite a few changes.
Gone from last year’s team are Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and T.J. McConnell. This after Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson left the season before.
There’s still a solid foundation left.
Kaleb Tarczewski returns for his fourth season as the starting center, giving Arizona a 7-foot anchor in the middle at both ends of the floor. Sharp-shooting senior guard Gabe York is also back and so is Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who earned valuable playing time behind McConnell at point guard last season.
The Wildcats also are expecting 7-foot sophomore Dusan Ristic and junior shooting guard Elliott Pitts to continue on the improvement they made as last season progressed.
After that will be a mix of transfers and freshmen filling important roles.
Ryan Anderson should give Arizona a lift in frontcourt scoring and rebounding after transferring from Boston College. Kadeem Allen, the 2014 JUCO player of the year, is expected to have an immediate impact after redshirting last season. Mark Tollefsen, a 6-foot-9 forward, is eligible immediately after transferring from San Francisco and should help provide some senior leadership for Arizona’s young players.
Those young players include four highly touted freshmen, led by athletic 6-foot-6 guard Allonzo Trier.
While Miller has sometimes had to use a short rotation due to lack of depth, that won’t be a problem this season.
“There isn’t a huge difference between maybe the ninth or 10th player or the third or fourth player,” Miller said. “That sounds sometimes better than it really is, but we could be a team who plays nine or 10 guys each game and grows as the year goes along.”
With this many new pieces, there definitely will be a growing period.
Arizona has lost one nonconference game the past three seasons, but that could change this year. The Wildcats have some tough nonconference games, including Gonzaga, Missouri and UNLV. It doesn’t get much easier once the Pac-12 season starts, with three straight and five of the first seven games on the road.
“We could start off slowly and still end up being a conference champion or have a great season,” Miller said.
Even in a rebuilding year, the Wildcats always seem to be in the mix for a conference title.