Between the prodigious size of its towering freshman class and the ample talent in its backcourt, Arizona is going to be a leading contender for the Pac-12 crown next season. Whether the Wildcats actually break through and win the conference, though, will depend on a few key variables.
If these three factors break in Arizona’s favor, Sean Miller’s team will be taking home the Pac-12 championship:
1. Mark Lyons’ Conversion to Point Guard
There is no single position in college basketball more important than point guard. At Arizona, that position will be filled by Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, who has already turned in two brilliant seasons…as a shooting guard.
Lyons scored 15.5 points a game in 2011-12, but his career-high for assists (set the year before) is just 3.1 per contest. Arizona will have plenty of weapons on offense, but they’ll never reach their full potential unless Lyons can develop into a true point guard in his final season of college ball.
2. Solomon Hill’s Defense
The Wildcats have the size and shot-blocking to field an imposing interior defense, but they’re not nearly so iron-clad on the perimeter. 6’6” Solomon Hill, likely moving to SF after serving as an undersized PF last season, will be the toughest defender among Arizona’s wing players.
The rising senior will be the single biggest key to defeating Arizona’s toughest conference competition, the UCLA Bruins. If Hill can contain superstar freshman Shabazz Muhammad, he’ll deal a devastating blow to the UCLA offense.
3. Kaleb Tarczewski’s Adjustment To The College Level
Seven-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski is the prize of Sean Miller’s recruiting class. There’s little doubt that he’s going to tear up the non-conference schedule, but Arizona will need him to dominate against Pac-12 foes as well.
If Tarczewski can’t adjust to facing 6’10” and 6’11” opponents on a regular basis, or if he hits a wall, as many freshmen do late in the season, Arizona will be in serious trouble. If, on the other hand, he can control the paint on both ends of the floor, the Wildcats are headed for a terrific finish to 2012-13.