Sean Miller’s fourth season in Tucson has already tipped off.
Thanks to an NCAA rule that allows programs to go on preseason tours every four years, Miller was able to get a glimpse of his squad a month early in the Bahamas. While the competition was not at the level Arizona will face this season, Miller was allowed 10 extra practices, which will allow the newcomers to transition to Miller’s system quicker.
Meanwhile, the seniors have their eyes set on another Pac-12 title.
Leading Miller’s Wildcats will be 6’7" senior wing Solomon Hill, 6’6" senior wing Kevin Parrom and 6’1" senior guard Mark Lyons.
Hill, a first team all-conference selection last season, will be counted on as one of Arizona’s primary scorers, having averaged 12.9 ppg last season. A versatile player, Hill is more than capable of beating his man off the dribble, has good vision and is the team’s leader.
Parrom had a difficult season as a junior, having lost his mother and grandmother over the summer and being shot in the leg while home in New York, attending to his ailing mother. However, he is healthy and ready to be Arizona’s glue guy, as Parrom has good range from three, can handle the ball and is an excellent wing defender.
Lyons, a graduate transfer from Xavier, was originally recruited by Miller while at Xavier. He is a 1,000-plus point scorer and expected to make a major impact in Tucson, having chosen to transfer to Arizona over numerous schools, including Kentucky.
Next, junior guard Jordin Mayes is hoping to have a bounce-back year after having surgery on a foot fracture last summer, then re-aggravating the injury in February and missing five games. Mayes struggled shooting the ball, only connecting on 29 percent of his three-point attempts after shooting 45 percent as a freshman.
The sophomore class consists of 6’3" guard Nick Johnson and 6’9" forward Angelo Chol.
Johnson, a hyper-athletic guard, is capable of making a major impact this season after being selected to the all-conference freshman team. Johnson struggled at times last year having to play out of position at point guard, due to suspensions and the up-and-down play of Josiah Turner, who left the program, but will now return to his familiar role of playing off the ball and above the rim.
Chol is a long defensive shot blocker who will battle for playing time with most of Arizona’s highly regarded incoming freshman class. Chol came on late in the season and blocked 19 shots in his last 17 games and will be look to for his defensive abilities.
Arizona’s highly regarded freshman class comes in ranked No. 3 according to most services (see rivals.com ranking here), right behind Kentucky and UCLA. It is hard to pick a player that headlines a class, because Miller signed three big men who were all consensus top 25 players.
Playing time will be plentiful for 6’8" forward Brandon Ashley, 6’10" Grant Jerrett and 7’0" Kaleb Tarczewski. One of Arizona’s major weaknesses last season was size and talent in the paint; however, that should not be a problem this season.
Tarczewski should see plenty of playing time early and already is pushing for a starting position at center.
Jerrett is the proverbial fundamentally sound big man. He has good footwork on the block, a beautiful jumper and the ability to impact the game on the glass.
Ashley is a combo-forward who should see plenty of time due to his defensive ability, athleticism and length. Do not be surprised to see him start at power forward as a freshman.
Finally, 6’1" guard Gabe York, rounds out the recruiting class. York proved on the AAU circuit that he can definitely score from anywhere on the court in addition to his athletic ability. However, he might find minutes hard to come by due to Arizona’s depth in the backcourt.
There are two other new additions to the Arizona roster; however, neither of them will play this season. 6’1" junior guard, T.J. McConnell transferred from Duquesne and 6’9" forward Matt Korcheck from Cochise College in Arizona.
This is by far Sean Miller’s deepest squad since being hired at Arizona. Adding Lyons filled a major hole at point guard, not only because he is a senior and can score, but having played at Xavier, he already knows Miller’s system.
Arizona is legitimately 10 deep this season, well balanced all over the floor, has size and rebounding to go along with versatility and shooting on the perimeter. Arizona and UCLA are the top two teams in the conference and will battle not only for the conference title, but potentially the top seed out west come March. Staying out west is especially important this season, because the regional finals will be in Los Angeles at the Staples Center.
Overall, Arizona fans should expect 29 wins prior to selection Sunday. However, a few major games lurk on the schedule that could swing that number higher or lower. Dec. 8 at Clemson; Dec. 12 vs. Florida; a potential matchup with San Diego State in the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas; Jan. 24 vs. UCLA; Feb. 14 at Colorado; and March 2 at UCLA.
However, the game that may decide which team stays in the West bracket could come in the conference tournament championship game on March 16.