After a perfect start to both the non-conference season as well as the first two of its Pac-12 schedule, Arizona is off to its best start in decades. This is a result of the stellar play of many Wildcats who have put together a solid season. And while many Arizona players have played well and lived up the the expectations, some have not.
Let's take a look at how each member of the Wildcat's roster has been playing compared to expectations.
Statistics via ESPN.com.
Angelo Chol hasn't had much time on the court this season. Sean Miller has not used him in games where the outcome is in doubt. In the five closest games this year (Clemson, Florida, SDSU, Colorado, Utah), Chol has played a total of 17 minutes. This is somewhat surprising considering Chol's progression last season. He was always great on the defensive side of the ball, and improved dramatically on offense. At many points during last year's campaign, Arizona played its best ball while he was at center.
This year has obviously been different. When he gets in the game he seems to be pressing. It looks as though he is trying to prove himself each and every possession. This has lead to sloppy play. On offense he catches the ball much too far from the basket and instead of passing it away, he looks to create. Bad shots and turnovers have been the result. Chol needs to make a back to the basket game his bread and butter. He has not, and so his stock has dropped.
Gabe York came into the season knowing there was a tough road to traverse in order to get on the court. He would be playing behind an experienced two-guard in Nick Johnson, a more experienced junior guard in Jordin Mayes and even more experience in Mark Lyons. Add to this that Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill can play small, and playing time is hard to come by. Making minutes even more impossible was that time on the court needed to be spread among one of the most talented classes in the program's history. All told, nine Wildcats are ahead of ESPN's 65th rated player in the class of 2012.
The result? York has not played in six games and averages just over six minutes a game. So York's stock is hard to evaluate at this point. Yet during his minutes on the court he has shown his athleticism, ability to shoot and confidence. After a simple eye-ball test, my prediction is York is going to be a great Wildcat down the line. However, right now it is just hard for him to get on the court.
Jordin Mayes has not played well. Plain and simple. He is shooting 28 percent from three point range, 36 percent from the field and is averaging only 3.4 points a game. This is not want you want from your junior backup point guard. Hopefully as the year progresses he picks up his game, but at this point his stock is definitely down.
ESPN had Jerrett rated as the ninth best player in the country coming out of high school. And after watching him almost half the season, I can see why. He has all the skills to be great. At 6'10'' he is shooting 40 percent from three and 77 percent from the line. He can play in the post if he wants, is a decent defender and is athletic enough. His fundamentals are phenomenal. He looks like he should be a scoring machine.
But Jerrett hasn't put it together on the court. He's had only three games with double digit point totals, but eight with less than five points. Although he rebounds moderately well, he hasn't put up the numbers you would like to see from a guy of his size who consistently plays the power forward spot. His season high is seven. Coming into the year, more was expected of Jerrett, and so his stock is down.
But, as with York and Tarczewski, time will iron out the issues for Jerrett. At this point in his career, and on this team which is stacked with talent, Jerrett defers more than he should. When he feels like this is more his team (next season), he will be more aggressive. This will lead to confidence and when it does, Jerrett will lead the Wildcats in scoring for as many years as he is in Tucson.
Kaleb Tarczewski has the size and the skill set to become one of the best, if the the best big man in Arizona history. But he is a long way from that point right now. Through 14 games, the seven footer has reached double figures in points only once, had more than one block only twice and although he has rebounded well, he has not dominated the glass game to game. Coming into the season as the fourth rated player in the country according to ESPN, a neutral observer would have to say this is somewhat disappointing.
With that said, there are reasons that Tarczewski's numbers are not all that stellar. He is playing on a team which does not do a great job of feeding the post. When Tarczewski has been in position, most times his teammates are unable to get him the ball where he needs it. Because his opportunities to create offensively are somewhat scarce, he seems rushed and nervous to make a play when he does get the ball. This will change over time.
Additionally, Arizona is full of players who can score and rebound. Tarczewski is sometimes the fourth and even fifth option on the court. This will of course reduce his measurables.
Tarczewski, although the stats say otherwise, does make a strong impact whenever he is in the game. Whereas last season an opponent would go inside and score on nearly every trip, this season, simply because Tarczewski is so big, scoring deep under the basket has meant real trouble. He is able to change the game without creating tons of stats.
In the end, because he was rated so highly coming out of high school, his stock for the season is down. However, as his career progresses, I suspect he will reach all expectations.
Brandon Ashley was the least heralded of the three freshman bigs coming into the season. And if you read scouting reports or watched any of Findley's (his high school) games last season, it was clear he was a raw talent. Despite those truths, Ashley has by far had the best freshman campaign.
Ashley has six games with more than 10 points, three games with more than 10 boards and has two double-doubles. He has a motor that doesn't stop and at points has been the very best player on a very good Arizona squad. His stock has definitely gone up in the minds of nearly all on-lookers except maybe Doug Gottlieb, who chose him to be national freshman of the year.
It seems that whenever the Wildcats have needed a big play at some point this year (and it hasn't come from Mark Lyons) it has come from Kevin Parrom. Whether it be a three pointer or an offensive rebound and a put back, Parrom is in just the right place at the right time. He quietly puts the Wildcats in the position to win games. And not so quietly, he was the MVP of close games against Colorado and San Diego State.
Parrom is easily having the best season of his career. He is in the top five on the team in nearly every offensive and defensive category as well as having career highs in all of them. After last season, a year in which he went through a lifetime of grief and trauma in a matter of months, it is great to see Parrom playing so well. His stock is up.
Nick Johnson came into last season as ESPN'S 22nd rated player in the country and started in the backcourt with Josiah Turner. While he played well at times, most of the season it was as though he let the games pass him by. He wasn't aggressive, didn't look for his shot and as a result he fell a little short of expectations.
Coming into the season, I was interested to see how Johnson would respond. His demeanor has changed this year. He is aggressive and looks to create constantly. His point production is up to 12.2 a game, he is second on the team in assists (2.9) and is second in the conference in steals (2.3). On top of this he single-handedly won the game against San Diego State with his spectacular block. Johnson's play gives the Wildcats one of the best backcourts in the country.
After last season, where he was good but not great, Johnson has significantly raised his level of play.
Last year, Solomon Hill had one of the most well rounded seasons of any Wildcat in history. He scored 13 points a game, was second in the conference in rebounds, shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and willed the Wildcats to several victories. In a couple of contests he was absolutely unstoppable (think Washington and UCLA). Not surprisingly, after a stellar year like that, many publications and experts gave Solomon Hill the Pac-12 Conference preseason Player of the Year award.
While Hill has played well, this year's performance has dropped below expectations. He is averaging just about the same in points and assists, and significantly less in rebounds. All this is to be expected with four high impact players coming in. Yet in most games so far he has not played to Pac-12 POY level. At points during the game he is invisible. His impact is not felt. He is not attacking and is too deferential. It is why so many opponents have stuck around with the Wildcats this year. He seems to be relying on the talent around him to get the job done. So far it has worked, but he needs to do more.
Hill is the key to Arizona winning a championship. If he can play at the level he has against the best competition this year (Florida, San Diego State, Colorado), the Wildcats should be in every game and have a chance to win. He has been great in the contests. However, his level of play has been inconsistent in the rest of the games and therefore his stock has dropped so far. We will see if he can keep up his play in the Pac-12 (17PPG, 7RPG).
Coming into this season there were two questions with Mark Lyons. First, was he a leader? This question was connected to his departure from Xavier. After a turmoil filled season where he was suspended two games for his part in a brawl with cross-town rival Cincinnati, he parted ways with the school. His participation in the fight and unceremonious exit left a bitter taste in the mouth of everyone involved. He was called selfish and his ability to fit into Sean Miller's system was doubted throughout the Summer.
The second question was, could he be a championship level point guard? Mark Lyons is also a scoring point guard. Maybe more precisely stated, he is a scorer who happens to play the point. So his role on a team that badly needed a point guard was uncertain.
Lyons has resoundingly answered both questions with a yes. His leadership has been incredible. Even while on the bench he is cheering the team on, displaying the character needed. On the court he has made every big play that needs to be made, has taken all the big shots and has lead the Wildcats to most of their victories. His traditional point guard play isn't that of John Stockton, where he dishes out 13 assists and has 3 turnovers. But Lyons seems to know when a big play needs to be made, and he does it.
Whether he does it by way of a pass or shot, Lyons has paced the Wildcats to an undefeated 14-0. That is enough leadership and point guard play for any team.