The Arizona Wildcats suffered their first loss of the season on Thursday night to the Oregon Ducks. They rebounded with a solid 10-point victory over the Oregon State Beavers on Saturday night. To soften the blow of the 'Cats first loss, both remaining undefeated teams, Duke and Michigan also lost over the weekend.
The Wildcats took a little tumble in the rankings to the No. 7 spot in both polls and are preparing for their matchup at in-state rival Arizona State on Saturday. The Sun Devils and Wildcats have identical Pac-12 records, but the Sun Devils have non-conference losses to No. 14 Creighton and DePaul while Arizona has non-conference wins over No. 5 Florida and No. 17 San Diego State.
Watching and waiting patiently to get in on the action this year are a couple of transfer students looking to make an immediate impact in the 2013-14 season.
With the season now over halfway gone, it isn't too early to look at the lineup for the upcoming season and how it could be even better than this year's stellar rotation.
Senior point guard Mark Lyons has been indispensable this year for the Wildcats, but Sophomore guard Nick Johnson has also been great.
The addition of T.J. McConnell from Duquesne replacing Lyons should be almost seamless. McConnell was a defensive beast for Duquesne, grabbing the third-most steals in the nation. His assists per game also ranked him No. 31 in the country for the 2011-12 season.
Johnson and McConnell's shooting percentages are similar but McConnell seems to have a better eye from beyond the arc hitting 43-percent to Johnson's 36-percent.
Kaleb Tarczewski is the only true center on the Wildcats' roster, so it is safe to say that Zeus' position in the starting rotation is secure for this year and going into the next.
The 7'0", 225 pound true freshman out of New Hampshire is a beast under the boards and excels in the low post. He leads the team in rebounds with 5.9 per game and also has 13 blocks on the season.
Fellow freshman Grant Jerrett has been a serviceable replacement for Tarczewski when the big man needs to catch his breath. Jerrett, the first recruit to sign in coach Sean Miller's vaunted class of 2012-13 started the first two games in the forward slot but has since been relegated to coming in off the bench.
Jerrett has compiled a good chunk of playing time in the first half of the season, averaging 17.9 minutes per game and leading the team in blocks with 15 on the season.
Replacing Solomon Hill is going to be a difficult task, but replacing Hill and Kevin Parrom is going to be near impossible.
To make the transition into next year, it is imperative that freshman phenom Brandon Ashley becomes a sophomore stud.
Ashley has been electric from the starting spot and averages nearly 22 minutes per game. He leads the team in field goal percentage and is one rebound behind center Tarczewski with 93, averaging 5.8 per game.
The power forward position will most likely be handed to incoming freshman Rondae Jefferson barring any unforeseen circumstances. Coach Miller has likened Jefferson to the departing Hill when he told the Arizona Daily Star "He's a warrior. He's similar to Solomon in that he can do a lot of things..."
Backup point guard and senior-to-be Jordin Mayes will be the first off the bench to spell McConnell or Johnson while sophomore-to-be Gabe York and newcomer Elliott Pitts will be battling for the next opening in the rotation. Looks like the odd man out will be sophomore-to-be Jacob Hazzard who has averaged under two minutes per game this year.
In the front court, Jerrett needs to challenge Ashley or Jefferson for the starting position or embrace the swingman position that Kevin Parrom has perfected for the Wildcats.
Sophomore forward Angelo Chol was instrumental in Sunday's game at Oregon State and has worked his way back into the good graces of coach Sean Miller. He will need to continue his solid play or lose out in minutes to incoming senior Matt Korcheck. Junior-to-be Drew Mellon looks to be in the same boat as Jacob Hazzard as the odd man out in the front court.
Coming up with the right rotation is critical.
Just when you thought coach Miller had his starting five down pat, he started Kevin Parrom in place of Brandon Ashley in Oregon and didn't play Angelo Chol at all. This was the first game of the season that Chol didn't receive any minutes and Coach Miller acknowledged that he "pulled back on Chol" but also added that he "would like to get him where he was."
It is going to be tough to lose the team's top two leading scores in Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill as well as the backone of the bench in Kevin Parrom. Fear not, with the addition of new recruits Rondae Jefferson and Elliott Pitts to go along with transfer students TJ McConnell and Matt Korcheck, the Wildcats are not looking to miss a beat moving into next season.
The next two games for the 'Cats will tell volumes about the resiliency of this team. They will travel to Tempe to take on a much improved Arizona State team on Saturday and then host the resurgent UCLA Bruins on the following Thursday. Both teams are 14-3, but UCLA currently leads the Pac-12 with a 4-0 conference record.
If Miller is to lose one or both of these games, it might be time to revisit shuffling the rotation or maybe looking at different players coming off the bench.
The games are going to be quality matchups and that is why we love the game.