Arizona Basketball: Projecting Wildcats' 2013-14 Starters with Aaron Gordon
Sean Miller and Arizona basketball are going to have no shortage of lineup options next season. In what may be the most stacked Wildcats team since 2000-01, Miller has serious talent going 11 or 12 deep.
When looking at the roster, Miller has at least two guys at every position who could start at most other college basketball programs. The Wildcats are so talented that playing time is going to be a storyline all season long and will be fought for each and every practice.
With the 2012-13 season finishing less than a few hours ago, it is a perfect time (because I can't wait for next year to start) to look forward to 2013-14 and predict who will be starting on this star-studded Arizona roster.
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Starter: T.J. McConnell (Lock)
Of all the starting spots, this is the easiest to predict. McConnell is the quintessential guy and the cure to many of the Arizona's ailments this past season. He is a heady pass-first guard, averaging 5.5 assists and only 2.6 turnovers as a sophomore at Duquesne.That year, 2011-12, there were 17 games where he had 6 assists or more. By comparison, Mark Lyons accomplished that feat three times last season.
Now McConnell has Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to throw the ball to. His assist numbers are going to break Arizona single-season records.
When needed, he can score. McConnell put up over 11 points while shooting 51 percent from the field, 43 percent from three and 84 percent from the line. If needed he can put the ball in the hole.
His addition to this team makes the Wildcats better by leaps and bounds.
Challenger: Jordin Mayes
Jordin Mayes will be entering his senior season and will play a vital role on the team. A backup point who can come in and limit the drop-off from the starter is huge. With his solid play to end the year in 2013, I have no doubt Mayes will play solid minutes.
However, he is not as good as T.J. McConnell, who is a very good true point guard. The transfer from Duquesne will be the Wildcats starting point guard in 2013-14.
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Starter: Nick Johnson (Lock)
Nick Johnson is essentially a lock as well because of two realities. First, Johnson had a great sophomore campaign and is only getting better. Statistically, he was better in every single major category. He has worked hard and continued to refine his game from day one in Tucson. In 2013-14, Johnson is going to be a force.
Challenger: Gabe York, Elliott Pitts
The second reality to Johnson's lock on the starting gig is that there is no legitimate challenger. Gabe York, while underestimated and explosive, only played six minutes a game last year coming off the bench. Johnson has two full years of starting. York is ready to contribute but not ready for a starting job.
Also added to the mix is the incoming freshman and ESPN top-100 recruit Elliott Pitts. The 6'5'' shooting guard isn't incredibly athletic, but he is heady and is a very good shooter. Again, while he will be a nice option for Miller every once in a while, he is no threat to Johnson's job.
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Starter: Kaleb Tarczewski (solid)
The center spot is one more that is not in doubt. Although Tarczewski has more competition with an experienced and very good Angelo Chol, Tarczewski is the guy. While he had his down moments and poor play in 2012-13, his game progressed to the point that he was a solid presence down low each game he played. He has become a very good player.
Add to this that Sean Miller has an unwavering devotion to Tarczewski, and it is clear he will be starting.
Challenger: Angelo Chol
At this point, the real question with Chol is if he is going to transfer. He could start at nearly any school in the country, but last year he only played 8.5 minutes a game. That was a 30 percent drop off from his freshman year.
While Chol is a great guy and has said all he cares about is winning, it would be very hard to stay at Arizona if in his shoes. He will be behind Tarczewski and with the McDonald's All-American additions to the front court, his minutes are going to decline before they rise.
Arizona fans all hope he stays, but regardless if he stays or goes, Tarczewski has a firm grasp on the starting center position.
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Starter: Aaron Gordon (Likely)
This is where the competition gets interesting. At small forward there are two possibilities: McDonald's All-American Aaron Gordon, or McDonald's All-American Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Now RHJ is a natural small forward. He would slide into Solomon Hill's slot and succeed. Gordon on the other hand isn't a natural three- or four-spot, he is more of a power forward.
So why wouldn't Gordon play at the four and Jefferson at the three? Two reasons. First, the guys already at the power forward slot (Ashley/Jerrett) are too good to be pushed out of starting roles by two freshman. Second, Gordon doesn't want to be a power forward. He wants to be a do it all guy. He wants to play down low as well as handle the ball up top. The way he gets there, and stays happy, is by playing him at the small forward.
If you watched the McDonald's All-American game, you saw that he has incredible handles, game feel and passing ability for a guy his size. He will be able to play the small forward position like no one else has in Arizona basketball history. While it might not be a natural fit, he will make it worth everyone's while.
Challenger: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Jefferson is going to be one of the first guys off the bench. His smooth, calm demeanor is rare in an incoming freshman. His addition to the core is going to be the difference in a large number of games. Come November 2013 however, it will be Gordon and not RHJ starting at small forward for the Wildcats.
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Starter: Up in the air
If Gordon stays at the small forward, this will be a battle like it was in 2012-13: Ashley v. Jerrett.
At the beginning of last year, Jerrett was the starter. Three games into the season however, Brandon Ashley took over that starting role. While Jerrett played nearly starters minutes, Ashely never relinquished the role. But back and forth the two went, Jerrett playing better in stretches, and Ashely better in others.
Because the two have progressed at nearly the same rate, both very steady, I suspect this coming year will be more of the same. It is quite the luxury to have two guys of this caliber playing side by side, but this is where Miller has built this program.
While a very close call, if pressed to a decision, I would choose Brandon Ashley to round out the starting lineup. He was more consistent over the course of the entire season and Miller seemed to choose him over Jerrett.
This is how it looks:
PG: T.J. McConnell
SG: Nick Johnson
SF: Aaron Gordon
PF: Brandon Ashley
C: Kaleb Tarczewski
It is going to be a lot of fun.