Arizona Basketball: Assigning Roles to Each Player on the 2014 Roster
There is so much talent on the 2013-14 Arizona basketball squad that it is going to be impossible for Sean Miller to find enough minutes for all the players. At every position there is two guys who could immediately start for nearly any team in the nation.
The frontcourt is one of the best in recent memory. The backcourt will be one of the best in the nation. It is without a doubt the most talented Wildcats team since 2001, when Arizona played Duke in the national title game. This article takes apart this stacked roster and assigns roles to each player.
Elliott Pitts is a top-100 player (says ESPN) coming in as part of the fifth-rated recruiting class in the nation. In the coming years he will be a big contributor. Next season, however, is not one of those years.
Finding minutes for Pitts is going to be a very difficult task for Sean Miller.
Matt Korcheck, a transfer, is a solid basketball player. He also happens to be a power forward on the team with the most talented frontcourt in the nation.
Because there is such a logjam, he is not going to see any meaningful minutes next season.
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Before Grant Jerrett's decision to jump to the NBA, there was little hope that Angelo Chol was ever going to see the court. There are more minutes available now and hopefully Chol gets them.
It is hard not to love this guy. He is definitely more than a fan favorite. He can board and block shots with the best on the team and he brings a different athletic dynamic than Kaleb Tarczewski.
That said, I see his role increasing as the backup center. Whereas last season he played only garbage minutes, this year he will play meaningful minutes in nearly every contest. He won't play a ton, but his time will be back to where it was his freshman season (12 minutes instead of eight last season).
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Last season Gabe York got zero quality minutes. This season he is going to have a key role. He will back up Nick Johnson as the only other "true" shooting guard on the team. His shot-creating ability and athleticism are finally going to be used.
But his real niche is shooting.The Wildcats have a good amount of shooters, but not a ton, and that's where York is going to be most important. If he can stretch the floor for the big guys, York is going to play a lot. As the season progresses, I see him getting to showcase what made him so highly touted coming out of high school.
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Toward the end of last season, Jordin Mayes gained back a lot of the confidence he had lost. He played very well over the last 10 games or so, after a dismal start.
If Mayes can continue that play, he is going to have a big role. As the only guard with point guard skills after T.J. McConnell, Mayes will be counted on to give the starter a break.
And if he can nail the three as he did in his freshman and sophomore seasons, he might gain a little more playing time, rather than simply covering the gap for McConnell.
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It doesn't seem like there is room in the starting lineup for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But the more you watch, the harder it is to believe he won't be starting.
He is really good. This past weekend at the Nike Hoops Summit he scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and had two blocks and a steal. He outplayed Aaron Gordon and arguably every other guy on the USA team. Jabari Parker outscored him by five (22 to 17), but it took Parker 23 shots (while RHJ made 7-of-10 from the field).
You have to love this guy because he can do so much. His offensive versatility is what will make him so valuable to Sean Miller—he can play three positions with ease. And even when he doesn't have it going on offense, he uses his high motor and 7'1'' wingspan to wreak havoc on the other end of the court.
Regardless of whether he starts, he is going to get lots of minutes. And regardless, he will be on the court for the most meaningful parts of the contest. This guy is a gamer and a bigger addition to this Arizona team than most people have realized.
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Aaron Gordon is good. When he decided to come to Arizona he instantly made this team a national title contender. He will be the best player on the floor in almost every game that he plays.
He will have the ball in his hands all over the court. He wants to be a Scottie Pippen-type player and Sean Miller is going to give him the opportunity. He will get the ball on the block and handle the ball outside. He will be dunking and knocking down mid-range jumpers. Gordon is going to make Arizona a very hard team to defend.
On the defensive end his length and athleticism will provide no small sum of highlight-reel blocks. His size at the three will ensure that no team in the nation will match up with this frontcourt. With Gordon, Brandon Ashley and "Zeus" (Tarczewski), there may be games where the opposing team gets few rebounds. The domination down low will be Arizona's biggest advantage.
Gordon's role is going to be to exert his will on the opposing team. With his talent level, he will be able to do that on each side of the court, each and every game.
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With Grant Jerrett's exit, Brandon Ashley locked down the power forward slot. Well, at least to start the season. The lineup options are intriguing for Miller, but because Gordon will be playing the three, Ashley will start. This may change as the season progresses (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson may end up being too good).
But whatever the lineup is, Ashley has a big role to play. His length and athleticism make an imposing frontcourt. Alongside Tarczewski, the size inside for the Wildcats is imposing.
But if the Wildcats are to be as good as they can be, Ashley needs to add some post offense to his game. Last season he struggled if he got the ball down low. A lot of times he would try to back down but would end up stumbling or throwing up a wild shot. A few simple, but quick, back-to-the-basket moves would give him one more option to dump the ball.
If he can become an offensive threat on the block, supplementing the nice mid-range shot he added to his game last season, Arizona's frontcourt will be one of the best in the last decade.
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Direct traffic, shepherd the herd, captain the ship—whatever you want to call it, T.J. McConnell is the point guard on a team bursting at the seams with talent. His role is going to be to instill a calm on the court (last year was a constant storm) and distribute, distribute, distribute the ball.
McConnell shouldn't have much trouble. As a sophomore at Duquesne, in a very good conference and passing the ball to guys like Sean Johnson and B.J. Monteiro, McConnell averaged 5.5 assists and was one of the best in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio.
This season as a junior, passing to guys like Aaron Gordon, Kaleb Tarczewski, Nick Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley, it is hard to imagine how he is not near the top of the national assist stats. On offense, that will be his job—get the ball moving in Sean Miller's motion offense and knock down a few open shots here and there.
On the other side of the ball, he is another tenacious defender and will head the pack-line defense out front. His heady play on both sides of the ball is going to make Arizona very hard to beat.
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The progression of Kaleb Tarczewski in his freshman season was slow but steady. Bit by bit Tarczewski improved. By the end of the year he rarely had a poor outing and was consistently playing very good basketball.
He may have stumbled out of the block but now he is running full steam ahead. And at 7'0'' tall, he has long strides. Now adjusted to the college level, Zeus will be an absolute force down low. He will dominate on the glass and change nearly every shot that comes his way. He's not going to score a ton, but Arizona doesn't need him to.
His role on this team is to hold down the middle of the floor on both ends, and to be a threat with his back to the basket and a threat when a guard is coming down the lane to the rim. Tarczewski is perfectly built to do that and last year prepared him to do so.
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After two years of starting, the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats are officially Nick Johnson's team. The star players ahead of him are gone and it is time to take the reigns.
Johnson is a very talented off-guard. He has all the tools to be a great college player. What has plagued him has been his confidence. For most of his freshman year he seemed to question every shot.
Near the end of last season this was again the case. In the first eight games of the Pac-12 season, Johnson averaged 11.25 shots a game. In his last 12 he averaged 7.5. And this wasn't because he was playing or shooting poorly. Over the last part of the season he shot 41 percent, compared with 43 percent at the beginning.
He just started to question his game. And you could see his hesitation. So many times he had open looks and would take a dribble instead. Or he would have an open lane but pass. Slight hesitation in a game as fast as basketball and the opportunity is gone—the moment passed.
Johnson is best when he doesn't have a conscience. He is best when he is just able to go out and play. Why he begins to think so much on the court I do not know. But as the unquestioned leader of this season's team, his confidence should be sky-high. If this is the case, Arizona has one more dynamic threat to add to all the other pieces.