Under normal circumstances, this would be a rebuilding season for Arizona coach Sean Miller, but then again, there's nothing normal about the talent he welcomes to his 2013-14 team.
Freshman forward Aaron Gordon is an immediate front-runner for Pac-12 Player of the Year consideration and newcomer T.J. McConnell, a transfer from Duquesne, is one of the best defensive guards in the nation.
Another freshman standout who was a McDonald's All-American like Gordon—forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson—figures to play a prominent role. Kansas transfer Zach Peters, a redshirt freshman with a history of concussion problems, was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA because of his medical background. He should help Miller's depth concerns in the frontcourt.
The only issue: Gordon, McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson and Peters have yet to play a minute for Miller at Arizona.
The fifth-year Arizona coach lost six players from last year's team, including two NBA draft selections in Solomon Hill and Grant Jerrett. He must replace 60 percent of his scoring and 53.3 percent of his rebounding.
The Wildcats rank last in the Pac-12 with only 25.7 percent of their returners contributing to their three-point field goal totals from last season. Don't underestimate this stat. Arizona attempted 675 three-pointers last season (ranking 56th in the country) and made 37.1 percent (45th in the country). The Wildcats thrived from beyond the arc.
Four of their top three-point shooters—Jerrett, Hill, Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom—are gone. Jerrett unexpectedly left for the NBA after his freshman season because he feared for less playing opportunities with Gordon coming on board. Hill, Lyons and Parrom exhausted their eligibility.
The uncertainty of what lies ahead, and quality depth issues, caused Miller to tell reporters during the team's media day that he has tempered enthusiasm about his team.
Some preseason publications differ on their opinion about Arizona. The Sporting News ranks Arizona No. 5 in its preseason poll. Lindy's Sports rates the Wildcats out of the Top 10 at No. 11 (via TucsonCitizen.com).
“It’s just the way it goes," Miller said about the preseason hype. "But I do believe with where we’re rated, how good we’re supposed to be, we may not be that good. I don’t know yet.”
He also does not know his rotation. That should be developed by the time the Wildcats start Pac-12 play on Jan. 2 against Washington State in Tucson.
Here is a glimpse of how the rotation from Nos. 1 to 10 should evolve.
1. McConnell, point guard. Miller lauds McConnell for his defense and how that can translate to high-percentage scoring opportunities at the other end. McConnell averaged 2.8 steals per game in each of his first two seasons at Duquesne, which was fourth nationally his freshman year and third as a sophomore.
2. Johnson, shooting guard. He is Arizona's best returning three-point shooter (39.3 percent). McConnell's defense and playmaking skills should give Johnson plenty of opportunities to get good looks and improve upon his scoring average of 11.5 points a game.
3. Gordon, wing. Look for him to start at the wing position if Miller decides to go big by starting sophomore Brandon Ashley at power forward. Gordon, who prides himself taking a defender to the basket from the perimeter, will start at power forward if Miller decides to go with a smaller lineup and include Hollis-Jefferson.
4. Ashley, power forward. The sophomore, who was inconsistent last season, told FoxSportsArizona.com that he lived in the gym this summer and added 15 pounds. He worked on his perimeter game and passing. "Brandon is sometimes is the guy not a lot of people are talking about," Miller said. "He's worked hard on his shot.
5. Tarzcewski, center. The 7'0", 250-pound, post player was Arizona's most improved player over the stretch of his freshman season last year. He figures to continue improving on last year's numbers (6.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game and 53.8 field-goal percentage) with more experience in Miller's system.
6. Hollis-Jefferson, wing. Rated by 247Sports.com as the 18th-best prospect of the Class of 2013, Hollis-Jefferson will get his share of minutes. He will start in place of Ashley if Miller decides to go small. In this case, Gordon would shift to power forward.
7. Mayes, point guard. The only senior on the team, Mayes should develop into a leader, despite his quiet nature. Beset by injuries and a lack of confidence in his shot the last couple of years, Mayes should improve with increased responsibility and the presence of new assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, a former Arizona player who is a lifelong family friend of Mayes.
8. Peters, center. Miller presented his case firmly to the NCAA that Peters should gain immediate eligibility after transferring from Kansas. Peters enrolled at Kansas but never played after attending the fall semester. Normally, transfers must sit a full academic calendar, meaning Peters would be eligible in the spring. But Peters gained an exception because of his medical condition. Miller needs Peters, who is 6'10" and 240 pounds, to bolster the frontline.
9. Gabe York, shooting guard. A highly-touted shooting prospect entering his freshman season last year, York rarely had playing opportunities because of his defense. York can help fill the three-point shooting the Wildcats lost from last season and Miller reportedly is encouraged by York's improvement on defense.
10, Matt Korcheck, power forward. The junior college transfer adds much-needed muscle (6'10'' and 230 pounds) to the frontcourt. Miller will call upon him to spell Gordon, Ashley, Tarczewski and Peters. He also provides five more fouls for Arizona when necessary.
The last recruited scholarship player is freshman shooting guard Elliott Pitts, a likely redshirt candidate given Arizona's depth at that position.
Please check out Javier Morales' blogs at TucsonCitizen.com
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