Arizona guard Nick Johnson is the catalyst the Wildcats need to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament
The major themes of the Arizona Wildcats' basketball team are obvious—Sean Miller's coaching, freshman sensation Aaron Gordon and newcomer T.J. McConnell at point guard—but the subplots are what will make them a Top 10 team all season.
Subplots lost behind the headlines for the Arizona Wildcats' basketball program include individual improvements from last season, the relationships that exist between the coaching staff and players and the chemistry from the top of the rotation to the 10th player.
The subplots will support what is most known of the Arizona Wildcats' basketball team.
Miller's team can not survive only on the promise of Gordon and fellow McDonald's All-American Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The Wildcats can't bank on the addition of McConnell, Miller's first true point guard at Arizona, to be the primary factor for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
A couple of reserve players—sophomore guard Gabe York and redshirt freshman center Zach Peters—have occupied the headlines despite their inexperience and lack of playing opportunities.
Peters has received plenty of publicity for gaining immediate eligibility from the NCAA after transferring from Kansas. His availability, when cleared to play following concussion problems, will impact the Wildcats' frontcourt depth (via TucsonCitizen.com).
York is important to Miller's hopes for an effective perimeter game from the Wildcats, who lost four of their top five three-point shooters from last season (via Arizona Daily Star).
The following is a list of the top three subplots for the Arizona Wildcats basketball team with the season opener only 18 days away (Nov. 8) against Cal Poly at McKale Center:
3. Sophomore power forward Brandon Ashley must establish himself as more of a versatile player.
Reports indicate that Ashley is more of a gym rat (via FoxSportsArizona.com), but nobody, including Miller, will know what will come of that until Ashley plays a few games.
The subplot is how Ashley will positively impact the Wildcats facing the basket more, shooting from the perimeter and taking his opponent off the dribble. Drawing defenses will not allow others to fall back on center Kaleb Tarczewski or more importantly extend to either Gordon or Hollis-Jefferson.
If Ashley shows the ability to improve with the ball in his hands, and become more of a tenacious rebounder and defender, he will prove to NBA scouts that he can succeed at the next level.
The progress of Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski, another sophomore, is equally important, but Tarczewski's skill set around the basket is more defined than where Ashley stands.
2. Sixth man Jordin Mayes' confidence boost with assistant coach Damon Stoudamire joining Miller's staff.
Not much is written about this relationship, which extends to Mayes' childhood (via WildAboutAZCats.net). It should be a tremendous impact for how Mayes improves and feels more of a part of Miller's plans.
Mayes' confidence took a dive in the last two years with nagging injuries and point guards Josiah Turner and Mark Lyons coming on board and taking a potential starting assignment away from him.
Now enters McConnell, but Mayes should handle that development with more maturity. He will have Stoudamire in his ear every day. Mayes also knows he figures prominently in Arizona's plans as the sixth man and a necessary replacement for McConnell, who expends a lot of energy on defense.
1. Junior shooting guard Nick Johnson must elevate his game to All-Pac-12 status.
Johnson has it in him to be one of the best players in the conference because he is already the best athlete.
The 6'3", 200-pound Johnson plays three inches taller because of his leaping ability that is reminiscent of his father, former Arizona State guard Joey Johnson. The elder Johnson had a 52-inch vertical leap. Nick Johnson has measured at a 39-inch leap (via Arizona Republic).
Johnson's side-to-side mobility also makes him a dangerous defender. The presence of McConnell and Johnson should limit the passing lanes for opponents.
What will make Johnson an all-conference selection is his ability to hit the perimeter jumper and score off penetration, either by converting the basket or drawing fouls and making his free-throw attempts.
Johnson needs to build on these numbers from last season: 44.8 field-goal shooting, 39.3 percent shooting from three-point range, 68 steals and a scoring average of 11.5 points a game.
His assist total (112 compared to 66 turnovers) was impressive.
Despite a credible season, Johnson was nowhere to be found on the all-conference lists. He was an honorable mention choice for the all-defense team.
Johnson knows he can do better than that. If he earns All-Pac-12 status this season, the Wildcats will be more complete and a realistic contender for a national championship.
Please check out Javier Morales' blogs at TucsonCitizen.com