This might be a bit early, but its hard not to be excited about the upcoming season for the Arizona Wildcats.
The first half of 2009 has been a roller coaster for the Wildcats! Lets review:
2/14: Win over UCLA extends winning streak to seven, tournament bid seems inevitable.
3/12: Loss to ASU in PAC-10 tournament marks fifth loss in six games and fifth straight to ASU. It appears that the Wildcats' season is over.
3/15: Miraculously, Arizona receives a bid to the NCAA tournament as a 12 seed. This is followed up by two tournament wins and a "far-beyond-expectations" trip to the sweet 16. (the only PAC-10 team in the sweet 16)
3/27: Crushing 103-64 loss to Louisville. Forced to think about the fact that the big three are headed to the NBA, they don't have a coach, and there are no recruits.
4/6: Sean Miller is hired as head coach. Stability has been restored to the program.
Since the hiring of Sean Miller things have progressed steadily upwards. Miller brought in a solid coaching staff, three great new recruits, and a sense of confidence. Nic Wise has announced his return for his senior season. Everything looks to be in place.
Nic Wise, Sr, 5'10", Guard
Kyle Fogg, So, 6'2", Guard
Solomon Hill, Fr, 6'6", Forward
Jamelle Horne, Jr, 6'6", Forward
Kyryl Natyazhko, Fr, 6'10", Center
Nic Wise will be the clear leader of this group. He will need to show leadership and be a mentor to the younger talent around him. Look for Nic to push the ball as much as possible. I expect to see his scoring rise from the 15.7 ppg that he averaged last season. Nic has also expressed a goal to become a better defender, saying that he will use his quickness to pester his opponent on both ends of the court.
Kyle Fogg has proven himself as an outstanding defender. While he has shown the ability to score the ball at critical moments, I believe his role will be to defend. Jamelle is the only player outside of Wise with more than a year under his belt. He has had his trouble in the past, but has grown a lot in the process. It will be important for Jamelle to be physical and rebound.
Much of the success of this season hinges on the three freshman recruits. Hill and Natyazhko are top-100 four star recruits with a ton of upside. The talent is there. If they can learn Miller's system and accept Wise as their leader, this can be a very good team.
Key Bench Players
Kevin Parrom, Fr, 6'6", Forward
Brendon Lavender, So, 6'3", Guard
Alex Jacobson, So, 6'11", Center
Kevin Parrom will be the sixth man, likely coming in for Jamelle. Like the other freshman, the talent is there. We will see what he does with it. Alex Jacobson will be an important big off the bench. He needs to be more physical and make the most of his minutes. Look for Brendon Lavender to have an impact off the bench as an energetic defender. Though he didn't show it a lot last year, he has the ability to shoot the long ball.
Key Game on the Schedule
Dec. 6 @ Oklahoma.
Other than the Maui invitational, this will be the first game away from Tucson, and it comes against a solid basketball program. Arizona relied heavily on its non-conference wins last year. This would be a huge win and a good way to start the season for the Wildcats.
With the departure of Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Alfred Aboya, and Jrue Holiday from UCLA, Jeff Pendergraph and James Harden from ASU, Tim Floyd, Taj Gibson, and De Mar De Rozan from USC, and Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon from Washington, the PAC-10 feels pretty wide open. This seems like a good year to be rebuilding. Arizona, of course, also lost some serious talent in Budinger and Hill, but they have a recruiting class to match any other in the Pac 10.
With Sean Miller's proven system, Nic Wise back at the helm, and three promising young recruits, I look for Arizona to be a top-three contender in the PAC 10.
A 26th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament is looking more and more probable every day.