Arizona Basketball: Could the Wildcats Be Better in 2014-15?

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IApril 26, 2014

Arizona players, including Gabe York (1), T.J. McConnell (4) and Elliott Pitts (24), react to a 3-point basket late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Utah in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Conference tournament, Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Las Vegas. Arizona won 71-39. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Julie Jacobson

It is hard to improve upon what the Arizona Wildcats did during the 2013-14 season.

The Cats were undefeated through their first 21 games. They won the Pac-12 regular-season championship, and they made a deep run in the NCAA tournament, getting to the Elite Eight.

The U of A is also losing the two best players in the conference, Nick Johnson (Pac-12 Player of the Year) and Aaron Gordon (Pac-12 Freshman of the Year), to the NBA draft.

So, is it crazy to consider that Sean Miller's squad could actually be better next season? No.

Does Arizona have a chance to win more games, be more dominant and get to the Final Four for Miller's first time and the program's first time since 2001? Yes. Yes and Yes.

Here are the biggest reasons why this is more than just wishful thinking:


Alex Gallardo

Tough on Defense, Ferocious on the Glass

The days of labeling Arizona as soft are long gone. The Wildcats no longer play a finesse game that depends on perimeter prettiness.

The identity of this team will be established with shutdown defense and brutality on the boards. U of A's size and length alone will cause severe challenges for their opponents.

Rondae Hollis-JeffersonBrandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski return to give Arizona one of the most formidable front lines in the country. Incoming freshman Stanley Johnson is a relentless wing that will add further physicality and force to the Wildcats lineup. Very few teams will be able to match up with this frightening foursome on either end of the court. 

Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is one of the most crafty on-ball defenders in the nation. The Pittsburgh native brings a nonstop motor and gritty determination to his role as floor leader.

As the season unfolds, U of A will again be one of the best teams in field-goal percentage defense, as well as one of the top rebounding teams in the nation.



Outstanding Depth

When Ashley broke his foot at the beginning of February of this last season, Miller was forced to reinvent his rotation because of limited options off the bench.

This year, Miller's "second five" could be a Top 25 team by themselves.

Rising junior guard Gabe York stepped into the starting lineup and emerged as one of the Cats' most dangerous three-point shooters. Elliott Pitts established himself as another deadly beyond-the-arc marksman.

Along with Johnson, Miller reeled in another first-rate recruiting class, featuring power forward Craig Victor, point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, shooting guard Kadeem Allen (a National Junior College Athletic Association Player of the Year) and 7-foot Serbian center Dusan Ristic.

If you are keeping track at home, the Cats could have an 11-man rotation. Don't count on it, because Miller usually rolls with eight or nine players.

Regardless, Arizona will have virtually no drop-off when the reinforcements come off the bench in 2014-15. They will be able to keep their foot down on the accelerator from start to finish because of a remarkable amount of talent from the top to the bottom of their roster.


Jae C. Hong

Unlimited Will to Win

Great teams are made of talented players that keep the main thing the main thing. They are focused on doing whatever it takes to win. Personal stats and individual accolades become secondary.

Miller has assembled a team that is unassuming and determined, humble and hungry.

Starting with the starters, the Wildcats know that if they play hard, play smart and play together, everyone will get the recognition and rewards for which they are all hoping.

McConnell's leadership will set the tone. Hollis-Jefferson's mixture of intensity on the court and lightheartedness off the court is contagious. Even freshman phenom Johnson's team-first mindset will make a big difference in how the season takes shape.


Looking Ahead

The 2014-15 Wildcats will be the kind of team that will work hard individually and collectively this offseason. The weight room will be hit. Skills will be sharpened. Teamwork will be developed outside next season's bright spotlight.

Unless something unforeseen happens between now and the first week in April 2015, watch for the Wildcats to make their way to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to play in the Final Four and maybe even the NCAA championship.