College Basketball Predictions: Arizona Wildcats Season Preview
The Arizona Wildcats are officially back on the college basketball scene after their Elite Eight run last season, and coach Sean Miller is looking to keep it that way.
The Wildcats lost do-it-all forward Derrick Williams and second-leading scorer Lamont "Momo" Jones, but optimism is high in the desert.
Top recruiting classes and superior talent on the court leads to much higher expectations for Arizona coming in to this season. Read on for a position-by-position preview and season expectations for this upstart Arizona Wildcats team.
Head Coach: Sean Miller
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Sean Miller is in his third season as the head coach of Arizona, but you would think he had been there for 10 years. He has guided the program from the bottom of the then Pac-10 to one of the Top 25 teams in America, in only two seasons.
You can't say enough about how Miller has handled a tough situation and transformed it in to a very favorable one. Of course, it doesn't hurt when an solid recruit turns out to be a dynamic player and second overall draft choice.
Miller's recruiting has been among the tops in the nation since he moved to Tucson. Having already secured players like Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Lamont Jones, more recruits are considering playing at the U of A.
Since then, Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner, Angelo Chol, Sidiki Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Gabe York have taken notice. That's the seventh ranked class in 2011 and the top ranked class in 2012. Expect more to come from Miller.
Josiah Turner is the top ranked player from Arizona's seventh-ranked 2011 recruiting class, and is expected to be the next solid point guard for the Cats. Turner has the rare blend of athleticism and passing that can really take control of a team.
Turner has struggled in the Cats first two games, which is to be expected of a freshman, but definitely has too much talent to continue that struggle. Look for Turner to turn things around quickly.
With all the talk surrounding Turner, most seem to have forgotten about guard Jordin Mayes. Mayes had huge games down the stretch last season, and probably would've contended for the starting point guard role had he not been hurt. Mayes is super quick, has one of the purest strokes on the team and has stepped up in the Cats first two games.
Mayes is currently leading the team is scoring and looking to build off his strong performances so far. If his play keeps up, coach Miller will have no choice but to start him.
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Senior Kyle Fogg leads the shooting guards with his smooth shooting and lockdown defense. Fogg has already gained the trust of coach Sean Miller and should be relied on more as the season progresses. Expect Fogg to start every game and be the extension of coach Miller on the court.
Behind Fogg is athletic freshman Nick Johnson, who has played very well so far this season. Aside from the potential for highlight reel dunks, Johnson has a reliable jump shot and seems to be a willing passer. Johnson is getting more and more difficult to keep off the court and should continue to play accordingly.
After Johnson is shooter Brendon Lavender, who should see an increase in minutes on a young Arizona team. Lavender has been through the ropes and can be counted on to play around eight to ten minutes a game, while providing shooting and solid defense.
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Last season, Solomon Hill stepped up big time for Arizona and will be heavily relied upon this season for the Wildcats. Hill has all the skills to be a two-way player, with the ability to score big time points and shut down the other team's most athletic wing.
Hill has struggled early on, which could be a by-product of not having Derrick Williams man the post. But Hill knows how important he is to the team and will turn things around.
Behind Hill is Kevin Parrom, who is recovering from a gunshot wound and the loss of his mother and grandmother. Parrom is out until late November/early December and the team desperately needs him back. Parrom is the best defender on the team and his shooting helps spread the floor.
Until Parrom comes back, expect Brendon Lavender to get the majority of the minutes at the backup small forward spot.
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Jesse Perry went from junior college player to starter on an Elite Eight team in only one season, and the departure of Derrick Williams means Perry will be a big part of this year's team. Perry is a tough-nosed player who isn't afraid to do the dirty work like rebounding and playing defense.
Perry has already performed very well this season with a double-double in each of the Cats first two games. Coach Miller will heavily rely on Perry's ability to score down low and push people around on the blocks.
Behind Perry are freshmen Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson, who will both be expected to play at power forward and center. Chol is an incredibly mobile big with a high motor, while Johnson is more of a banger and physical presence down low.
Chol has shown he can contribute now but Johnson might need more time to grow in to his role.
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Center has been a lacking position for the Wildcats since the days of Channing Frye, but that is all about to change for the better.
Kyryl Natyazhko was a below average center last season, only playing in spurts and constantly getting in foul trouble. This year is a completely different story as Natyazhko is starting and playing like the player Miller thought he could be.
No longer is Natyazhko a liability on the court, but rather a rebounding and defensive asset with the ability to contribute between six and eight points a game. Natyazhko gives the team a formidable frontcourt tandem with Jesse Perry and the grit is physically down low.
Behind Natyazhko is the freshman tandem of Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson, with Johnson getting the majority of minutes at center and Chol at power forward. Johnson needs to take smarter shots at the position in order to continue to get minutes once Alex Jacobson returns from injury.
Seven-footer Alex Jacobson doesn't really play much but with the lack of production from Johnson so far, Jacobson could be required to play valuable minutes after Natyazkho.
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This Arizona Wildcats team has the potential to make considerable noise with their depth and coaching. It's really hard to find a position where you can say there is issues, but that can be a blessing and a curse.
If the team stays dedicated to winning it all, and egos stay out of the way, this team could be special. If egos get in the way of team goals, it could only be an average season. The team needs players like Josiah Turner, Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol to step up and perform beyond their years.
The unique mix of youth and experience should fare well for coach Sean Miller, en route to a top Pac-12 record and a spot in postseason play. It wouldn't surprise me if the Cats made a deep tournament run again.
I predict the Cats will finish the season with 25-6 and ranked tenth in the nation. The Cats will get a third seed and advance to the elite eight once again this year, but will lose another close game to a very good team.