Arizona Basketball: Stock Watch for Wildcats Starters

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2013

Arizona Basketball: Stock Watch for Wildcats Starters

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Arizona is poised to move atop the college basketball rankings for the first time since 2003, assuming the Wildcats get past visiting UNLV on Saturday.

    With wins over Duke and San Diego State already under its belt, Arizona has established itself as one of the teams to beat this year, and it's getting contributions from the entire starting lineup to the top part of the bench.

    How is the individual "stock" of each player looking, though? Check the slideshow to see whether the Wildcats' starting five is on the rise or not.

Brandon Ashley

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    After a freshman season that showed flashes of greatness but also stretches of inexperience and confusion, Brandon Ashley came into this year with the expectation he'd use his 6'8" frame and inside-outside game to get to another level.

    So far, the results have been mixed.

    Ashley is averaging 11.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and is shooting 63.2 percent from the field. While those statistics are all improved from his freshman season, Ashley has struggled when it comes to adapting to the NCAA's new emphasis on hand-checks and contact fouls. The forward has 29 fouls in eight games and has fouled out twice.

    Ashley is showing growth on offense, but he still needs to work on playing defense within the constraints of the new rules.

    Stock: Holding steady

Aaron Gordon

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    As one of the most highly-rated recruits Arizona has ever brought in, the expectations put on freshman Aaron Gordon were astronomical. And, frankly, a bit unfair.

    While Duke's Jabari Parker and some of the other super freshman are pumping out video game-like statistics, Gordon's numbers look rather pedestrian in comparison: 13.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

    But it's not that Gordon has struggled in his first year of college ball. Rather, he's thriving as a part of the Wildcats' system, which under coach Sean Miller isn't designed to have one person do all the scoring. Arizona has six players averaging at least 8.8 points per game, so the production is being spread around.

    Gordon has been most impressive on the defensive end, where he's locking down strong opponents and was integral in holding Parker to under 20 points in Arizona's win over Duke. There's still the issue with dreadful free-throw shooting (48.8 percent) to work on, but otherwise, Gordon is right where he's supposed to be at this point.

    Stock: Holding steady

Nick Johnson

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Nick Johnson has shown the most improvement and growth among Arizona's returning players and right now is the go-to guy on a team that features many weapons.

    The junior guard is averaging a team-best 17.1 points per game, shooting 53.7 percent from the field (including 38.9 percent from three-point range) and making 81 percent of his free throws as the Wildcat who's gone to the line the most.

    Johnson was the MVP of the NIT Season Tip-Off and was a couple assists short of a triple-double three weeks ago against Rhode Island.

    He's had stretches like this as a freshman and sophomore, too, but at this point it looks like Johnson has shaken off his past inconsistency and has established himself as the Wildcats' leader.

    Stock: Up

T.J. McConnell

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    Kent Horner/Getty Images

    T.J. McConnell was talked about as a savior while he sat out last season, waiting out the transfer year from Duquesne while Arizona struggled at point guard by using a shoot-first, pass-never player in Mark Lyons.

    Now that McConnell's gotten onto the court, he's more than lived up to the expectations. The junior is only scoring 6.5 points per game, but he's also dishing out 6.9 assists per contest. McConnell's assist-to-turnover ratio is an astounding 3.2-to-1, and his defensive style has led to 12 steals but just 16 fouls in eight games.

    McConnell needs to take a few more shots, though, to avoid opponents doubling his main targets. Otherwise, he's been impressive in all other facets of his game.

    Stock: Up

Kaleb Tarczewski

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Kaleb Tarczewski is using his size more to his advantage this season, but the 7'0" sophomore still hasn't progressed as much as expected. He's only scoring 8.9 points per game, and he's third on the team in rebounding (6.5).

    Tarczewski has become more aggressive on defense, though, which is why his stock isn't falling. He's getting in the way and adjusting shots and essentially clearing the way for Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley to clear the boards most times.

    If Tarczewski learns to demand the ball more on offense and come through in those situations, he'll be on the rise.

    Stock: Holding steady