Arizona at the top of early 2014-15 rankings
MAY 22, 2014 3:43p ET
Great expectations. That could be the slogan next season for Arizona basketball, even after the loss of All-American Nick Johnson, the team's undisputed leader from the backcourt, and Aaron Gordon, expected to be a lottery pick after one standout, highlight-filled season.
After taking some post-draft-decision time to assess what's left on each team moving forward, The Sporting News this week released its first early rankings for the 2014-15 season, and Arizona is in good position -- the best position, actually, at No. 1 overall. The Wildcats are followed closely by some other Wildcats, with always-talented Kentucky, last season's national runner-up, at No. 2. Final Four participant Wisconsin is ranked third, and blue bloods Duke and North Carolina round out the top five. For those wondering, defending champion UConn is ranked 16th, and besides Arizona, there are no other Pac-12 teams in the top 25.
The losses of Johnson and Gordon will be significant, of course, but the Wildcats won't be lacking for ... well, pretty much anything next season, at least not in the ability department. With senior point guard T.J. McConnell, wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, forward Brandon Ashley and center Kaleb Tarczewski returning, sharpshooter Gabe York taking on a greater role and top talents Stanley Johnson and Kadeem Allen (a juco transfer) coming in, the Cats look loaded.
The Sporting News offers the following pros-and-cons assessments:
"This is a big, physical team that defend the rim well; center Kaleb Tarczewski and power forward Brandon Ashley provide as solid an inside presence as a team could want. ... Point guard T.J. McConnell has experience running a high-level team and carrying it through difficult moments.
"The Wildcats were not a great long-distance shooting team last season, and that was with Johnson making 62 threes. ... The Wildcats were going to struggle to win close games as long as (Johnson) was treated as a go-to option. He was miscast in that role. But finding the right guy to take it over will be a challenge."
Getting more time for York and adding Allen should help with the long-distance issue, but it's true that Arizona doesn't have an apparent go-to option on offense at this point; Johnson was typically "the guy" by default last season. But the Cats have the pieces to win -- a lot -- while they work on identifying one, and even in the interim, they have the look of the best team in the country and one that can/should compete for a national title.