Arizona looking for another deep NCAA run with new group
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona coach Sean Miller seems to warn against early expectations every season. Even when the Wildcats had nearly everyone back from an Elite Eight team last season, he preached patience.
With a batch of new players and veterans filling new roles the Wildcats may need even more time to gel this season.
”I think that we’ll be that team – if given the benefit of health – that in February we could be a much better team than maybe we are at the beginning of the year in November when we’re trying to put all of this together,” Miller said.
Arizona won 34 games last season and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, again losing to Wisconsin.
This team will look much different after losing Stanley Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The only returning starter will be 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, who has been in the middle all four seasons of his career. Sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright gets a chance to run the team at point guard after a year as McConnell’s understudy and streaky-shooting senior guard Gabe York returns as well.
Junior shooting guard Elliott Pitts and sophomore center Dusan Ristic are the only other players who played any significant minutes last season and will be expected to play bigger roles.
Joining them will be some veteran transfers and another batch of talented freshmen.
Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefson have Division I experience – Anderson at Boston College and Tollefson at San Francisco – and Kadeem Allen was the national JUCO player of the year before sitting out as a transfer last season.
Dynamic guard Allonzo Trier, one of the nation’s top prospects, is expected to have an immediate impact, but the Wildcats took a hit when fellow talented freshman Ray Smith tore his ACL in practice last week.
Arizona still is exceptionally deep – the rotation could go 9-10 deep – and even with all the turnover the Wildcats were picked to repeat as Pac-12 champions for a third straight season in the preseason media poll.
”Hopefully the way they picked it, it finishes that way,” Miller said. ”That means a lot of good things have happened for us.”
A few more things to look for from Arizona in the 2015-16 season:
ZEUS’ DEVELOPENT: Tarczewski has been the anchor on defense since he arrived as a freshman in 2013, making it difficult for opposing offenses even when he isn’t blocking shots. Tarczewski, whose nickname is Zeus, has worked on his offensive game, trying to become more than a dunker and scorer around the rim. He’s also smart, on pace to graduate from Arizona’s prestigious business school, and has a chance to leave school with more wins than any player in school history, which is saying something with this program’s history.
PARKER AT POINT: Jackson-Cartwright learned some valuable lessons playing behind McConnell, the gritty, heady point guard who recently earned a roster spot with the Philadelphia 76ers as an undrafted free agent. PJC used his quickness effectively at both ends as a freshman and bulked up during the offseason to better handle the rigors of playing point guard in the Pac-12.
TRIER’S TURN: Arizona has had some stellar freshmen under Miller, including Derrick Williams, Aaron Gordon and Johnson last season. Trier could fit that same mold. An athletic 6-foot-6 guard, Trier is a good deep shooter with a tough-to-defend step back shot and is a superb finisher at the rim. With York returning at shooting guard, Trier will likely have time to develop instead of being thrust into a starting role right out of the gate.
SMITH’S INJURY: Trier and Smith were expected to give Arizona a potent 1-2 freshman punch, but Smith is out for the season after tearing his right ACL. The 6-foot-8 Smith was one of the nation’s top recruits despite missing his senior season in high school with a torn left ACL, an athletic forward who runs the floor well and was expected to compete for a starting spot with Ashley and Hollis-Jefferson gone. Losing him before the season was a big blow.