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Minus Derrick Williams, Arizona Aiming For Another Deep NCAA Run

*College basketball is here (unlike the NBA), and this year might be one of the best in recent memory. The powerhouse is back, while the Cinderellas believe. That’s a deadly combination. We know some of y’all have been asking for some previews. We have you covered – the top 16 teams in the nation will be previewed individually in the next few weeks, starting with No. 16 Arizona (ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll). After Oregon and Cincinnati last week, we’ll keep this going with the ‘Cats.*

Every team in the nation will have suffered from losing seniors, but no team will suffer like the Arizona Wildcats. Losing Derrick Williams will be a crushing blow for Arizona. Not only did they lose Williams, but Lamont “Momo” Jones transfered to Iona. Many predict that the Wilcats will still be atop of the Pac-12, but after a exhibition loss to Seattle-Pacific – absolutely embarrassing even if it is an exhibition; Seattle-Pacific is Division II – things are not looking good (even if the highlights are).

On the bright side, Arizona has one of the most talented recruiting classes coming in and arguably the best freshman backcourt duo in Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner. They also return some solid perimeter veterans in Solomon Hill and Kyle Fogg. Their big question marks remain in the post, outside of senior Jesse Perry (one of the team’s biggest surprises last season). At some point, it is possible that we could see four freshman starting for Arizona this season.

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Athleticism: B
The Wildcats are an athletic team at all positions. Nick Johnson can jump out of the gym. Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol are long and athletic big men. All of their players are athletic to a certain degree. The only issue is that they are not an “elite” athletic team. If you look at the Pac-12 alone, UCLA and Washington have better overall athletes. While the game of basketball does not solely depend on athleticism, when this team goes up against some of the top dogs in the NCAA, they could struggle to compete in this department.

[Related: The Return Of The Duck – A New Era For Oregon Basketball]

Fundamentals: B-
At the wing and point guard positions, the Wildcats show some good promise. Josiah Turner is a pure point guard who finds a nice balance between distributing and scoring. Fogg, Hill and Nick Johnson will be able to fill up the stat sheet under the points column. The only glaring issue is their big men. While Perry plays with a ton of energy, they have no legitimate post scorer. In fact, they do not even know who will be their starting center yet. Kyryl Natyazhko has the size and experience, but he has a tendency to stay away from the inside. Angelo Chol is raw. Odds are in favor of Sidiki Johnson starting at the center position. While he is a talented player, he’s not known to have a great feel for the game.

Chemistry: C+
Any time a bunch of freshmen come to unseat a bunch of veterans, things can either go well or bad. At this point, it seems that this could only be a bad thing. They lost an excellent on-court and off-court leader in Derrick Williams. Looking for a replacement will not be an easy job.

X-Factor: Solomon Hill
Solomon Hill has been known to hide in the shadows of other great players. He played high school basketball with Renardo Sidney. He has been a role player for Arizona for the past two seasons. This is the year where it is Hill’s turn to breakout. He has the potential to help push Arizona into the upper echelon of college basketball will his driving ability. He needs to help adjust the freshmen to the college level and elevate his game so that he is their go-to option.

[Related: Yancy Gates & The Cincinnati Bearcats Have Their Bite Back]

Bottom Line
Arizona has a lot of question marks surrounding their team. The loss of Derrick Williams and Lamont Jones will hurt, but this team has the talent to bounce back. They will need a big man to emerge and someone to step up as the leader. Otherwise they could be in for a long season.

Check out these photos, courtesy of Luke Adams, Arizona Athletics Photography.

Will Arizona be able to withstand the loss of Williams & go deep in the NCAA Tournament?

Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucashapiro.

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