*Midnight Madness is over, and with it went the smoke machines, dunk contests and laser shows that kick off the season. College basketball begins now, and while the excitement still remains it’s time to peel the hype back and see who the nation’s best truly are. That’s why Dime has you covered with individual previews of the nation’s top 15 teams and a few others just outside, all over the course of the next few weeks. Today, Arizona.
Making the NIT is not atop the Arizona Wildcats’ yearly agenda. And bowing out of the NIT in the first round once they got there last season was more of a good-riddance type of moment than a case of heartbreak. With a revamped roster loaded not only with raw talent but also size, the Wildcats take a top-25 ranking into the regular season with expectations piled high once again.
The Wildcats’ biggest problem last season very well could have been size. Jesse Perry, a 6-foot-8 junior college transfer, held the center position with Solomon Hill playing power forward instead of his natural small forward role. Now, things have changed.
One of the best recruiting classes of 2012 included three top-20 players, all of them big men. Seven-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-foot-10 stretch power forward Grant Jerrett and 6-foot-8 forward Brandon Ashley give Arizona the ability to play with an NBA-sized front line. Move seniors Hill and Kevin Parrom to their natural wing positions and include high-flying guard Nick Johnson and lengthy 6-foot-10 forward Angelo Chol, and you’ve got an elite team athletically.
The talent is there, but the lack of experience brings this team’s fundamentals below the elite class — for now. The skill sets across the roster are too good to go unnoticed. Hill and Parrom, two seniors that remain from Miller’s initial recruiting class, are dynamic in their abilities to rebound, push the ball up the floor themselves, and make the right play. The Wildcats have shot blockers, playmakers, shooters and scorers. Depth-wise, Arizona will also have solid veterans like point guard Jordin Mayes coming off the bench to give the needed depth to run out a legitimate 10-man rotation. The only question marks are youth and the lack of a pure point guard.
This is the biggest issue. Arizona has seven new players on its roster, two of whom are transfers who must redshirt this season. Of four freshmen, only guard Gabe York is expected to be at risk of finding little to no playing time. Mark Lyons, a senior transfer from Xavier, is expected to start at point guard to lead Miller’s offense. Parrom and Mayes each missed large chunks of last season with injuries and will have to find their court awareness. In short, the team has little chemistry with one another, and the onus lies on Hill and Parrom to build that foundation.
Lyons is Arizona’s fourth point guard in Miller’s four years in Tucson. There’s no doubt the 6- foot-1 guard is a bulldog of a competitor, but he left Xavier amid criticism from coach Chris Mack. Recruited there by Miller during his tenure with the Musketeers, Lyons must prove that he’s â€” if not a pure point guard â€” a capable floor general for the Wildcats rather than the player known to make questionable decisions in trying too hard to score the ball. If Lyons can do as Miller asks, it’ll be the difference between a team not living up to its talent to a potential Final Four squad.