Pro/Con: Is Arizona basketball worth the hype?
Preseason rankings are foolish. With the constant turnover in college basketball due to NBA early-entrants, it’s nearly impossible to project how a team is going to do before it takes a single shot.
Last year, Arizona was ranked No. 16 by an October ESPN preseason poll. That ranking wasn’t even close.
This season’s hype has gone into overdrive as head coach Sean Miller has brought in the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, featuring big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley, guard Gabe York, not to mention Xavier transfer point guard Mark Lyons.
Sporting News ranked Arizona No. 8 in its preseason poll, and CBS Sports college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb picked the UA to win it all. As in, win the national championship. Two other experts had the Wildcats in the Final Four.
Any national championship talk is certainly premature, and very unlikely, as are high preseason rankings — but on paper this team might just be a top 10 squad.
Last year Arizona had an immature, overhyped freshman point guard in Josiah Turner, another recruiting bust in Sidiki Johnson, an undersized 6-foot-7 center in Jesse Perry and an overall lack of depth on the roster.
There was a lot of turnover in the offseason. Turner, Johnson and the erstwhile Kyryl Natyazhko are gone. Perry, Kyle Fogg and Brendon Lavender all graduated.
Now the Wildcats have abundance of riches in the frontcourt. Sophomore Angelo Chol wasn’t ready for playing time last year, but now he’s bulked up and his experience in the system, coupled with his shot-blocking ability, will be an asset.
Tarczewski was the highest-rated center in the country, and at 7 feet, 230 pounds, he brings talent and size to the center position that Arizona hasn’t seen since Channing Frye seven years ago.
Jerrett and Ashley will probably battle for the starting power forward spot, but both players are way too talented not to see significant playing time.
Ashley probably has the most potential of the bunch, as his versatility allows him to play small forward. In interviews he tends to compare his style of play to Carmelo Anthony. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Gottlieb even went so far as to pick Ashley as the national freshman of the year.
York has been overlooked a bit in comparison to the other three, but just look him up on YouTube to see what he’s capable of. The dude can jump and dunk with the best of them, and he’s only 6-foot-1.
Plus the freshmen aren’t even why Arizona might be as good as advertised.
Lyons has already proven himself at Xavier, and his style of play brings back memories of Momo Jones. In Jones’ last season before transferring to Iona, the Wildcats made the Elite Eight.
Solomon Hill often played out of position at power forward last year, but now he’s slimmed down and moving over to his more natural small forward position. He was the Wildcats’ leader in scoring, rebounding and assists last season, and will be a prime candidate for Pac-12 player of the year.
That’s not even to mention Nick Johnson, sixth man Kevin Parrom and backup point guard Jordin Mayes. This team is loaded.
Even more importantly? The Pac-12 is pretty barren. UCLA might be without its best player in Shabazz Muhammad for a while due to potential recruiting violations, and the rest of the conference isn’t too scary.
A national championship might be a bit premature, but a spot in the top 10 sounds about right.
— Zack Rosenblatt is the sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @ZackBlatt
Not so fast, Doug Gottlieb
The only thing harder than winning a championship may be winning one with the weight of high expectations on your shoulders.
Thanks, CBS sports analyst Doug Gottlieb. A big shout out to you too, Sporting News Magazine.
Sporting News ranked the Wildcats at No. 8 because of their “quality depth … thanks to four years of coach Sean Miller’s recruiting.”
It’s true, Arizona has depth that was unseen since before Miller took over as head coach, thanks to the addition of freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley.
Sporting News also cites the Wildcats’ “good mix of youth and experience, or athleticism and size, toughness and finesse.” Also true, thanks to the experience of Kevin Parrom, Solomon Hill and transfer point guard Mark Lyons, in addition to the size of sophomore forward Angelo Chol, who could start for Arizona this year.
Gottlieb even went so far as to pick Arizona as his 2012 National Champions in CBSSports.com’s College Basketball predictions.
Haven’t we seen this before? A team on the better side of average adds some new talent and the media deems them champions — or at least in the championship discussion — before the first actual practice of the season.
Look up that description and you’re almost certain to find pictures of the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Heat.
Former Eagles’ quarterback Vince Young nabbed them the “Dream Team.” Folks in Miami were giddy about the addition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh all before one game was played. Neither team won a championship.
The point is, there is already enough pressure on collegiate coaches and players to perform and perform well, especially in an era where coaches come and go. There are simply too many preseason “if’s” to consider before naming a team the national champion.
What if York, Jerrett, Tarczewski and Ashley are unable to adjust to the speed of the game and their struggles put more pressure on Hill and Lyons?
What if Lyons, the most important piece of Arizona’s potential championship puzzle as its point guard, goes down with an injury or struggles to take the reins of Miller’s offense?
What if the Wildcats, which had the No. 3 ranked recruiting class by Rivals.com, loses the Pac-12 to rival UCLA, which had the second-best recruiting class?
Most importantly, what if it takes Miller and the Arizona coaching staff longer than the first game to get the team on the same page and are unable to string wins together until late in the season?
Most frustratingly, what if Arizona makes it to the Pac-12 championship game for a third consecutive year and loses, breaking all momentum before the NCAA Tournament starts a week later?
Arizona basketball remains both undefeated and winless until its season opener on Nov. 11 against Charleston Southern, and our expectations of the team should be tempered until the Wildcats finally put on their uniforms.
— Cameron Moon is a journalism junior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CameronMoon20