Men's hoops guide: 5 questions for Arizona basketball
What are the expectations for the freshmen?
It’s hard not to get caught up in the numbers — center Kaleb Tarczewski was ESPN’s No. 4 overall prospect, forward Grant Jerrett No. 9 and forward Brandon Ashley No. 16. Even guard Gabe York, the forgotten fourth member, was a four-star recruit and the 65th overall prospect.
This crop of youths is really, really talented, but high school accolades mean nothing if they don’t translate to the court.
Look no further then Kyryl Natyazhko, a four-star, and Josiah Turner, a five-star, who are both no longer with the program.
Derrick Williams was only a three-star, and he was the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
Recruiting classes are just projections, and the expectations for this year’s freshmen need to be kept in check, especially because of their positions.
Fortunately for Arizona, it already has options on offense with Solomon Hill and Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, so the freshmen won’t have to carry the load just yet.
Since they’ll be sharing minutes, none of the four will be freshman All-Americans, but pencil in at least one or two of the big men for a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.
Can Mark Lyons lead Arizona to the promised land?
Senior transfer guard Mark Lyons brings the kind of flare and strong will the Wildcats have not seen at point guard since Momo Jones transferred to Iona. Lyons will create shots for his teammates and has the ability to create his own as well. He has a ‘championship or bust’ mentality, New York swagger and familiarity with head coach Sean Miller’s system — Miller was the head coach when Lyons sat out his first season with Xavier — and he has already taken on a leadership role. Whether or not he’s a ‘true point guard’ is up for debate, but either way the Wildcats will go as far as Lyons takes them.
What is the team’s ceiling/floor?
Expectations and potential can be a tricky thing. Last season Arizona started at No. 16 in the AP Poll, and finished with a first round loss in the NIT to Bucknell.
A lot went wrong, but the main issue was that the team wasn’t all that good. The freshmen were overhyped, the seniors were nothing more than solid role players and the Wildcats never put it all together.
This time around, seniors Solomon Hill and transfer Mark Lyons are difference makers, and compared to what happened with the departure of Sidiki Johnson and Josiah Turner, this crop of freshmen is already miles ahead.
The ceiling might be nothing more than the Sweet 16. That might seem harsh, but since the three freshmen bigs — Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley — have such significant roles both offensively and defensively, it’d be unwise to think the sky is the limit for this team.
Potential is impossible to predict (see: Turner), but Arizona does have several elements that’ll take this team to another level.
A failure to get an NCAA bid would be well below the Wildcats’ floor.
For Arizona to go from a dangerous tournament team to a national contender, all of the responsibility will fall on Hill. The senior is the team’s leader and most experienced player, but his skill set is suited for him to be a great No. 2 option.
If he makes the leap and becomes a top-20 player nationally, the Wildcats could crash straight through that ceiling — just don’t expect that.
Which freshman will make the biggest impact?
Forward Grant Jerrett, center Kaleb Tarczewski and forward Brandon Ashley were all in ESPN’s top 20 recruits, and guard Gabe York came in at No. 65. The three have NBA skill sets and York has an uncanny leaping ability for someone who is just 6-foot-2.
Ashley probably has the highest ceiling, and as an athletic 7-footer Tarczewski is a rare commodity, but Jerrett will make the biggest impact for Arizona this season because of his all-around ability.
At 6-foot-10, he can shoot the three, rebound and is a solid low-post defender and offensive player. Miller has compared Jerrett to Derrick Williams on various occasions because of his shooting ability and versatility. He probably won’t make a D-Will level impact, but Jerrett can contribute even when he doesn’t score and should be a staple of the Wildcats’ starting lineup this year and next.