Compared to last year, it's 'night and day' for Arizona basketball
For Arizona, there is nothing but good vibes right now.
On Tuesday, the Wildcats wrapped up their preseason with a decisive 38-point victory margin over Chico State, six days after beating Humboldt State by 41 points.
The Wildcats are a trendy preseason Pac-12 favorite, and ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25 poll.
That’s a far cry from last season.
“It’s a different feeling,” said senior forward Solomon Hill.
“Those two [exhibition] games last year were competitive all the way to the end. It’s good to get guys out there going, especially the young guys and beat a team by that type of margin.”
Last year, Arizona came into the season with an unwarranted No. 16 ranking stemming from the Wildcats’ Elite Eight run the season before.
A preseason one-point loss to Seattle Pacific all but proved they didn’t deserve to be ranked just yet.
The off-court troubles and on-court struggles of Josiah Turner, a highly touted point guard recruit, proved to be a distraction.
Turner is gone, and in his place is Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, who Hill said has already established himself as a team leader. In two preseason games, Lyons has scored a team-high 35 points and dished out eight assists.
“It feels like he’s been around for a couple of years,” Hill said.
“I have confidence in him, and so should the rest of the team.”
Head coach Sean Miller didn’t shy away from saying this team is on a better track this season than last, which ended with the UA missing the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons and losing in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament to Bucknell.
“It’s night and day,” Miller said. “We’re a much better team. Our attitude and chemistry is much better. It’s up to us to take where we’re at right now and go into this season and be on a quest to get better. Take every game as if it’s the only game.”
Arizona’s highly-regarded freshman quartet of Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York brings not only talent to the table, but as Miller has said, maturity beyond their years.
With the 7-foot Tarczewski, 6-foot-10 Jerrett and 6-foot-8 Ashley, the Wildcats will no longer have to put Hill at power forward and their additions, coupled with the emergence of 6-foot-9 sophomore center Angelo Chol, allow him to slide over to his natural small forward position.
Against Chico State, the Wildcats got a glimpse of what sort of threat Hill can be this season. He scored 18 points on just two shots, getting 13 of his points from the charity stripe on 13-of-14 shooting, along with eight rebounds.
Kevin Parrom, who had 12 points and six rebounds against CSUC, is exemplary for how Arizona has changed from last year. To call it a year from hell for Parrom would be a gross understatement.
He was shot twice, once in the hand and once below the knee, his mother and grandmother both passed away and he missed the last 13 games with a broken right foot.
That was then, this is now — a sentiment that’s been echoed from Miller and throught the Wildcats roster.
“I’m just trying to be a part of greatness,” Parrom said. “I’m not worried about last year, I’m focused on this year. I’m trying to win a national championship with these guys. I’m just trying to be a leader with Solomon and Mark, and hang a banner up at McKale.”