Campus Guide: Championship or bust for Miller, Wildcats
Arizona senior guard T.J. McConnell shoots during the 2013 Red and Blue game in McKale Center. The 2014 Red and Blue Game is scheduled for Oct. 18.
Editor’s note: This article is part of the Arizona Summer Wildcat’s 2014 Campus Guide. The Campus Guide is a special issue that runs every year to help introduce incoming students to the UA and campus life.
Fresh off an Elite Eight appearance that resulted in the team being one point away from the Final Four, UA head coach Sean Miller is ready to take the next step and bring a second national championship to Arizona.
The Wildcats lost standouts Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon to the NBA, but have one of the better returning casts in the country and yet another highly touted class of recruits headlined by wing Stanley Johnson.
Few teams can match-up with Arizona’s projected starting lineup of T.J. McConnell, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. The blend of athleticism, shooting and defensive prowess will be tough to handle.
Not to mention a bench unit that includes sharp-shooters Gabe York and Elliot Pitts, speedy guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and physical big men Matt Korcheck, Dusan Ristic and Craig Victor.
Losing the top-two scorers from last year’s team (Nick Johnson and Gordon) would normally cripple a team, but the insertion of Stanley Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson into the starting lineup and a healthy Ashley should provide enough to offset that loss.
Similar to Gordon last season, Stanley Johnson is someone who will wow fans with his talent. The 6-foot-6 freshman forward is almost assuredly a one-and-done player and has the skills to lead Arizona in scoring from day one.
His offensive skill set is well ahead of his age and will fit in nicely to Miller’s system.
However, the most important Wildcat will be the least talked about starter: McConnell. It’s not crazy to say McConnell is the heart and soul of this Arizona team.
Including some of the top point guards in the nation last season like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin and UConn’s Shabazz Napier, there wasn’t a better point guard at running his team than McConnell.
His 2013-14 per-game averages of 8.4 PPG, 5.3 APG and 3.6 RPG don’t jump off the page but his 3.01-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio does. That ratio was better than each of the previously mentioned top point guards by a large margin and good enough for 13th in the nation.
From a talent standpoint, the Pac-12 should be worse off than last season, which bodes well for Miller and crew.
Of the top teams from last season (UCLA, Oregon, Colorado), only UCLA appears equipped to battle Arizona for the conference title. Even then, UCLA lost nearly their entire starting lineup and have a team full of inexperienced players.
The lack of talent in the Pac-12 signals that traditional non-conference collegiate powerhouses like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Wisconsin are bigger threats to Arizona than any Pac-12 team is this season.
It’s safe to say Arizona will be one of the premier college basketball teams in the nation and fans can expect another deep NCAA tournament run for the Wildcats this season.
—Follow Roberto Payne @HouseofPayne555