It’s already clear who Arizona’s starting five is going to be come basketball season.
The Wildcats backcourt is likely to consist of senior point guard T.J. McConnell and highly touted freshman Stanley Johnson. McConnell will resume his standing as the team’s ringleader, while Johnson — who has been dubbed as one of the most, if not the most, NBA-ready prospect of his class — will be looked at to fill some of the gap left by the departure of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon to the NBA.
Sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, junior forward Brandon Ashley and junior center Kaleb Tarczewski round out what many sources, including CBSSports.com, are calling the “best starting 5 in college basketball.”
Last season, Hollis-Jefferson was head coach Sean Miller’s first choice to replace Ashley after the big man went down with a broken foot in the beginning of February.
However, the absence of an explosive player on the second squad compounded by Hollis-Jefferson’s inconsistent jump shot forced Miller and the team to toy with the idea of implementing a three-guard lineup, which was finally enacted after Arizona’s 69-66 loss to ASU two weeks later.
The Wildcats continued to start a three-guard lineup, consisting of McConnell, Nick Johnson, Gabe York, Gordon and Tarczewski, throughout their tournament run and ended up a shot away from a Final Four berth.
Hollis-Jefferson shined as the sixth man off the bench, while York saw success serving as a 3-point specialist and finished the season ranked 12th in the conference in 3-point field goals per game (1.5) and 14th in 3-point percentage (.385).
This year, York is expected to come off the bench while Hollis-Jefferson is projected to start at the three. If York is able to prove himself as a more consistent long-range shooter, it may be wise to tweak the lineup a bit.
If Miller decides to start a three-guard lineup comprised of McConnell, Johnson, York, Ashley and Tarczewski with Hollis-Jefferson acting as the sixth man off the bench, the squad will be quicker and have a better ability to hit the 3-point shot.
One thing the Wildcats were missing last year, and a major concern going into this year,is the lack of consistent 3-point shooting threat. A starting lineup that includes York makes the Wildcats more dangerous to teams who rely on a zone defense.
Additionally, having York in the starting lineup would create more depth and give the Wildcats the ability to stay fresh with their big men deeper into games. Having Hollis-Jefferson readily available as a sixth man, creates a sense of intensity and raw hustle that both starters and non-starters benefit and thrive from.
Not to mention, Hollis-Jefferson’s stats actually dropped when he was starting last year compared to how he did coming off the bench.
While Hollis-Jefferson is versatile and provides elite defense and versatility, similarly to last year, the team may find him to be a more valuable asset coming off the bench and providing the squad with that extra burst of energy and pizzazz when it most needs it.