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Arizona basketball still has talent to compete

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Rebecca Noble | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona basketball center Kaleb Tarczewski (35) slams home a dunk during Arizona's 85-78 loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on March 28. Despite losing four starters, Tarczewski and the Wildcats should still be a top team in the Pac-12 Conference next season.

Arizona men’s basketball lost four starters, so surely this coming season will be a rebuilding one. Well, not so fast.

Not only do the Wildcats welcome a recruiting class ranked first by Rivals and Scout, third by 247 Sports and fifth by ESPN, but they also welcome two senior big men and their returning center starter who is likely to become the program’s winningest player.

The Wildcats’ rotation could actually be more experienced than this past season, despite losing four starters.

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Here are their scholarship players for next season.

Center

On Friday, three-year starter Kaleb Tarczewski announced his return, meaning the Wildcats will surely start at least two seniors.

Tarczewski was fifth on the team in scoring (9.3 points per game) and third in rebounds (5.2 per game), but he was fourth in the Pac-12 Conference in shooting percentage (.572) and got more aggressive late in the season.

Tarczewski is 18 wins away from becoming the winningest player in program history and has played in the Sweet Sixteen three times and in the Elite Eight twice.

Sophomore-to-be Dusan Ristic averaged 8.6 minutes per game and scored 12 points in one half against UCLA, a Sweet Sixteen team.

The Wildcats also add incoming freshman Chance Comanche, who ESPN gave an 81 rating with four stars. He’s 6-foot-10 but is likely going to have to redshirt or transfer, especially if Ristic improves his defense.

Power forward

This position is wide open and not just because Arizona lost Brandon Ashley to the NBA Draft.

The Wildcats added graduate transfer Mark Tollefsen on Friday. He played his first three years at San Francisco, and he will be eligible to play right away if he graduates.

Tollefsen was fifth in the West Coast Conference in field goal percentage (.535) this past season, ninth in blocked shots (0.8 per game), 10th in scoring (14.0 per game) and 12th in defensive rebounds (3.7 per game).

The 6-foot-9 Tollefsen will battle Ryan Anderson, who transferred after the 2013-2014 season and had to sit out this past year. Anderson was an All-ACC player who averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game as a junior at Boston College.

Small forward

After losing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson to the NBA, Arizona, sometimes called Wing U, will have to start from square one.

The Wildcats add the highly touted Ray Smith, but this is Arizona’s thinnest position for this coming season. ESPN rated Smith 88 and gave him four stars.

Shooting guard

This is another position where the Wildcats have an embarrassment of riches.

Arizona went 12-1 with Gabe York in the starting lineup this past season, but York will likely be bumped out of the starting two-guard spot his senior year by talented freshman Allonzo Trier. The five-star recruit was MVP for the West in the Jordan Brand Classic.

However, don’t be surprised if neither starts, as the Wildcats will also feature 2014 National JUCO Player of the Year Kadeem Allen. He redshirted this past season and played the role of the opponent’s most lethal perimeter player on the scout team, which earned him praise.

Also, Elliott Pitts averaged 14.9 minutes this past season, so he will likely get playing time.

Point guard

Now for the toughest player to replace: T.J. McConnell.

Arizona’s Point Guard U moniker will be put the test when they try to replace McConnell, who had the second-best season in terms of assists and third-most steals in a season in UA history.

In press conferences, McConnell anointed sophomore-to-be Parker Jackson-Cartwright his successor, but incoming freshman Justin Simon is rated the No. 7 freshman point guard by ESPN.

UA fans will need a program to identify their Wildcats next season, but Arizona coach Sean Miller brought in enough talent to give the squad a very good chance to reload, rather than rebuild.

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Updated November 30, 2021