Recent years for the Arizona men’s basketball team have been tainted by NCAA investigations and looming sanctions, and the program will need a tournament appearance quickly to bring the buzz back.
An above-average season a year ago featured a Wildcat team with a record of 17-9. While the record was average, the team was young and showing signs of potential, particularly in current sophomore forward Azuolas Tubelis and fellow sophomore guard Bennedict Mathurin. Both Tubelis and Mathurin finished last year on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, and they are also listed as NBA prospects and possible draft picks in next summer's NBA draft, according to CBS. With players of that level currently on the roster, there should be no reason the Wildcats finish with a losing record.
Arguably, Arizona's biggest challenge comes in terms of coaching this year. New head coach Tommy Lloyd is a big-name hailing as a long-time assistant coach under Mark Few at Gonzaga for 20 years. Though it's possible Lloyd was and is the right hire for the program, going forward there could be some growing pains, as Lloyd has never been at the helm of a program.
This year's team is mostly made up of freshmen and sophomores, just like last year's, so it'll be interesting to see how this team performs in times of adversity. Fans are sure to expect some big wins through the season — alongside some head-scratching losses due to the youth and inexperience of both players and coaches.
Justin Kier, a sixth-year transfer from the University of Georgia, could be a key player in terms of the experience and leadership he could bring to the team to eliminate youthful mistakes.
With the recent off-the-court struggles the program has faced, a successful season for the program would mean an NCAA tournament appearance, bringing hope for the new coach and program going forward. Anything less than a mere appearance in the big dance will spark major questions for the program's future.
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