It didn't take Sean Miller long to get the Arizona Wildcats back in the national picture. In his second year as head coach, Miller helped Arizona reach the Elite Eight and was a three-point shot away from beating eventual National Champion Connecticut to earn a spot in the Final Four. This season, the Wildcats will rely on a more balanced attack as they try to replace All-American Derrick Williams...and hopefully bounce back from their shocking exhibition loss to Seattle Pacific.
Arizona also loses starting point guard MoMo Jones who chose to transfer close to home back east to be near his sick grandmother. That leaves senior shooting guard Kyle Fogg as the team's top returning scorer despite just averaging 8.1 points per game. Fogg has been a solid role player throughout his collegiate career as he gets after it on the defense end and is capable of knocking down triples.
Freshman Nick Johnson and Brendon Lavender will compete for minutes off the bench at the two. Johnson is an athletic combo guard who really impressed me in the Wildcats' loss to Seattle Pacific. He can score off the bounce and stroke it from deep. Lavender brings a spark off the bench with his outside shooting but has yet to prove he can consistently impact a game in any other way.
Josiah Turner is considered the most talented of the Wildcats' highly-touted freshmen class and will take over for MoMo as the starting point guard. Turner has great size, athleticism, and knows when to be a scorer or distributor. He has a chance to be a real special talent.
Sophomore Jordin Mayes will serve as Turner's backup. Mayes is coming off a solid freshman 2010 season in which he connected on 45.3% of his triple tries. Mayes is more of a scoring point guard than creator though also could play off the ball at times. Nick Johnson will likely see some time running the point as well.
Solomon Hill is the most likely to emerge as the team's go-to scorer and will start at the three. Hill looks like he has slimmed down a bit and there is a little more bounce in his step. That should allow him to be more effective off the dribble, which will add to his all-around game of being able to post up smaller defenders and shoot it from the outside.
Kevin Parrom has been through hell the past several weeks. In late September, he was shot in the knee and hand while back home in the Bronx visiting his sick mother, who ended up passing away on October 16 due to cancer. He could be out until mid-November as he recovers from those gunshot wounds. When Parrom does return, he will add versatility to the wing as he can play several positions and has developed into a dangerous outside shooter.
As for the frontcourt, it will be impossible to replace Williams' production. In their exhibition game, Miller went with experience, starting Jesse Perry and Kyryl Natyazhko while using freshmen Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol off the bench. Perry is an active player especially on the glass but undersized at 6-foot-7. Perry also thinks he is a better jump shooter than he actually is. Natyazhko has great size for a center but needs to show a better basketball IQ if he is going to hang onto his starting spot.
As for the freshmen, Johnson looks the part but is still raw on the offensive end and needs to pick up Arizona's defensive principles to be a true factor. Chol reminds me of a taller, less physical Perry; he is active on both ends of the floor and very athletic. However, Chol needs to add some weight to his skinny frame to better handle the physicality of the college game. Senior Alex Jacobson can bring some toughness off the bench if Miller needs to go deep on his bench.
The Wildcats have a lot of talent on their roster but as they showed in their loss to Seattle Pacific, it is going to take sometime before everything clicks. They are the preseason pick to win the Pac-12 title and should get better and better as the season progresses.
Player to Watch: Josiah Turner, PG
I think how quickly Turner grasps the point guard position at the college level will be the difference between Arizona being a good team and a great team. He was one of the top-ranked point guards in the 2011 recruiting class and will have to deal with lofty expectations from the get-go.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/9 vs. Duquesne
11/13 vs. Ball State
11/17 vs. St. John's (2K Classic)
11/18 vs. Texas A&M/Mississippi State (2K Classic)