2013-14 College Basketball Season Preview: Arizona

Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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Arizona Wildcats (Last Year: 27-9, 12-6 in Pac-12)

2013-14 Projected Depth Chart:

C: Kaleb Tarczewski (Soph)

PF: Brandon Ashley (Soph)/Matt Korcheck (Jr)/Zach Peters (Fr)

SF: Aaron Gordon (Fr)/Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Fr)

SG: Nick Johnson (Jr)/Gabe York (Soph)/Elliott Pitts (Fr)

PG: T.J. McConnell (Jr)/Jordin Mayes (Sr)

Gone: PG-Mark Lyons, F-Solomon Hill, G/F-Kevin Parrom, PF-Grant Jerrett, C-Angelo Chol (transfer-San Diego State)

2013-14 Outlook:
Despite losing three of their top four scorers from a year ago, the Arizona Wildcats are the best team out West thanks to a few key newcomers who should make a major impact.

The headliner is McDonald’s All-American and top-10 recruit Aaron Gordon. The 6-9 forward is absolutely explosive at the rim and has drawn early comparisons to Blake Griffin. He will start at the three, but is capable of playing either forward position and probably more naturally suited at the four. The aspect of Gordon’s game that needs to develop this season to ensure his status a likely top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, while also helping Arizona as a team, is his outside shooting.

Joining Gordon in the starting frontcourt are a pair of top-10 recruits from the 2012 class, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley. A true seven-footer, Zeus creates space down low on the offensive end and does most of his damage around the basket, while Ashley relies more on his athleticism. Both guys need to take a step forward with their all-around game and stay out of foul trouble for the Wildcats to truly be a top-10-caliber team.

With Grant Jerrett’s baffling decision to enter the 2013 NBA Draft and the transfer of Angelo Chol, Sean Miller has some new faces coming off the bench up-front led by McDonald’s All-American Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He figures to be a vital glue guy for Arizona since he can make an impact in a multitude of ways without having to score. Hollis-Jefferson should see significant minutes at the three, which would allow Gordon to shift to the four.

Junior college transfer Matt Korchek redshirted last season and adds some needed size and hustle off the bench. An x-factor is former Kansas commit Zach Peters, who was cleared to play by the NCAA in September and more recently, by the Arizona medical staff, since he suffered a couple of concussions last year. Peters is a face-up four who adds even more versatility to the frontcourt, which is the role Jerrett played a year ago.

Nick Johnson is Arizona’s top returning scorer and needs to take on an even larger role offensively this year. It will help tremendously that Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell becomes eligible since he is the true point guard the Wildcats lacked last year with the often times shot-happy Mark Lyons running the show. The Johnson/McConnell duo also brings a ton to the table defensively since both players are terrific on-the-ball defenders.

Senior Jordan Mayes figures to be the first guard off the bench. After a promising freshman campaign, Mayes took a step back the past two seasons as he struggled to shoot the rock and really found himself buried on the bench during points of last year. A bounce-back senior campaign will mean wonders for both he and Arizona since seldom-used sophomore Gabe York and freshman Elliott Pitts are the other guards on the roster but clearly inexperienced.

The Arizona Wildcats are the clear-cut favorites to win the Pac-12 this season. With the Wildcats’ experienced backcourt and big, talented frontcourt, Sean Miller should have Arizona making a deep run into March.

Player to Watch: T.J. McConnell, PG
As talented a scorer as Lyons was, he brought a shoot-first approach to the point guard position whereas McConnell is a true floor general. McConnell was a stat-sheet stuffer during his sophomore year, averaging 11.4 points, 5.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.8 steals per game while also shooting 43% from distance. Look for him to become the true leader of this still relatively young team.

Key Non-Conference Games:
  • 11/11 vs. Long Beach State
  • 11/14 at San Diego State
  • 11/19 vs. Rhode Island/Farleigh Dickinson (NIT Season Tip-Off)
  • 11/27 likely vs. Rutgers/Drexel (NIT Season Tip-Off at MSG)
  • 11/29 likely vs. Duke/Alabama (NIT Season Tip-Off at MSG)
  • 12/3 vs. Texas Tech
  • 12/7 vs. UNLV
  • 12/11 vs. New Mexico State
  • 12/14 at Michigan

  • Predicted Pac-12 Finish: 1st

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