Arizona doesn’t expect to regress much, if any, from the Pac-12 championship team that went 34–4 and reached the Elite Eight for the third time in five years. Sean Miller’s roster management skills have been seriously tested with the loss of four starters, but he has seemed to flourish, adding three transfers and a four-man freshman class ranked among the nation’s best. Arizona’s most significant move was keeping 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, a three-year starter around whom the Wildcats will build for a third consecutive league championship.
“You don’t ever want to use the word ‘rebuilding’ at Arizona, and that’s not the way we’re thinking,” says Miller. “I like what we’ve got, but the process of identifying a regular rotation will take a lot of work.”
Arizona’s identity is likely to change. It has been a defensive force for two seasons, but the loss of shutdown defensive ace Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and intense point guard T.J. McConnell suggests the Wildcats will have to put more emphasis on perimeter shooting and uptempo offense.
Pac-12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Tarczewski has started 107 games at center and is an imposing defensive presence. He also has a nice, if under-utilized, shooting touch. His numbers are likely to improve from 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds, as he becomes more of a featured offensive presence. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson, who averaged 14.3 points as a junior two year ago, is the presumptive starter at power forward. He’s more of a mix-it-up inside player and rebounder. Anderson will be spelled by 7-foot sophomore Dusan Ristic, who is expected to swing between center and power forward. Ristic might be Arizona’s top pure shooter, with 3-point ability. He averaged just 8.6 minutes last year and was not used in key postseason games. His development will be significant.
Mark Tollefsen, a graduate transfer who averaged 14.0 points at San Francisco last season, is projected as a stretch-4 shooter who can run the court and provide reliable scoring. He is versatile enough to play both forward spots, inside and out. Freshman center Chance Comanche is a redshirt possibility.
No. 8 Arizona Wildcats Facts & Figures
Record: 34-4, 16-2 Pac-12
Postseason: Elite Eight
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Pac-12 Projection: 1
Postseason Projection: Elite Eight
Arizona is loaded — possibly overloaded — with seven players to deploy at point guard, shooting guard and small forward.
Most important is the development of sophomore point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who will enter preseason practice as the starter. His confidence, shooting and playmaking are not in question, but his size could be a problem. Arizona lists him at 5'10", 160 pounds, but he’s probably closer to 5'8".
The backup point guard could be senior Gabe York, a combo guard who was effective as a shooter last season, averaging 9.2 points while hitting 40.0 percent from 3. He is expected to start at shooting guard, although competition is intense. Freshman Allonzo Trier, one of the nation’s most coveted recruits, is big (6'4") and physical, a combo guard whose style is to attack the rim. Junior Elliott Pitts, who has played extensively as a rotation shooting guard for two seasons, is a valuable piece.
Miller believes that junior Kadeem Allen, the 2014 National Junior College Player of the Year, has star power. Allen, who sat out last season as a redshirt, is likely to see time at three positions — point guard, shooting guard and wing forward — and could be the club’s top scorer.
Freshman combo guard Justin Simon projects as more of a defensive-oriented player than a scorer. Freshman Ray Smith, who missed most of his senior season in high school with a knee injury, is a wild card. Some recruiting analysts insist he could be Arizona’s top newcomer, a wing with shooting range to 20 feet.
Key Losses: F Brandon Ashley, F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F Stanley Johnson, G T.J. McConnell
Top Players: G Parker Jackson-Cartwright, G Allonzo Trier, G Gabe York, F Ryan Anderson, C Kaleb Tarczewski
Combo guard Allonzo Trier has played for Sean Miller the last two summers (USA U18 in ’14 and U19 in ’15). Miller was able to land forward Mark Tollefsen, a transfer from San Francisco, in May for a final year of eligibility. He is the long-shooting presence Arizona lacked a year ago. Versatile wing guard Kadeem Allen, a redshirt, was periodically called Arizona’s “best player in practice” by UA coaches.
With so many new faces, Arizona is difficult to project. But there is a wealth of talent, depth and maneuverability. With York, Tollefsen and Trier, Arizona looks to be a better shooting team than the 33–5 and 34–4 Pac-12 champions of the last two seasons. The progress of Jackson-Cartwright at the point should be the most telling variable. By January, this Arizona team could be as capable as any in Miller’s six Arizona seasons.