As so often happens immediately after the season ends, many national writers have already made Top 25 lists and predictions for the upcoming year. Given the Arizona Wildcats’ success this year and the incoming recruiting class, the Cats are near the top of many of those lists.
We should take these early predictions with a grain of salt. For one, we don’t really know how freshmen will look so early on in the off-season. Many times, we need to digest the season a bit to be able to move onto the next one. Then again, this isn’t true in computer models, the earliest one putting Arizona at #7. And no one has Arizona out of the Top 10, which is a positive sign.
Importantly, it does not appear that there is anyone who will challenge Arizona in the Pac-12 next season. Then again, it looked that way this year before the Wildcats lost games that they shouldn’t have lost.
The schedule is not quite yet set, but we know Arizona will be heading to Ann Arbor to play Michigan and San Diego for a game with San Diego State. The Wildcats are in the Preseason NIT, which has Duke and Florida participating. UNLV and Texas Tech will be coming to McKale Center.
Let’s take a look at what everyone is saying:
No. 5 Arizona: When freshman forward Aaron Gordon announced he had chosen Arizona just hours before winning the MVP award at the McDonald’s All-American, he assured that Sean Miller will have the nation’s best frontcourt next season. Gordon will work the baseline alongside sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. Sophomore guard Gabe York, a pure scorer, should also be ready to play more minutes.
No. 7 Arizona: Sean Miller will have to replace his top two scorers — Mark Lyons (15.5 ppg) and Solomon Hill (13.4 ppg) but a top-notch freshmen class, led by top-five recruit Aaron Gordon, should position the Wildcats to dominate the Pac-12. Guard Nick Johnson (11.5 ppg) returns after a strong sophomore campaign.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A+ Gordon and Chester (Pa.) small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are the gems in what is far and away the Pac-12′s best class.
No. 3 Arizona:
Why they’re too high: Arizona wasn’t an elite defensive team this past season, and the loss of the team’s most versatile defender (Hill) probably won’t help that. The Wildcats’ young front line also featured no dependable back-to-the-basket scorer this past season, something that needs to change if Arizona is going to go from being a very good team to one of the nation’s elite. And lastly, the graduating seniors were Arizona’s vocal leaders. New leaders will have to emerge now.
Why they’re too low: The addition of McConnell will give Sean Miller the true point guard he lacked, which should help everyone else get higher-quality shots. Johnson showed signs of tapping into his immense potential as a sophomore and Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon are instant impact recruits who should give the frontcourt a boost, especially if the Wildcats opt to play Gordon at power forward instead of small forward.
No. 4 Arizona Wildcats: Sean Miller’s squad loses three of its top four scorers (Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Mark Lyons), but the Wildcats should still be the class of the Pac-12. Arizona’s highly touted 2012 recruiting class started off slow, but post players Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett made huge strides in February and March and should enter next season full of momentum. Shooting guard Nick Johnson (11.5 points per game) emerged as a leader on the perimeter. He’ll benefit the most from the addition of Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, the high-caliber point guard Arizona so glaringly lacked this season. McConnell averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 assists for Duquesne in 2011-12. Whether the Wildcats are a good team or an elite one will depend on the play of freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Gordon is the second-ranked power forward in the Class of 2013. Hollis-Jefferson is the fifth-ranked small forward.
No. 5 Arizona: Coach Sean Miller is putting together quite the roster at Arizona. If they can build off the success of 2012-13 and continue the development of the post players, the Wildcats will contend for the Pac-12 championship and possibly much more.
RealGM (Computer Prediction)
No. 7 Arizona: My gut tells me Arizona may be a little too low here. Arizona loses a lot of production, but they have the right pieces coming in. Point guard TJ McConnell was phenomenal at Duquesne and unlike Mark Lyons, McConnell is more of a natural PG. Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should be instant-impact recruits. And the returning sophomores on the front line should be better in year two. The model is mostly concerned whether Sean Miller can bring together an elite defensive team. Last year was Miller’s best defensive team yet, but it still wasn’t an elite defensive team. Until Miller gets his team to play great defense for a full season, there will always be reasons to be skeptical.
Pregame.com (Vegas Odds)
No. 8 Arizona: 18/1