As Arizona fans, we think we’re going to win the National Championship every year. It comes with the storied tradition of a program like Arizona, where success brings expectations.
After last year’s awesome run to a 33-5 record, which included multiple weeks at #1 in both polls and a school record 21-0 start, expectations are naturally lofty. Wildcat fans aren’t just counting on more of the same, they actually expect to reach greater heights.
But we should caution ourselves from treating this year’s team like the last. Though some of the core members return, this is a different team that will have to prove themselves on the court once again.
And don’t be surprised if it doesn’t come together as quickly as it did for last year’s group.
Whenever you remove major components like Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from a team, it’s not as easy as plugging in other talented players and expecting the end result to be the same. The players that will fill the void left by Johnson and Gordon will have their own unique skill sets, and the team will collectively have to learn how to gel those talents together.
That was done masterfully last year. Arizona was exceptionally balanced and got meaningful contributions across the roster, despite adding two newcomers to the starting lineup. Gordon fit into the lineup seamlessly on offense and defense, while TJ McConnell has been a virtuoso point guard since his first minutes in an Arizona uniform.
The Wildcats will welcome a wealth of talent once again, in the forms of a stellar freshman class and as well as another transfer. But it may take some time for each of them to find their roles.
Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson will have to adjust his game to all the talent that he will be playing alongside, he’ll no longer be counted on to put a team on his back night in and night out. He’s more than capable of doing so, as his illustrious high school career proves. But this squad will be far and away the greatest group of talent Johnson has played with, so there will be a natural adjustment period for someone who has made a career on willing his team to victory.
How well Johnson is able to mesh on the wing is one of the main questions that the Wildcats will need to answer in the early season. Fortunately for Arizona, McConnell is one of the best facilitating point guards in the entire country and his presence will help Johnson carve out his role more than any other player on the court.
The other newcomers will need time to find their niches as well, and that’s not easily done as reserve. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made it look easy to come off the bench and impact the game, but he had a clear path to minutes and his excellent defense kept him on the floor.
For Parker Jackson-Cartwright, he has a defined role as backup point guard but will need to be effective in limited minutes. That’s not an easy task for freshmen, who often need more time on the court to develop rhythm and comfort level. And that’s especially important when your job is to facilitate a high powered offense with NBA level talent around you.
So we should be patient with PJC if he takes some time to settle into his role, and the same goes for freshman forward Craig Victor. He looked active and aggressive in the Red-Blue scrimmage, but as we all know real games are an entirely different beast.
As a natural scorer, Victor could find it much harder to score efficiently at the college level. And with an uncertain role behind many talented forwards, Victor might have to adjust his game to contribute in other ways.
The bottom line is that despite returning much of their dominant 2013-14 team, Arizona still has a lot to prove on the court. With many new faces in the fold, there are just as many questions to be answered about how they will fit in.
Those questions will take time to answer, so fans should have patience if the early season has more speed bumps than last year. Because although this group may take longer to coalesce, their potential remains as high — maybe higher — than last year’s group.