Coast 2 Coast Hoops
The college hoops season ends tonight, and that’s a sobering thought for Wildcat fans who will have to go an entire summer without Arizona basketball. If you’re not a baseball fan, and the NBA doesn’t hold your interest, these coming months can be a trying time.
But we’re Arizona fans, and for us hoops is a 365 day a year sport. So even though we have six more months to go, here’s what we will be looking forward to in the 2013-14 season.
Frontcout U?- Historically known for rostering a stable of NBA-caliber guards every season, next year’s UA team will depart from the archetype. With five NBA prospects in the frontcourt, Arizona’s strength will probably be their size and skill close to the basket.
Between sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, and Grant Jerrett, the Wildcats have an excellent core of post players with different yet highly complementary skill sets. Tarczewski is the glass-cleaning enforcer whose size allows him to bully opponents down low, Jerrett is the sweet-shooting, shot-blocking power forward who will burn teams from the perimeter, and Ashley is the rangy, versatile hybrid forward who will clean up offensive rebounds and be a potent scoring threat.
And with the addition of freshman forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon, you have two more players with pro potential in Arizona’s frontcourt (but more on that later). And, as ridiculous as it sounds, the Wildcats also have juniors Angelo Chol and Matt Korcheck, who could both be significant contributors for just about every other team in the Pac-12.
McConnell and Johnson, Partners in Crime- Arizona will be likely be starting two of the nation’s best thieves in point guard TJ McConnell and shooting guard Nick Johnson. McConnell was among the NCAA leaders in steals before transferring from Duquesne, and Johnson averaged nearly two steals per game through conference play because of his defensive energy and athleticism.
A McConnell/Johnson backcourt will be a disruptive force as they gel on the court. Although Sean Miller’s defensive principles do not allow for a lot of gambling on defense, the craftiness and anticipation of the junior guards will frustrate opponents who lack ball security.
While Arizona is accustomed to volume scorers at the guard spots, this could be one of the best defensive backcourts in Arizona history. That’s high praise, but it’s warranted.
The Emergence of Grant Jerrett- To be fair, I could be writing this blurb on any of the sophomores. As Lute Olson so often preached, a player’s greatest improvement usually comes between their freshman and sophomore years. But Jerrett is the sophomore who intrigues me most, because he might just have the highest upside of his class, maybe the entire team.
What makes Jerrett unique is his shooting. Right now, he’s arguably Arizona’s best shooter as a 6’10 post player. And his range extends into three point territory, where he shot an excellent 40.5% last year. That number is going up next year, and so will his three point attempts.
Having a post player with that kind of shooting ability is a devastating mismatch, and it’s one that’s going to create a lot of open shots for Jerrett. Can you imagine how difficult it will be to guard a pick and pop of Jerrett and the uber-athletic Gordon? It was one of the coaching staff’s selling points that lured the McDonald’s All-American to Tucson.
Different Looks- While the 2013-14 Wildcats haven’t even had a chance to form their collective identity yet, Sean Miller will have a lot options when it comes to deploying different units.
Arizona can go big, with Gordon at the three and Ashley and Tarczewski in the post. Or they can field a defensive lineup headlined by Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, and Jerrett. There’s many more tantalizing combinations that Miller has surely pontificated, with an ear-to-ear smile. While we don’t know which unit will be most effective, we can be sure that Arizona will be able to mix it up.
The New Dynamic Duo- Arizona has been red hot on the recruiting trail, most recently landing 2013 studs Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon. Both players possess through-the-roof potential, and they might be fast-tracked to reaching it.
With the departures of seniors Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom, nearly all the minutes at the small forward position have been vacated. Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon stand to assume nearly all of those minutes, meaning we’re going to see a lot of them next year. There might not be many moments when one of them isn’t on the court.
Regardless of how each fares during their freshman year, I’m willing to predict that Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon will be fan favorites from day one. In addition to their dynamic play-making abilities, both players have magnetic personalities to compliment their diverse skill sets. It won’t be long before people are talking about the Wildcats’ new dynamic duo.