Okay, so Arizona probably won’t go undefeated through 21 games like it did last season, but next year’s team could be just as good — maybe even better.
Of course, the losses of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon to the 2014 NBA Draft would be enough to have most programs expecting a rebuilding year, but not at Arizona. The Wildcats are bringing in a full slate of new recruits, so make sure to check out the 2014-15 Newcomer Series on the front page if you aren’t acquainted with some of the Wildcats’ new faces.
And when you add those talented newcomers to what Arizona will return, you have a recipe for another National Championship run.
The Wildcats will have the best point guard in the country, TJ McConnell, running the show for a second straight year. McConnell was masterful in his first year on the court after transferring from Duquesne, showing an uncanny chemistry with his new teammates.
Now that McConnell has had more than a full season to develop chemistry with the returning players, you can expect his typical brilliance with the basketball — and his teammates should be expecting some alley oops.
We all know McConnell can pass the ball, but what will put Arizona over the top next year is McConnell’s offensive game. Despite being a capable offensive player, McConnell scored just 8.4 points per game last year while preferring to set up teammates. This season, though, he will be relied on more to score from the perimeter and keep defenses from sagging off him by taking more shots.
If TJ McConnell hits his offensive stride, Arizona will be fierce scoring the ball next season.
McConnell will certainly have a lot of options to pass to, including Arizona’s three-headed frontcourt monster of Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Those three are the top frontcourt in the Pac-12, possibly the entire nation.
As the anchor in the middle, Tarczewski will play more of a leadership role as an upperclassman, and his involvement in the offense should increase as a result. Arizona’s biggest advantage next year will be the matchup problems caused by Tarczewski and Ashley, so you can expect the ball to be fed to the big men more next season.
There’s no shortage of motivation for Ashley, who lost a brilliant sophomore season due to injury after leading Arizona to a perfect record before he went down. He was well on his way to an NBA Draft selection this summer, and we can only wonder if Arizona would have won another National Championship if he were healthy.
Ashley might be Arizona’s top offensive option because of his ability to score inside and stretch the defense with his perimeter shot. Don’t be surprised if the bay area junior leads the Wildcats in scoring next year.
As if the Tarczewski-Ashley tandem wasn’t already an imposing front line, the Wildcats will be bolstered by forward Hollis-Jefferson and his relentless rebounding. Hollis-Jefferson turned down a potential lottery pick in the NBA Draft to come back to Arizona for his sophomore season, and figures to be one of the most dynamic players in the country in an expanded role as a starter.
Last season Arizona was the best defensive team in the country, stifling teams with their vice-like grip on the defensive end. What they managed to do to teams defensively was nothing short of remarkable, setting records by holding Washington to 7 points in a half and holding Utah to 13 in a half in the Pac-12 tournament.
Arizona might not be that good on defense again, at least not right away. But the Wildcats should have a more dynamic, better shooting offense. They will be a different team, that much is clear. But they can be just as good, if not better than the 2013-14 Wildcats