Coach: Sean Miller (First year at Arizona, 120-47 overall)
The turmoil at Arizona appears to be over with the hiring of Coach Sean Miller. Even though the Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament last year, it was still a tough year marred with inconsistency. With Coach Miller on the sidelines, who had taken Xavier to four straight NCAA Tournaments, the questions have seemed to be answered for now.
Key Losses: F Chase Budinger, F Jordan Hill, F Zane Johnson
Fortunately, the Wildcats have a couple scoring options returning and one of them is the dynamic Nic Wise. The 5-10 senior averaged 15.7 points per game last year and he may be asked to score even more now that Jordan Hill and Budinger, the team’s top scorers a year ago, are gone. Wise is a very consistent outside shooter, but he is also aggressive with the ball and will finish around the basket even against much bigger defenders. But Wise is not just a scorer, he is also the point guard. He dished out 4.6 assists per game last year and the Wildcats will need him to find some new scorers and emerge as the team’s unquestioned leader on the floor.
Replacing Hill in the frontcourt will be a big problem as he averaged 18.3 points and 11.0 rebounds. Jamelle Horne is back after tallying 6.8 points and 5.1 rebounds last year and he will be expected to put up much better numbers without Hill on the floor. However, Horne is not a typical big man who is going to block shots and eat up space in the paint. His outside shooting ability will be a plus, but Arizona has to find a big man who can consistently score under the basket. Alex Jacobson could be that guy, but he only averaged 6.9 minutes per game as a freshman. He has the skills to emerge as a force under the basket, but he will be pushed by Natyazhko.
Who’s In for Arizona:
With some stability on the sidelines, the Wildcats were finally able to get the type of recruiting class that they have become accustomed to getting. Small forwards Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom are two of the best in the nation and they should do a decent job of replacing Chase Budinger. Add shooting guard Lamont Jones to the mix and Arizona has some talent to work with on the wings. Depth up front is also a concern, but not anymore thanks to Derrick Williams and Kyryl Natyazhko. Natyazhko, a 6-10, 250 pound Ukrainian, has the size and strength to play a significant role on this team right away.
It is on the wings where this team lacks proven firepower. Kyle Fogg started 27 games last year, but left most of the perimeter scoring to Wise and Budinger. Nobody expects Fogg to score 18.0 points per game like Budinger did last year, but if he could provide another long range shooting threat to the team it would be very beneficial. Garland Judkins and redshirt freshman D.J. Shumpert will battle with the newcomers for minutes on the wings and will at least have to play some minutes off the bench.
Final 2009-2010 Arizona Projection:
Thanks to the return of Wise, this could be a really good team. Arizona will go as far as Wise can take them, but he needs help from the newcomers and some of the younger players like Jacobson. If this turns into a team that has to rely on Wise and Horne every single game, there will be disappointment and nothing is more disappointing to the Wildcats than a trip to the NIT.