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June 18, 2014
Early look: Potential 2014-15 UA starters
Arizona's 2013-14 season symbolized the classic tale of a national favorite falling short on an ultimate goal - a Final Four appearance - and ultimately a national championship. Head coach Sean Miller's team stayed on top of the college basketball world for multiple weeks until a buzzer-beater against California ended their 20-game winning streak.
Much of the Wildcats' early-season dominance is credited to Miller's defensive philosophy topped off with an array of talent including: T.J. McConnell, the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year in Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 freshman of the year in Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. This starting five imposed their will on both ends of the floor for the majority of the season. Arizona's talent did not stop at the starting five. Pac-12 All-Freshman team nominee Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the charge off the bench for the Wildcats which gave the team a formidable bench.
After the Wildcats' lost to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, few were surprised when Gordon and Johnson announced they planned to enter the NBA draft in June.
The focus was not what Miller's two best players could do on the professional level. The mindset was geared toward what plans Miller had in store to replace his two most important pieces.
Gordon provided NBA-ready defensive ability and a motor that most 18-year old kids do not have. Johnson gave the Wildcats high-octane offense and veteran leadership. Two priceless assets were gone and not looking back.
The fans in Tucson have little to worry about as Miller has once again courted a highly regarded class of players to join his already deep and talented roster.
Here is an early look at a possible starting lineup and rotation for the Wildcats next season.
Point guard - T.J. McConnell
The Pittsburgh native was dubbed the best transfer in college basketball last season by some outlets, and he will look to carry his level of play that earned him such praise into next season. McConnell is the pure point guard that Miller has been looking for. His pass-first mentality keeps Arizona's motion offense running fluidly. The senior point guard will be looked at as a floor general once again this coming season.
Shooting guard - Stanley Johnson
This is an interesting position for the Wildcats next season. Johnson is a five-star recruit hailing from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. He stands at 6-7 and weighs around 230 pounds. He has a solid frame and uses it to impose his physical will. His defensive abilities will gel nicely with Miller's system. Some might ask, why would Stanley run the off-guard? His body size and perimeter skill set permit him to on the college level. Granted, the California native has the size of small forward but imagine him playing the shooting guard spot? He would become an instant matchup problem for most two-guards in the Pac-12 and NCAA. Johnson can defend multiple positions and he can score from a variety of spots on the floor. The fit is logical - it also gives Miller more options. If Hollis-Jefferson goes to the bench, Johnson can slide to the small forward and Gabe York can come in and fill into the two-guard. There are a multitude of options.
Small forward - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Hollis-Jefferson is full of personality and it shows on the court. He plays with an intensity that few can match. The second-year forward filling the starting role at small forward seems like a no brainer. He showed he is a capable first-round draft pick last season, and he is returning to accomplish his goals of winning a national championship and becoming a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Hollis-Jefferson is a defensive ace, and he is improving his shooting touch to become more of a threat on the offensive side of the ball.
Power forward - Brandon Ashley
Ashley was a key piece in Arizona's system last year. His injury was a huge blow to the Wildcats but they found a way to fight through it and make it to the Elite Eight. Recent reports stated that the junior forward's recovery was steady. Miller stated that June, July and August are pivotal months in the rehab process. If all goes well, Ashley will more than likely find himself starting at power forward spot in a stretch-four role.
Center - Kaleb Tarczewski
Good news: Joseph Blair is returning as a graduate assistant. His work with Tarczewski evolved the young center into a force in the paint. Tarczewski's scoring touch has seen great improvement, he added a mid-range jumper and some more inside post moves. His numbers never pop out on a stat sheet, but his efforts are noted. Tarczewski is one of those "had to be there" players.
McConnell, Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, Ashley and Tarczewski seem to make the most sense for a starting five next season. The thought of these five players working as a cohesive unit has Arizona fans raving. Miller has a plethora of options at his disposal. Yes, it is important to think about weather the other talent coming in can compete for a starting spot, but put that off for a bit. The Wildcats are chasing a national title - they look to be dominant and they need the best lineup possible to start the games.
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer