Monday, October 17, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 15 Arizona Wildcats

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 30-8, 14-4 (1st-Pac-12), lost to UConn in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Sean Miller

Key Losses: Derrick Williams, Momo Jones, Jamelle Horne

Newcomers: Angelo Chol, Sidiki Johnson, Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson

Projected Lineup:

- G: Josiah Turner, Fr.
- G: Kyle Fogg, Sr.
- F: Solomon Hill, Jr.
- F: Jesse Perry, Sr.
- C: Angelo Chol, Fr.
- Bench: Kevin Parrom, Jr.; Sidiki Johnson, Fr.; Nick Johnson, Fr.; Jordin Mayes, So.; Brendan Lavender, Sr.; Kryrl Natyazhko, Jr.

Outlook: I was born in 1985. In 2010, for the first time since I've been alive, Arizona did not make the NCAA Tournament. While an improvement was expected for the 2010-2011 season, the season didn't exactly start out perfect. Arizona lost to Kansas and got smacked by BYU early in the season, their non-conference resume featured little more than a win over NC State, and the Wildcats kicked off Pac-10 play with a loss to Oregon State and a beatdown at the hands of Washington. But those inconsistencies faded as conference play continued. Despite getting swept by the Southern California schools late in the year, Arizona managed to hang on to win the final Pac-10 regular season title.

After a heart-breaking loss in the finals of the Pac-10 Tournament, Arizona caught fire during the NCAA Tournament, making a run all the way to the Elite 8 before missing two threes on their final possession that would have won the game. That tournament run was bittersweet, however, as it guaranteed Derrick Williams' departure for the NBA. Combine that with the transfer of Momo Jones and the graduation of Jamelle Horne, and the Wildcat's are going to have to replace quite a bit of production heading into the 2011-2012 season.

Sean Miller has been cleaning up on the recruiting trail in his short time in Tucson, so there is plenty of talent in the program. The biggest issue, however, will be identifying a go-to scorer. I don't think finding a leader will be a huge issue, as that role will likely fall on the shoulders of Kyle Fogg. Fogg is the leading returning scorer for the Wildcats -- as well as the assist leader from last season -- but he only averaged 8.1 ppg and 2.6 apg. He's more of a spot-up shooter than he is a big-time scorer. Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom will likely be joining Fogg on the wing. Hill is a small forward with three point range, but his bread and butter is his ability to slash and rebound the ball. He'll be counted on for a boost this season, however. Parrom is a bigger question mark. We've all heard the story by now -- Parrom was visiting his sick mother, who has since passed away, back in the Bronx when he was shot in the leg and the hand in his father's apartment. Its unclear if Parrom will be back this season. If he's not, its a big loss. The 6'5" junior is a terrific all-around player, a guy that can score, create and defend.

Just how good this back court ends up being is going to depend on the development of the younger guys. Sophomore Jordin Mayes will have a shot at earning the starting point guard spot. Mayes, who is 6'2", looked promising at times in his limited minutes as a freshman, proving to be a lights-out shooter. He'll have competition, however, as Josiah Turner was one of the most highly-touted point guards in the country. Turner is a gifted penetrator and playmaker, but he needs to shore up his perimeter jumper. He'll have an immediate impact, as will freshman shooting guard Nick Johnson. Johnson is a terrific athlete and a kid that really competes. He might not be a big-time scorer early in his career, but he'll defend and make plays with his athleticism.

The front court for the Wildcats will be a bit more of a question mark. Both Jesse Perry and Kryrl Natyazkho return, but neither can be considered an offensive threat. Perry is an undersized power forward, but he's the kind of senior you love to have on your roster. He plays hard, he defends, he rebounds and he doesn't make mistakes. He moved his way into the starting lineup by the end of last season. Natyazkho is a big body, but he's never proven himself to be much more than a big body.

It will be interesting to see just how good Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol wind up being. Arizona needs an offensive presence on their front line, but relying on a freshman is not an ideal situation. And neither of these freshmen come in with the reputation of being post scorers. Chol and Johnson both project to be shot blockers and rebounders early on.

Arizona may struggle early on to find an offensive identity. They lose their two best scorers -- and, really, the only two guys that could create their own shot -- from last season. If Sean Miller can develop someone into being able to fill that role -- Turner, Hill, Parrom, Johnson -- than Arizona has a chance to be even better. As is, there is too much talent on this roster not to believe they can finish in the top 10-15 teams in the country.

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