Evaluating the Roster: Center

Arizona may not have much depth at the true center position, but Kyryl Natyazhko is just one player that will be asked to make a larger contribution.

Now that the Arizona basketball roster has sorted itself out, it's time to take a look at how the Wildcats stack up on a position-by-position basis. UA is losing three key contributors from its roster while gaining four players from one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.

The first position we will take a look at is the center position. For the past two seasons, Arizona has utilized a player more suited to play the three or four in the middle in Derrick Williams. UA was relatively successful in doing so, mostly because of great coaching and solid team play.

Without Williams, Arizona should look at getting a more traditional post player in the middle. The top returner is Kyryl Natyazhko, who improved dramatically on the defensive end of the floor by the conclusion of the season, but has a very long way to go to become an impact offensive player.

Natyazhko's defensive play was crucial towards the end of the season this past campaign. His aggressiveness and hard work went a long way in preventing teams from having strong games underneath the basket. Assuming he progresses, he could be a reliable defender once again in his junior season.

What needs to happen for the big man from the Ukraine is a continuous improvement on the offensive end of the floor. He disappeared at times when the Wildcats had possession and looked to pass immediately nearly every time he put his hands on the ball.

In the summer leading up to the season, Natyazhko played for his home country in the Europe Under-20 Championship and averaged 17.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and went 8-for-20 from three point range over a nine game span. Obviously the level of talent in college basketball is a bit higher than what he faced overseas, but he showed that – when he has confidence – he has the ability to shoot the ball and rebound well.

If Natyazhko can actually tap into his offensive potential, it will be an enormous boost for Arizona. Most of the offense is expected to come from the guards and wing players, but any offensive output from Natyazhko will do wonders for the rest of the squad.

The other returning center is Alex Jacobson. The 6-foot-10 big man was used sparingly a season ago but could see a boost in playing time in the absence of Williams. Jacobson will do a lot of the dirty work, but isn't relied on for much else. With incoming freshman Angelo Chol arriving, Jacobson could still find playing time tough to get even with Williams going pro.

Expect Chol to come in and see major minutes even if he is a bit raw. He is one of the greatest post defenders high school basketball has ever seen and his ability to block shots should earn him a vital role in the rotation. His offensive game has a long way to go, but his athleticism is excellent and his length should make him hard to defend once he figures out his offensive game.

The Wildcats could utilize Jesse Perry in the middle when they go small. Perry is only 6-foot-8, but his tenacity under the basket and strong rebounding ability could provide UA with another option in the paint for rebounding and energy purposes.

This is one of the most critical areas for Arizona basketball heading into the 2011-12 season. Without Williams, the Wildcats must find where their offense is coming from in the paint. If they can solve that mystery it will put them in much better shape as a contender next season.

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