Arizona Basketball: A look ahead

With Aaron Gordon's commitment on Tuesday, fans have already turned their attention to next season. Read on for a closer look at next year's team and more.

Arizona's exit from the NCAA Tournament means it's time to start looking ahead towards the Wildcats' future.

Gone from this year's squad will be Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, and Mark Lyons and in their place will be transfer T.J. McConnell as well as freshmen Aaron Gordon, Elliot Pitts and Rondae Jefferson.

There will be turnover just like there is for any successful college program.

There will be an adjustment period.

There will be questions and plenty of concern.

There will be excitement.

And, most importantly, there will be an abundance of talent.

The Wildcats, despite losing a trio of very experienced and talented ballplayers, could very well enter the 2013-14 season as one of the top-ranked teams in the country.

There is more than enough returning talent to compete for the Pac-12 title, but the additions to the rotation should propel Arizona into elite status.

There should be several contributing factors to a successful US campaign next season, with a big change at the point guard position highlighting the offseason adjustments.

Mark Lyons out; T.J. McConnell in

There is no question that Lyons was vital to Arizona's success, but it's what McConnell brings to Miller's system that has UA fans so anxious to see the Duquesne transfer perform.

McConnell provides more of a traditional approach at the point guard role, whereas Lyons was someone who liked to operate with the ball in his hands and never met a shot he didn't like.

McConnell, while an excellent three-point shooter, likes to play the role of distributor and relies on his scoring much less than Lyons does.

The real question is whether or not McConnell will make a smooth enough transition from the Atlantic-10 to the Pac-12. While having a strong incoming class highlighted by a star like Aaron Gordon is certainly something to get any fan-base fired up, the real success will only be realized if McConnell can thrive in his new role. If he does, the Wildcats will be as tough to beat as anyone in the country.

Rondae Jefferson and Elliot Pitts

The departures of Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom could permit the pair of freshmen to make an impact right off the bat. How much they impact the game will depend on the time it takes them to adjust to the college level of play and how quickly they learn Miller's system.

Jefferson, while not exactly the same type of player as Hill, has the talent to offset Hill's departure. His athleticism and motor make him ideal for Miller's offense, so fans should expect to see plenty of him as a freshman.

Pitts could take a little time to develop, but Arizona is going to need someone that can light it up from long range and Pitts can do just that.

His offensive game expands beyond three-point shooting, but it's Pitts' outside shot that could force him into the rotation early in his college career.

If both Jefferson and Pitts are able to provide a valuable contribution to next year's squad, it only makes the Wildcats that much more dangerous.

How good is Aaron Gordon? One and done? A starter? A valuable sixth man? Who knows what the future holds for Gordon at Arizona? Everyone who has watched Gordon play at a high level knows that he is capable of completely altering a team's landscape, but it's tough to gauge how much of an impact a player like Gordon can make, especially when there are already several productive front court players returning from last year's squad.

Gordon's athleticism makes him a very intriguing prospect at the college level, but it's the rest of his game that could turn him into an elite college basketball player.

Not only is he virtually a dunking machine, but he can bang down low on the block, beat a defender off the dribble, as well as knock down a shot from the outside. How much of that game he brings to the college level immediately will be realized in November, but one thing is for certain: Expect to see plenty of Aaron Gordon from the moment he steps on campus.

Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski

The trio of big men progressed nicely through their freshmen campaigns, but not well enough to push their way onto the NBA Draft radar (which is good news for Arizona). Each one made strides and were essential to the Wildcats' run to the Sweet-16. After each player hit their own share of bumps along the road, it was obvious that each one was on the right path to success.

It's difficult to imagine anyone in the Pac-12 stopping Kaleb Tarczewski in the paint next season. His post game started to come around in the second half of the season and he was just getting comfortable with utilizing his strong upper body.

An off-season spent in the weight room combined with the natural progression of his game and Tarczewski could establish himself as one of the best centers in college basketball.

Ashley still looked a bit raw at the end of the season, but it was apparent that he was also getting comfortable towards the end of the season.

At times it looked like Ashley wasn't fully adjusted to the level of play in the Pac-12, but more comfort should come with a year of experience under his belt.

Jerrett could use some work in the paint on the offensive end of the floor, but his outside stroke is something that could be a huge factor in 2013-14. Jerrett is not afraid to let it fly and it's likely he will be given the green light to shoot often next season.

As a defender, Jerrett was the team's best shot-blocker and will make opponents think twice before entering the lane next season.

These three are as important to Arizona's season next year as anything. They provide length on both ends of the floor and give the Wildcats what could be the best front court in the nation next season. The trio will be the heart and soul of the team next season and are absolutely vital to any potential success it comes across.

Nick Johnson's next step

Johnson hit a slump towards the end of the season for the second year in a row, but unlike his freshman season, Johnson was able to escape the funk and re-establish himself as one of the best players on Arizona's roster.

Now Johnson must take that next step as a player and a leader. With Hill departed, the Wildcats will be looking for someone to guide them and Johnson is the perfect team-first type of player that could assume that role.

Everyone has witnessed what Johnson is capable of – there isn't much that is outside of his wide range of skills – but now it's about putting it all together and growing into a commander both on and off the floor.

Impact role players

There is so much elite talent on UA's roster next season that it's difficult to see which role players contribute and how much they play. Jordin Mayes seemed to find his shot towards the end of the season, but he needs to show he can contribute consistently in order to avoid losing minutes to someone like Pitts, Jefferson or Gabe York.

Mayes will have a chance to make a big impact given that there isn't a true point guard behind McConnell, but he has to avoid falling into slumps like he did for much of this past season.

In York's case, he simply needs to improve. He played sparingly as a freshman and he had a few impressive moments, but most of the time he looked like nothing more than a freshman struggling to find his way.

York has a good outside shot and his athleticism is very impressive for a guard his size, so he does have tools that Miller can use. How much he can be utilized depends on nothing more than how much York's game advances over the next seven months.

Let's not forget Matt Korcheck, either. The JUCO transfer has his work cut out for him if he wants to earn minutes, but that's not to say he's a guaranteed bench-warmer.

Korcheck is a four that could provide UA with a reserve who can bang on the boards and score around the basket. With Tarczewski, Ashley, Jerrett, Chol and Gordon fighting for minutes, Korcheck may be facing an uphill climb, but he could develop into a reliable reserve if he impresses when practice starts.

Mayes, York and Korcheck all face challenges in the coming months. There are certain players they will simply be unable to take minutes from, but there are could be a few windows of opportunity for them to crack the rotation when the season starts.

With several new faces on the roster, there is still a little uncertainty on the road ahead. That's why having players such as Mayes, York, and Korcheck waiting to contribute can become a valuable asset for the Wildcats to have.


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