Top 68 Team Previews: #11 Arizona Wildcats
How much Solomon Hill improves this season will play a large part in the success of Arizona. (Icon SMI)
By Kevin Mallory
Monday, October 24, 2011
Last Season: 30-8 (14-4)
Key Losses: Derrick Williams, Momo Jones
Head Coach: Sean Miller
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Josiah Turner 6-3 Fr.
SG: Kyle Fogg 6-3 Sr.
F: Solomon Hill 6-6 Jr.
F: Jesse Perry 6-7 Sr.
C: Kyryl Natyazhko 6-11 Jr.
Key Reserves: Alex Jacobson 7-0 Sr. C, Nick Johnson 6-2 Fr. PG, Brendon Lavender 6-5 Sr. SG, Jordin Mayes 6-2 So. SG, Angelo Chol 6-9 Fr. PF
Despite the loss of two vital pieces from last year's team, there is plenty of room for optimism for Arizona fans. Sean Miller and the Wildcats come back following a trip to the Elite Eight, where they lost a two-point decision to the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies. The Wildcats must do it without All-American forward Derrick Williams, who was the No. 2 pick in this year's NBA Draft, and point guard Momo Jones, who transferred to Iona.
But Arizona has put itself in prime position to repeat as Pac-12 champions. Miller secured a top-10 recruiting class with the additions of Sidiki Johnson, Angelo Chol, Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner, who is already projected by some draft experts to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft.
One of the great things about this team is that there are not any superstars on this roster—since Turner has yet to play a game—and Miller may have one of the most interchangeable backcourts in the country. Kyle Fogg, Jordin Mayes and Brendon Lavender are all capable shooters, playmakers and defenders, meaning that Arizona will not be overly-reliant on one or two players to make things happen.
Mayes shot over 45 percent from beyond the arc to go along with averaging 7.3 points and nearly two assists per game during his freshman season, in which he was an honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman selection. Fogg, the most experienced player on the team with 104 games played, may be the Wildcats' best defender; he was named honorable mention to the Pac-10 All-Defensive team last season. He was also the team's third leading scorer (8.1 points per game) and led the team in total assists (99). Lavender, at 6-foot-5, provides a little more size in the backcourt, and Miller refers to him as the team's best shooter.
This means that Arizona will be allowed to be creative with its lineups. With a litany of able guards, don't be surprised if Miller employs some three-guard sets during stretches of games.
While Arizona is deep in the backcourt, the frontcourt is a little bit more of a question mark. Solomon Hill will need to step up offensively with the departure of Williams and the injuries suffered by Kevin Parrom in an offseason shooting. Hill started every game last season and that will likely be the case in 2011-12. Hill has the ability to handle the ball and can beat defenders off the dribble. He improved his 3-point shooting from 22 percent in 2009-10 to 35 percent in 2010-11 and bettered his free throw shooting from 70.5 percent to 78 percent in that same span. If Hill continues to improve the consistency of his jumper, Arizona has the ability to be one of the top shooting teams in the nation.
Kyryl Natyazhko and Alex Jacobson will be, of course, expected to rebound and patrol the paint. At 6-foot-11, Natyazhko is another decent shooter who can help spread the floor. It is not expected that these two will be looked at to put up big offensive numbers, but any offense that these guys provide will be an added bonus.
Arizona should face some stiff competition in the new Pac-12 from some old rivals, namely UCLA and California, but the Wildcats have one of the best home-court advantages in the nation. The Wildcats did not lose at the McKale Center last season and are hoping for more of that home cooking this season.
Even though Arizona does not have a superstar player yet, the Wildcats should be a tough and balanced squad that will be one of the best teams in the Pac-12.
And this year, Arizona is looking to become even better than Elite.