Team Preview: 2014 Arizona Wildcats
By: Brian MacIver
2012-2013 Record: 27-8 (12-6 in PAC-12)
Coach: Sean Miller 101-43 at Arizona (220-90 overall)
After missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 25 years in 2009-2010, the Arizona Wildcats have had their ups and downs. In 2010-2011 they reached the Elite Eight; 2011-2012 saw them miss out on the tournament altogether and get booted out in the first round of the NIT. Last year, they made a big push to reach the Sweet 16 but came up just short against then–number two Ohio State. But with junior shooting guard Nick Johnson taking over games and rookie sensation Aaron Gordon making a bid for rookie of the year, this just may be the Wildcats’ year.
Strongside: The Wildcats have been lethal when it comes to making field goals but still show a lot of balance across the board. As a team, Arizona is making 64.1 percent of their field goals (ranked seventh in the NCAA), with four of their top six players making over 50 percent of their shots. Meanwhile, sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski has made some big strides when it comes to his game. He is averaging 8.8 points per game, and although his rebound numbers have dropped a little, his positioning in the paint makes it very difficult for opponents to get around his seven-foot frame. Freshman forward Aaron Gordon may be the best player on the Wildcats’ roster. The man can score, rebound and dish the ball; what more do you want? He currently sits second on the team in scoring and first in rebounding, filling former Wildcat Solomon Hill’s shoes well.
The biggest surprise for the Wildcats (in my humble opinion at least) has to be transfer point guard T.J. McConnell. McConnell played his first two years in the NCAA at little-known Duquesne, where he was the best player on his team. But coming to Arizona, nobody knew what to expect of him. McConnell has done very well so far, using his great vision to make some highlight reel plays. In him, Arizona has the point guard needed to make everything else click.
Weakside: Depth may be an issue for the Wildcats. Once you look past their top six, the roster gets pretty thin, especially in the very important post position. This means that when Tarczewski is on the bench or gets into foul trouble, Arizona is playing a smaller roster. So far this season it has been working well for them, but that’s only because their big center is averaging over 23 minutes of playing time. If the injury bug were to catch them, it’s hard to see who could step up their game.
All Told: The Wildcats are one of the best-looking teams in the NCAA right now. They are off to a very strong 5-0 start, but most important is the way they have been winning: by blowing their opponents out of the water. They have the pieces to be a strong team not just this year, but moving forward for the next three. If they can stay healthy and their bigs can stay clean, look for them to make a big push for a national championship appearance.
After a short, lackluster career in sports, Brian MacIver turned to what all bitter, below average high school athletes turn to: sports writing. He’s been at it for the past seven years, met some great people, written some really bad articles, but has been having a blast since day one. You can follow me on Twitter @TheBrianMacIver for some sporadic moments of wittiness or to share vital information to find buried treasure (please, serious leads only…).