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College Basketball Preview 2014-2015: 4. Arizona Wildcats

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
4. Arizona Wildcats (33-5 in 2013-2014, lost Elite Eight) 
Projected Lineup:

G T.J. McConnell -- Senior
G/F Stanley Johnson -- Freshman
F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson -- Sophomore
F Brandon Ashley -- Junior
C Kaleb Tarczewski -- Junior
Sixth Gabe York -- Junior

Coach Sean Miller continues to do great things at Arizona, which was floundering when he arrived after a very successful stint with Xavier. Miller's Wildcats once more reached the Elite Eight but couldn't get past Wisconsin on their quest to a Final Four, after dominating the Pac-12 all year and spotting at No. 1 for weeks on end. While 'Zona will miss high-flying forward Aaron Gordon and stud guard Nick Johnson, a ton is back at other key spots to ensure Miller has yet another top-flight team in the Pac-12. With the most experienced team he has ever had in Tucson, the ceiling is incredible high for the Wildcats.

T.J. McConnell
BACKCOURT: T.J. McConnell won't put up big numbers no matter where he goes, but there wasn't a lot of point guards better than him last season. A transfer from Duquesne, McConnell impressed with his excellent court vision, fluid play and leadership ability. The senior averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 assists per game last season, numbers that could increase with the departure of his backcourt mate Johnson. While Nick is gone, true freshman Stanley Johnson is ready to make serious noise for the Wildcats on the wing. A five-star recruit and No. 1 small forward in the 2014 Class, Johnson impresses with superb athleticism and his excellent length. The stud from powerhouse Mater Dei High in California still has to find consistency in both his shot and defensive ability but there is no denying that the raw tools are certainly there for him. Working with an experienced guard like McConnell will definitely help him grow into a more complete player and impress NBA scouts along the way. He could play a similar role to Aaron Gordon last year; didn't put up crazy numbers but made a lot of highlight reel dunks and put backs and was always around the ball, making an impact. Junior guard Gabe York will fight for minutes as well in the backcourt, whether it be at point or at the shooting guard position. York was a solid all-around weapon off the bench last year for Arizona, putting up 6.7 PPG, while also 2.2 rebounds per game. Though, the improving guard must find more efficiency; he shot 37 percent from the field in 2013-2014 and also 67 percent at the line, a relatively low mark for a guard. Still York is more of a dangerous scorer than McConnell, though he lacks the smarts and passing acumen necessary to overtake McConnell at point. A player that could also challenge for minutes at point is another true freshman from California, Parker Jackson-Cartwright. The four-star talent is extremely raw but he is crazy quick and a valuable asset in transition. Just 5'8", Jackson-Cartwright can squeeze into tight areas and make some dazzling plays, though his shot is a relative concern. Little used a year ago, sophomore Elliott Pitts could be competing for a larger role in the 'Zona offense after seeing eight minutes of action per game in 2013-2014. Not necessarily very dangerous offensively, Pitts will work hard as a defensive player and find minutes because of his grit and determination. His size, at 6'5", also enables him to work down in the paint more than most shooting guards.

FRONTCOURT:  After a solid freshman campaign last year, big things are expected from sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in 2014-2015. The athletic wing has NBA scouts excited with his long, strong frame, touch around the basket and improvement in the mid range game. Hollis-Jefferson shot an impressive 49% from the field last year and he has all the talent to replicate that number. His strength allows him to bully around smaller defenders down low and make plays around the rim and his speed and quick release gets him easy buckets. After averaging nearly six boards per game last year, along with nine points, he could grow into a double-double machine for Miller. Also ready to put up huge numbers this year is rapidly improving junior Kaleb Tarczewski, who will man the center position. The massive seven-footer signs of becoming absolutely dominant last year (averaged 9.9 points and 6.3 boards per game) and he has the chance to get even better. Tarczewski's length allows him to block shots, though he isn't strong enough to become an absolute lockdown layer on the block just yet. Tarczewski's offensive game has evolved into a pretty scary one that includes a fabulous mid range game and impressive versatility. Tarczewski uses his wide, long frame and quickness to get off shots against defenders. Plus, his improvement at the stripe was huge for Arizona last year, as he improved from a 63% free throw percentage to 75 percent in just a year. If he can continue taking those leaps, he is a legit Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate. Also coming back is junior Brandon Ashley, who was putting together a marvelous 2014 before a foot injury knocked him out for the second half. When healthy, Ashley is among the most forwards in the nation. He averaged 11.5 points per game, a number that could improve this season. While not the biggest forward in the world at 6'8" (though certainly small from far) Ashley can do a lot of damage down low but can also step out and stretch a defense. Great college basketball teams need a stretch four that can open up offensive lanes and Ashley was Arizona's guy, a big reason why they missed him so much. If he can come back healthy, he could also transform into a more complete weapon and a conference POY threat. Originally from New Orleans, power forward Craig Victor played his high school ball at Findlay Prep, a powerhouse program over in Las Vegas. Victor proved to be quite the weapon in high school and he will only grow under Miller. A stronger back-to-the-basket option than Ashley, Miller could look for Victor to see some major action immediately. While not eligible this season, Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson has one year remaining and he could become a huge contributor for 'Zona in 2015-2016.

Stanley Johnson, No. 1 SF in 2014 Class, Fullerton, California
Craig Victor, No. 9 PF in 2014 Class, New Orleans, Louisiana
Parker Jackson-Cartwright, No. 11 PG in 2014 Class, Los Angeles, California
Dusan Rustic, No. 15 C in 2014 Class, Bel Aire, Kansas

Even without Gordon, who is now making plays in Orlando, Sean Miller's frontcourt is absolutely stocked with prime talent, especially if Ashley plays the way he did before his injury. With McConnell leading the way at point and Hollis-Jefferson likely making huge strides, this offense will be potent. The Pac-12 is not a breeze anymore, but the Wildcats are by far and away the best team in the conference once more. The goal this year for Miller won't just be an Elite Eight appearance or something less than that; this team has Final Four talent, and if all the pieces land just right, they have National Championship talent.

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