Three years after Lute Olson's retirement, coach Sean Miller has repositioned Arizona as a Final Four contender. This will be the first season in which Miller has everything working together -- size, depth, experience, pedigree and recruiting momentum. Though Arizona had some problems with a number of off-the-court incidents last season, a top-tier recruiting class should help the Wildcats excel.
Senior forward Solomon Hill is the unquestioned team leader, an All-Pac-12 player who averaged 12.9 points and 7.7 rebounds, most of it coming on the interior. In the offseason he lost 20 pounds and spent time working on perimeter shooting, which should bode well for the Wildcats. Arizona's power forward and center slots will be manned by underclassmen, with shot-blocking sophomore Angelo Chol likely to double his minutes and freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski set to emerge.
The Wildcats should also be aided by Xavier graduate transfer Mark Lyons. Lyons' experience is invaluable -- he scored 1,194 points at Xavier and was a part of three Sweet 16 teams -- and despite moving into the team's point guard role, he should still be an impact player for the Wildcats. With Lyons at point, sophomore Nick Johnson won't have to swing to an unfamiliar slot. He didn't shoot well as a freshman starter but was at times the best player on the court for Arizona. Miller says he expects Johnson to play at a much higher level this season. Junior combo guard Jordin Mayes, who had a broken foot in the second half of the 2011-12 season, will swing behind both Johnson and Lyons, while freshman Gabe York could be team's club's top three-point shooter, vying for minutes behind Johnson.
Arizona got a late start recruiting 7-foot phenom Kaleb Tarczewski, who seemed set on attending Kansas. With the help of freshman forwards Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley, a pair of McDonald's All-Americans, Sean Miller persuaded Tarczewski to sign with the Cats. The hook: Playing time was available inside. Graduate transfer Mark Lyons should make an immediate impact at point, while top-50 prospect Gabe York will have time to learn behind Lyons and Nick Johnson.
Expectations have returned to Olson-era levels. The acquisition of Lyons turned Arizona from a possible Top 25 team to one that could contend for a national championship. The development of four inside players -- Chol, Tarczewski, Ashley and Jerrett -- will determine if this team is good enough for the long haul. But they won't have to be game-changers with Hill and Lyons running the show.