The Arizona Wildcats have put together one of the deepest lineups in program history. While many teams struggle and shuffle the starting roster looking for the perfect combination, head coach Sean Miller is fortunate to have a different problem—his 10-player rotation.
With a 16-man roster, Miller has had two different starting lineups in as many games. However, it is his 10-man rotation where the true logjam lies. With seven “starters” averaging 19 minutes or more per game, there are seven more averaging under 10 minutes per game.
The schedule is looking to get a little tougher, and playing time will be at a premium. Those who prove their worth will be rewarded with valuable court time.
Let’s take a closer look at the cream of the Wildcat roster and delve headlong into predictions, shall we?
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Gabe York are averaging more minutes per game than sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski, so I’ll give them both an honorable mention because Coach Miller has shown them respect as well.
York started the first game of his career on Friday night and didn’t disappoint. In only 26 minutes of playing time, he finished second on the team in scoring with 12 points. He also added five rebounds and an assist to his stat line.
Prediction: I said it last season, but it took a little longer than expected. York has moved ahead of Jordin Mayes in the rotation, and he will definitely get another start this season.
I was hot on Hollis-Jefferson coming into the season, but I have cooled to him in just two games. He has only snagged five rebounds so far and is barely over 50 percent from the charity stripe, hitting nine of 15. If Arizona has as many close games as they did last year, free throws will be crucial.
Prediction: Hollis-Jefferson will lead the team in steals. While his free-throw shooting is suspect, his dogged defense is not. Hollis-Jefferson had three steals against Long Beach State and will continue the trend.
Gordon is everything he was expected to be. In his first two games, he has notched back-to-back double-doubles with no sign of letting up. Gordon is currently tied with frontcourt mate Brandon Ashley for the team lead in points, averaging 13.5 per game. He also leads the team in rebounds and blocks, but is Shaq-esque from the free-throw line, hitting a paltry three of eight.
Prediction: Gordon will lead the team in scoring, rebounds and blocks before declaring for the NBA draft.
Ashley is learning a lot from Coach Miller. After overtaking fellow freshman frontcourt mate Grant Jerrett after only two games last season, Ashley was entrenched in some intense on-the-job training. He would, however, eventually lose his starting role to surging senior Kevin Parrom. With Jarrett and Parrom both gone (and neither on an NBA roster, by the way), Ashley will learn all he can from the Arizona coaching squad.
Prediction: Ashley will start every game this season and become the star of the team next season.
“Zeus,” along with most of Tucson, was surprised by Sean Miller’s choice to start a “small” lineup on opening night. He did however, make the most of his 19 minutes, scoring 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the line. When he started against Long Beach State, his shooting was similar, but he pulled down 10 rebounds compared to zero in the season opener. Was he showing distaste for his starting snub? One can only speculate.
Prediction: Tarczewski will not develop as a player as hoped and will lose out to the “small” or three-forward lineup on more than one occasion this season.
McConnell has inherited one of the most coveted point guard positions in the NCAA with a frontcourt chock-full of McDonald’s All-Americans. The “pass-first” transfer student from Duquesne practiced all season with starters Ashley, Tarczewski and guard Nick Johnson. The court general is averaging seven assists per game compared to only four points. Although he has the pass-first mentality, he needs to work on his free-throw shooting. He has yet to drain a freebie, going 0-of-5 so far this season.
Prediction: McConnell will lead the Pac-12 in assists and finish in the top 10 nationally.
Johnson is the heart and soul of this team, the only upperclassman who knows the ins and outs of Coach Miller’s offense and defense. Johnson led the team last year with 68 steals while finishing fourth in rebounds—at 6’3″. In this short season, he has been a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe and places fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game.
Prediction: Johnson will test the NBA waters but will return for his senior season, thus improving his draft stock.