Another year of college basketball is nearly upon us and the question on every Husky mind is most certainly “How will this team fare after last season’s roller coaster ride?” The Pac-12 should be an improved conference this coming season with, on average, less talent leaving and more talent coming in. The Huskies will have some tough battles ahead of them come conference play and perhaps the most entertaining games could once again come against the able hands of the Arizona Wildcats.
The past two years have produced some of the most exciting basketball games in recent conference history. In 2010-2011, the Dawgs knocked off Arizona early behind a phenomenal effort by Isaiah Thomas in the friendly confines of Hec-Ed. Arizona fought hard throughout the season and raised their ranking from 25 to 13 when the two teams next met. Husky fans hardly need to be reminded of the controversy that marked the end of the second meeting of the season. Derrick Williams “blocked” a last second shot by Darnell Gant and the Wildcats went on to win 87-86. The third meeting of the year gave us the infamous “Cold-Blooded” call by Gus Johnson that gives me goosebumps to this day. The 2011-2012 season featured another pair of great Cat and Dawg battles opening first in Tuscon where the Dawgs, clad in all black, faced another sold out, whiteout crowd yearning for payback after I.T.’s game winner in the Pac-10 tournament title game. The Wildcats left disappointed as vengeance and karma came roaring back as Tony Wroten blocked the potential last second, game tying lay-in by Josiah Turner. The Huskies flushed the Cats away in the second meeting of the season with a 77-69 victory.
The Wildcats bring in another stellar recruiting class to bolster their preseason rankings up to #12 in the nation, just ahead of #13 UCLA. Arizona racked up 6 new players with 3 of the 6 being ranked in the top 3 slots for their position. The Wildcats looked poised to make another run at the Pac-12 title and should certainly be considered a front-runner coming into the season.
2012-2013 Recruiting Class:
Jacob Hazzard: 5-11 165lb
The most unknown and least likely to make an impact for the Wildcats this coming year. As a high school player, Hazzard was mainly recruited by a variety of Division III schools, but instead chose to walk-on at Arizona. During his final season at Loyola, Hazzard averaged 12 points per game and 40% from 3-point range. I doubt we will see much of Hazzard outside of blow-outs.
Matt Korchek: 6-10 225lb
Korchek is a JC transfer who will be redshirting this season. As a Junior college player, Korchek averaged 15 points and just over 6 rebounds per game this past season and will be looking to learn and develop as a player in the coming year, hoping to compete for playing time next season.
Gabe York: 6-1 170lb
York is a four-star recruit who was well pursued by Washington before his eventual signing with the Wildcats. With Kyle Fogg and Brendon Lavender out due to graduation, there is plenty of opportunity for York to prove himself a capable guard deserving of major playing time. York is a shoot first guard who has struggled with his passing game at times. His great range allows him to be a danger on the offensive side of things, but his lack of effort on the defensive end leaves something to be desired. Like most freshmen, defense is an issue that can quickly be cured by a coach like Sean Miller. Expect York to compete with Nick Johnson for playing time.
Brandon Ashley: 6-8 215lb
Ashley is the epitome of a bored high school player. When reviewed in his Scout and ESPN profiles the writers comment in length as to his talents and skills. They also comment on his tendency to play in spurts as so many talented athletes do before they enter the realm of Division 1 basketball. While he may not be the next Derrick Williams dropping bombs outside the arc, he does have the ability to hit from solid mid-range to complement his inside game. With a bit of focus on his footwork near the basket, Ashley could become a favorite for Freshman of the Year (assuming Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA is ruled ineligible by the NCAA).
Kaleb Tarczewski: 7-0 240lb
The literally big star of Arizona’s latest recruiting class is a very dangerous player with talent to boot. Tarczewski has some nice hook moves in the post, but lacks the range to turn and shoot much outside the block. On top of his ability to score in the paint, Tarczewski is a tremendous rebounder who uses his bulk well to gain position and his length to get above the rim. His shot blocking ability is developing into a very useful addition to his skill set. As with Ashley, Tarczewski has one glaring weakness that should be easily corrected with some coaching: his temper. At times, Tarczewski’s temper can drive him to humongous games, but it has also been known to backfire on him as his head gets out of the game resulting in poor performances. Regardless of his temper, no team will be able to overlook Tarczewski’s presence on the floor.
Solomon Hill: 6-7 220lb
Hill is the leading returning scorer and rebounder for the Wildcats, having averaged 13 points and just under 8 rebounds a night. Hill is a very skilled player who is already being considered as a serious contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year. With the potential to average a double-double on the season, I agree with that sentiment. Hill has always caused the Huskies problems due to his strength, speed, and shooting ability scoring on average 15 points per game, including a monster 28 point night last season.
Nick Johnson: 6-3 200lb
After a very respectable freshman season averaging 9 points, 3 rebounds, and a 1.25 assist-to-turnover ratio, Johnson looks to improve his impact on the game with additional focus on his passing game. Johnson will be pressured to play at his best with junior Jordin Mayes and freshman Gabe York hot on his tail. Johnson’s struggles last season often arose from his youth and inexperience with such high level competition. With 2011-2012 under his belt, one has to imagine that Johnson will continue to improve on his hyped recruit status as a highschooler.
The Arizona Wildcats should have themselves a very solid season with such an ample amount of talent at their fingertips. The Wildcat non-conference schedule has a few solid opponents in Texas Tech and #10 Florida that, if won, should help bolster the strength of the team and the conference; something that is much needed after last year’s miserable performance. I’m betting on Arizona coming into the conference season with a 9-1 record, their lone loss coming against Florida. That being said, the home court advantage could help the Wildcats push to 10-0. Come conference play I am expecting a 15-3 finish, with losses coming to UW, UCLA, and a third unknown.
The Wildcats should make the Sweet 16 and push towards the Elite 8 as well. While UCLA is being touted as the cream of the conference, I believe Arizona will seize the regular season Pac-12 title simply due to Ben Howland’s lack of control at Pauley Pavilion that will be their ultimate downfall. Arizona may also take home the Pac-12 Tournament title with a great post season run.