Arizona basketball: Looking at 2015-16 - Tucson News Now

Arizona basketball: Looking at 2015-16

Anthony Gimino Anthony Gimino

By Anthony Gimino
Special for Tucson News Now

It's all over, even the tweeting.

No Final Four, but the Arizona Wildcats basketball season took another turn in the news cycle earlier this week based off coach Sean Miller's tweet just before midnight Sunday: "Finally to the people that try to make us feel like our season was a failure. Go cheer for ASU! #BearDown"

OK, let's address this quickly.

First of all, that was kind of funny. But who are these "people" Miller refers to in his tweet?

Listen, after doing the pre- and postgame basketball radio shows on 1290-AM this season, I know that crazy is alive and well. We took plenty of calls when a 20-point Arizona victory didn't satisfy everybody, so I'm sure a second consecutive loss to Wisconsin in the West regional final brought out howls of outrage from the looniest corners of Tucson.

Those are best ignored.

Anyway, for the few asking for Miller to apologize for being 34-4 or for not making the Final Four, what would you change?

Would you want Arizona to have a different coach? Would you want Miller to recruit differently?

As a program, the Wildcats are right where they need to be, sitting in a sweet spot of replenishing talent and master roster management.

Let's assume for a moment that the entire starting lineup leaves. T.J. McConnell has used his eligibility; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson aren't walking back through that McKale Center door; Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are juniors who might turn pro, too.

Getting one back of Ashley and Tarczewski in the frontcourt would be important for the team's balance of size and experience, but Miller already has a plan if both bolt.

Arizona is ready to plug in Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson, a 6-foot-9 forward, into the lineup after he redshirted this season. When last seen on the court, he averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds as a junior, earning third-team All-ACC honors. Not bad.

The former three-year starter with Boston College will turn 23 in December.

"He's someone who plays with a lot of heart," said Arizona graduate assistant coach Joseph Blair, who works with the team's big men.

"He loves the game. He's energetic. He's the ultimate team player. Obviously, he left a great position as far as scoring and averages at Boston College to come to a winning program. He's just looking forward to being part of the program.

"I always say, 'Whatever the guy is off the court, that's who he'll turn out to be on the court.' And he's just a caring guy who takes pride in what he does. He's going to be a great addition to our team."

Arizona's backcourt figures to be more crowded than its frontcourt next season. Part of the reason for that is Kadeem Allen, a former junior college Player of the Year who also redshirted this season, earning rave reviews for his work in practice and on the scout team. He's a 6-foot-3 combo guard.

"He's lengthy," said guard Gabe York, who should play an increasingly vital role as a senior next season.

"I think his wingspan is 6 or 7 inches longer than how tall he is. He's an athletic guard, too. He's going to open up a lot of eyes next year."

Allen said the biggest thing he learned this season was the thing that makes Miller the happiest.

"Defense, really," Allen said. "Being a team player, being all in, will get you far."

And Allen had this to say about Anderson: "He's really physical. He can grind like no other, honestly. He's a dog."

The Wildcats will mostly be starting over next season, but the age and experience of Anderson and Allen will help bring along what is (for now) a four-man freshman class that is ranked No. 1 in the nation. Allonzo Trier is a McDonald's All-American and a shooter extraordinaire. Justin Simon is a 6-5 guard who can play and defend multiple positions. Ray Smith is a skilled 6-6 forward; he's on his way back from an ACL injury, but should be fine. Chance Comanche is a 6-10 center who will put the UA weight room to good use.

Two guys we haven't yet mentioned: Guard Elliott Pitts and center Dusan Ristic, who will be a sophomore.

Arizona still has open scholarships -- as many as three if Ashley and Tarczewski leave. The roster hole, potentially, is in the post. The Cats are still in hot pursuit of one of the nation's top prospects, Ivan Rabb (deciding between Cal and Arizona), and are kicking the tires on various graduate transfer big men who would be immediately eligible. These are the one or two dominoes that still need to fall in the offseason, although the biggest development could be the weight room work of Ristic, who needs to add physical defense to his already crazy-smooth offensive game.

So, really, what would you change right now about Miller and Arizona?

Yes, he eventually needs to clear the regional final hurdle and get to the Final Four. But it's not like he's been a bad tournament coach. He's 14-1 when facing lower-seeded teams, the only loss coming in overtime as a No. 1 seed to No. 2 Wisconsin last season.

The Wildcats missed an opportunity this season, but teams don't always get the result they deserve. In a slightly different timeline -- one in which Wisconsin would be in a different region, or one in which the Badgers wouldn't shoot 10 of 12 from 3-point range in the second half -- perhaps UA would still be playing.

Who knows? In the NCAA Tournament, luck is always an uncontrollable factor.

Miller has re-created the expectations beast that Lute Olson invented. That's a good thing.

Some day -- and likely soon -- it will all come together for Miller, and the Wildcats will be back in the Final Four.

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.

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