Arizona Basketball All-Americans

Who’s next? Photo by Wildcat Universe

It’s pretty rare for a college basketball team to return one starter yet the fan base is happy about it.

Such is life at the University of Arizona where it’s a surprise anybody came back from this past year’s 33-win team.

There will be a lot of new faces in 2016 but now that the dust has settled on the rebuilt roster it looks like Sean Miller will have a lot of options as the Wildcats work toward a third straight Pac-12 championship.

Welcome back, Kaleb Tarczewski! It’s like you never left. Because, well, you didn’t leave but We The People thought you were going to join your teammates in heading off to the land of income taxes.

So there is one certainty for the 2015-’16 season: The man known as Zeus will start at center and play as many minutes as his conditioning and foul totals allow.

After that? Let the guesses begin. With San Francisco’s Mark Tollefsen moving to Tucson as a grad transfer the UA sits at 12 scholarship players, and all of them except Tarczewski will be playing a different role than last year.

Four players came off of Arizona’s bench in 2015 and will be auditioning for bigger parts. Three guys will be making their UA debuts after transferring from other colleges. Four true freshmen will be walking onto McKale’s big stage for the first time.

That’s six upperclassmen (yay!) but seven players who have never suited up for Arizona (not yay!).

Here’s another certainty: Not all dozen dudes are going to play. Miller used a nine-man rotation this past season with the bulk of the minutes going to his top six players. If we assume a similar rotation is in place by the start of conference play it means the competition for minutes will be fierce. Arizona practices will not be boring.

The Wildcats will have enough pieces to try some interesting specialty lineups:

The Experienced Lineup
G – Parker Jackson-Cartwright (sophomore)
G – Gabe York (senior)
F – Tollefsen (senior)
F – Ryan Anderson (senior)
C – Tarczewski (senior)

The Big Lineup
G – Justin Simon (6-5)
G – Allonzo Trier (6-4)
F – Tollefsen (6-9)
F – Anderson (6-9)
C – Tarczewski (7-0)

The Shooting Lineup
G – York (40% on 3s last season)
G – Trier (42% in high school)
F – Elliott Pitts (37%)
F – Tollefsen (38%)
C – Dusan Ristic (80%)

Yes, I know Ristic only attempted five 3s this past season but he’s shown a nice touch from the outside. On the flip side, Tollefsen took 111 3-pointers as a junior which was just five fewer than Stanley Johnson. This is a big man who is very comfortable behind the arc. The prospect of an outside-shooting Arizona team is both strange and intriguing.

(Speaking of strange and intriguing, I’m very excited about the possibility of more Showtime with Deuce!)

Which lineup will actually be used? If Miller’s past is any indication it’ll be the unit that provides the best defense and rebounding and that will be determined in those not-boring practices.

Here are my absolutely-not-an-insider stabs at Arizona’s 2015-’16 starting lineup:

Start of the Season
PG – Jackson-Cartwright
SG – York
SG – Trier
PF – Anderson
C – Tarczewski

Miller rewards York, his senior guard, with the first crack at starting. But Trier is this year’s Aaron Gordon or Stanley Johnson (too good not to start and probably gone in nine months) so the UA goes small. Anderson gets the nod for his rebounding (over seven boards a game each season at Boston College).

End of the Season
PG – Jackson-Cartwright
SG – Trier
SF – Ray Smith
PF – Anderson
C – Tarczewski

This looks like as balanced a lineup as Arizona is going to get. The truest point guard on the roster, a go-to scorer, a long athletic wing in the 6-7 Smith, a rebounder and the anchor. Two seniors, two freshmen and a sophomore feeding them the ball.

It’ll take some time. I would emotionally budget for more losses than last year, especially early in the season as the rotation gets settled. But this roster is still filled with very talented pieces and when Miller puts them all together the completed puzzle should still look like Arizona Basketball: a Pac-12 contender and dangerous in March.

Just be prepared to have the roster loaded on your phone the first few games as all the new pieces introduce themselves.

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