The latest bellwether indicator that Arizona basketball may indeed be back to national prominence, the Wildcats open No. 11 in the USA Today preseason Top 25, released Wednesday.
Expectations are high coming into Sean Miller's fourth season as head coach, the result of the best recruiting class inked in some time and a mix of experience returning to the fold. Arizona's return to national prominence has been anticipated for several years, but aside from a Pac-12 championship and Elite Eight run in 2011, has eluded the program for nearly a decade.
The Wildcats were ranked in the initial USA Today poll a season ago, albeit 14 points lower and tied with UCLA.
UA again appears with UCLA, the only other Pac-12 team to crack the rankings at No. 13. Stanford was the only other Pac-12 member to receive votes; both tournament winner Colorado and regular season champion Washington were spurned.
Though returning starters Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson, and regaining veteran spark plug Kevin Parrom, the faith pollsters have put in these Wildcats is largely speculative. Senior guard Mark Lyons heads an influx of new talent. His ability to gel with his new teammates is paramount to the Wildcats' success, as Miller continues to seek the reliable point guard that has eluded the program since Nic Wise left.
Lyons is a proven commodity, however, having averaged 15 points per game at Xavier last season. Other additions to the rosters -- namely freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Gabe York and Grant Jerrett -- must meet expectations set purely on potential.
Voters put high stock in other teams with largely unproven rosters. Defending national champion Kentucky ranks No. 3, and aforementioned UCLA is touted for its top ranked recruiting class. Right behind Arizona at No. 12 is North Carolina, which replaces Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall.
No. 10 Florida is the only ranked opponent on Arizona's non-conference schedule, though the Wildcats could draw No. 20 San Diego State in the Diamond Head Classic, as well as Miami, which received votes.