Every year, expectations are high for the Arizona Wildcats in basketball. This year is no different, despite a large amount of roster turnover from last season.
Here's a look at how some of our writers see this season playing out, and who will break out:
1. How does Ray Smith's injury change your outlook on the season?
Gabe Encinas: Ray Smith was arguably the best recruit in the class, and seemed to have some great upside with his length and athleticism. Some NBA scouts have looked at him as a one-and-done simply because of his measurables, given he has the production to warrant a first round selection.
Arizona is heavy in the backcourt, and this will probably have Sean Miller scheming up some three-guard lineups, with a combination of Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Gabe York, Elliott Pitts, Allonzo Trier, and Kadeem Allen, maybe some Justin Simon now as well.
This Arizona team already had a lot of question marks heading into the season, and needed all the depth they could get to make up for experience. I still won't change my prediction on the season by simply losing Smith, only because it's preseason and Miller has time to adjust. This team will get better with time.
Prediction: 26-10 overall, Sweet 16 appearance
Alec Sills-Trausch: This is something I've been going back and forth on. First off, no one has seen Ray Smith play a non-scrimmage competitive game since junior year in HS. So on that end, this is like Schrodinger's cat: We technically don't know what we'll be missing.
But in reality, we know what Smith's injury is going to cost us. He'll cost us a dynamic wing who creates matchup problems at all positions. He's uber athletic with above average grades at most skill categories. I think he's the type of player that if injured in February could keep you from the Final Four or Championship game, but with it early, players will have plenty of time to figure out their new roles. Plus, this might give an opportunity to someone who wouldn't have seen as much time.
Prediction: Sean Miller gets his Final Four
David Potts: I don't think it greatly affected my expectations for this season. While Smith could be very good, I think Arizona has the depth to make up for his loss, particularly if Tollefsen can step in and play some minutes at the three. It will probably also open up more minutes for Pitts and Trier at that spot, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think Gabe's right - I think we win about 25 games and make the Sweet 16 - but I don't think I'd make a drastically different projection if Smith were healthy.
Ryan Kelapire: It dampens my expectations just a little bit. I think he was the only natural small forward that Arizona had on the roster, and also possibly one of the team's best players in general. Luckily, Sean Miller has guys like Pitts, Simon, and Tollefsen on the roster that should be able to adequately fill in for Smith.
As far as predictions go, I think this team will win 27 games and a trip to the Sweet 16. And yeah, they'll win the Pac-12 again.
Lewis Krell: Although it's probably an insane thing to think that losing a potential one-and-done player for the season doesn't impact my expectations, I completely agree with everyone else. We have the depth this year to handle a season-ending injury like this and it is a good thing it happened prior to the season rather than a Brandon Ashley-style ‘torpedo a perfect year in the middle of it' injury. It was already looking like minutes were going to be hard to come by for a lot of very talented players so losing Smith isn't as big of a blow as losing a top guy would have been for Arizona in past years.
Prediction: Too early for me to make a prediction. I'm copping out but I will say that I absolutely think we will win both the Pac-12 and the Pac-12 tourney.
2. Pick one player that's going to surprise people and why:
GE: Not sure if this is a surprise, but he's often overlooked. Ryan Anderson is about the most proven player we have on this roster. He was the heart and soul of Boston College two years ago and had great success going up against the bigs of Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, and so on. Very rarely did he score less than 10 points in his last season at Boston College, and I'd expect him to help open up the floor for Kaleb Tarczewski as well.
AST: Kadeem Allen: The 2014 Ju-Co Player of the Year hasn't been seen by a national audience and probably isn't even a household name in Tucson. He will be. I don't care what level you're playing at, if you are a national player of the year, you're a baller. The only thing that's up in the air is how much playing time he receives. There were reports last season that he was the top player in practice. If that holds true, he'll be a household name by Thanksgiving.
DP: Couldn't agree with Alec more. I'm a big Kadeem Allen fan. A lot of the guys on the team last year (especially Brandon Ashley) talked him up and claimed he was one of the best players on the team last year. And if you look at the other guys who have been NJCAA Players of the Year - Jae Crowder, Pierre Jackson, and Marshall Henderson among them - I think Kadeem has a chance to be very, very good.
RK: Since others have stole my pick with Kadeem Allen, I'm going to say Dusan Ristic. Ristic was a solid offensive player last year, but I think we'll start to see him make some major strides on the defensive end this year. Hey, when all is said and done this year, he may be a better player than Kaleb Tarczewski. That's how much I like Ristic.
LK: Ryan Anderson is also my pick. Most one-and-done players get their fanbases worked up because of their unknown but sky-high potential. Having a known commodity may not be as sexy and exciting but Ryan Anderson is big, skilled, polished and he averaged 14 and 7 in the ACC. There is absolutely no need for speculation because it's guaranteed that he will be a contributor right away.
Arizona starts the season Sunday with an exhibition against Chico State at 6 PM MST on Pac-12 Networks