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Unique challenge awaits Sean Miller in '15-16

Fueled to overcome back to back Elite Eight losses, Sean Miller wasn't dealt any favors with four major contributors to his team departing at year end. With expectations in Tucson rising by the year, Miller looks ahead to one of his biggest challenges yet at Arizona.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Before this past season even began it was understood by nearly everyone that there would be significant roster changes to the team after the year. T.J. McConnell, the team's do-it-all point guard, was a senior who was the one surefire loss. Stanley Johnson was coming to Tucson as one of the highest regarded freshman in America and a projected lotto pick. Despite some considerations, Johnson ultimately followed through on that expectation.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a highly touted sophomore for his defensive prowess and athleticism who played well this season but stood a reasonable chance to return if his stock slipped. Ironically he was the first to announce his intentions to turn professional. So all in all, at this point nothing was really that alarming or surprising about the aftermath of the Wildcats' season and the roster turnover that would come from it. However, there was one more loss that in my opinion stung more than the others.

Brandon Ashley, Arizona's junior power forward who was lost during his sophomore year to a foot injury, perhaps looked at that incident and a pretty good healthy junior season as a justification to turn pro despite all but certainly being a second rounder at best with the chances of not getting drafted at all very possible. In Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats would have had a senior front court consisting of two players who have played major minutes for Sean Miller dating back to their freshman year.

Tarczweski represents the one starter returning to Tucson, leaving Miller thin with experience and really void of any true veteran leader that has been a staple of his Wildcat teams in recent years. Part of Arizona's rise back to prominence in recent years has been, in part, Miller's elite recruiting, but also the constant presence of veteran leaders on the team that limits the amount of pressure on the star freshman to be great.

In 2012-2013 you had the likes of Ashley, Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett coming in as the hyped freshmen class that really kick-started Miller's reputation as an elite recruiter. Making life easier for those guys were Kevin Parrom, Solomon Hill and graduate transfer Mark Lyons.

The following year it was Aaron Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson coming aboard with All-American Nick Johnson and T.J McConnell (albeit in his first year with the team) as an experienced, veteran back court leading the way.

Then of course this season you had perhaps the easiest transition a freshman has had at Arizona with Stanley Johnson coming aboard a team with a senior, two juniors and a sophomore who played major minutes his freshman year. Stanley Johnson had his inconsistencies throughout the season, but he was never asked to carry the Wildcats the way a D'Angelo Russell, for example, was. It benefited him, and over the course of the year you saw the improvements in Johnson's game, most notably on the defensive end.

Is there hope for Kaleb Tarczewski or a Gabe York to be that guy next season? Sure, dreaming is free but all indications are this will be a team who can't wait for the freshmen to come along. Allonzo Trier, the most notable recruit, has to live up to the hype as an unconscionable scorer. Justin Simon, Ray Smith, etc, must contribute in year one. The sophomores back, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic, don't have time to figure out the struggles they had as freshmen if Arizona wants to avoid a drop off.

It's to his own success and accomplishments that Sean Miller has put the Wildcats back into the position where a "rebuilding year" or "drop off" simply won't be accepted by the fanbase. Arizona is expected to contend for national titles, and in 2015-2016 will have to do it in a way that Miller teams generally haven't done it in the past few seasons. It's a unique challenge and one that Sean Miller most certainly is working at tirelessly this summer to try to make it as smooth as possible.