Usually one of the lynchpins of the Pac-12, the Arizona Wildcats enter Tommy Lloyd’s first season with low expectations from outsiders.
No major outlets have them in their preseason Top 25 and Pac-12 columnist Jon Wilner of the Mercury News has the Wildcats all the way at No. 9 in his early conference projections.
Let him explain:
“We just don’t see it happening for the Wildcats, at least not in Year One under Tommy Lloyd. Our murky outlook is partly rooted in Lloyd being a rookie head coach matching wits against a load of high-level tacticians. But there’s more to our outlook: The Wildcats are devoid of an established point guard and proven production beyond Bennedict Mathurin. There are options (Kerr Kriisa, Adama Bal, Justin Kier, Shane Nowell), but we aren’t convinced there are enough good options for a program in transition within an ascendant conference.”
As our Adam Green pointed out on Twitter, Wilner makes some salient points but failed to mention that, in addition to Mathurin, Arizona is also returning significant proven production from Azuolas Tubelis. That’s a glaring omission considering the Lithuania forward averaged 12.2 points and 7.2 rebounds as a freshman (more than Mathurin) and markedly improved as the season wore on, averaging 15.2 points and 9.7 rebounds over Arizona’s final six games. (He also played extremely well at the FIBA U19 World Cup this July, finishing top five in the event in scoring and rebounding.)
Wilner could have mentioned Utah transfer Pelle Larsson, too. While not as established as Mathurin or Tubelis, he made 18 starts as a freshman and averaged 8.2 points per game with the Utes last season, emerging as one of the best 3-point shooters in the Pac-12 from a percentage basis (.463).
History isn’t on Wilner’s side, either. If Arizona indeed finishes ninth in the Pac-12, it would mark the program’s worst finish since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011. Arizona finished tied for 8th in 2018-19. The only other time the Wildcats haven’t finished in the top four was 2019-20 when they finished tied for fifth.
That said, that was under Sean Miller and the Pac-12 is coming off one of its strongest seasons in years after seeing four teams reach the Sweet Sixteen and UCLA make the Final Four, so Arizona definitely has a lot to prove in Lloyd’s first season.
Be sure to check out Wilner’s full conference projections here. He has UCLA as the easy favorite.