The end of one college basketball season brings the start of a new one, and with that a bevy of way-too-early preseason polls.
The activity of ranking college basketball teams for the upcoming season on the heels of the NCAA Tournament is often a fool’s errand, given the fluidity of rosters as players announce their intentions to play professionally or transfer over the coming weeks and months. These rankings do give a glimpse though of who is perceived to be among the top returning teams for the next season.
Spoiler alert: Arizona is one of them.
Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd will enter his second year with a team considered to be in the national title picture and for good reason. Despite the probable departure of Pac-12 Player of the Year Bennedict Mathurin and possible exit of Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Christian Koloko to the NBA Draft, Arizona should bring back a loaded roster.
Arizona is likely to return at least three starters (Dalen Terry, Kerr Kriisa and Azuolas Tubelis), a pair of key contributors (Oumar Ballo and Pelle Larsson) and wing Adama Bal, who displayed flashes of greatness late last season. Guard Shane Nowell could also return.
The Wildcats will welcome in at least one freshman, 7-foot center Dylan Anderson, the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, and they’ll almost certainly add another player or two via the transfer portal depending on how many departures they have.
That’s enough existing and incoming talent to make Arizona a unanimous top-15 team heading into the preseason.
Here is where Arizona ranks in each of the early 2022-23 rankings. (Blurbs explaining Arizona’s ranking are italicized when provided by the pollster).
I mentioned to coach Tommy Lloyd that I was likely going to put the Wildcats No. 1. He didn’t have a problem with it at all. The reason? The anticipation is that Arizona may only lose Benedict Mathurin of its key players. So, if four are back — including Christian Koloko to go along with Kerr Kriisa, Dalen Terry and Azoulas Tubelis — then Arizona should be the top pick. The bench will be strong with Pelle Larsson, Oumar Ballo and Adama Bal even more comfortable under the AP national coach of the year.
Gary Parrish, CBS Sports: No. 11
The Wildcats’ ranking is based on Arizona returning every relevant player from its Pac-12 championship team except for Bennedict Mathurin, Christian Koloko and Justin Kier. A core of Azuolas Tubelis, Kerr Kriisa and Dalen Terry should keep Tommy Lloyd’s Wildcats a part of the national conversation.
Jeff Borzello, ESPN: No. 10
This is another ranking that can fluctuate wildly in the coming weeks. For now, we’re assuming Bennedict Mathurin is certainly gone, while Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry are also projected to be picked in ESPN’s latest mock draft. If Tommy Lloyd loses all three players, this ranking might look a little high. If either Koloko or Terry returns, then we could see the Wildcats rise. Arizona was clearly not the same team without a fully healthy Kerr Kriisa, but he and Pelle Larsson should form a quality backcourt — while Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo will continue to give Arizona a size advantage over most teams up front. The question is on the wing, where Adama Bal could be poised for a huge step forward.
Jeff Goodman, Stadium: No. 9
Mathurin will be off to the NBA, but the critical decision will be that of Koloko — one of the best defensive players in the country. Tubelis, Kriisa, Terry and Ballo should all be back, and look for Tommy Lloyd to add some more international flavor.
Kevin Flaherty, 247Sports: No. 8
It’s a shame that Kriisa wasn’t healthy for the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament run, though Houston would have been a tough out regardless. What that does do is give him plenty of motivation, and don’t be surprised if he takes the next step and becomes one of the Pac-12’s best point guards. But the attraction here is the chance for the frontcourt duo of Tubelis and Koloko to return. Koloko was one of the nation’s best two-way big men and currently projects 36th in ESPN’s most recent mock draft. So there’s a chance the Wildcats run this thing back, and with Terry continuing to grow into Arizona’s next pro-ready wing, the Wildcats won’t lack for star power. The Wildcats, like a number of teams, figure to be players in the transfer portal this year.
Year 1 under Tommy Lloyd certainly. inspired plenty of confidence in the future of the Wildcats’ program. There will be roster turnover this offseason—we’re penciling in the departure of Bennedict Mathurin in these rankings, but frontcourt stars Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis could also head to the pros. But with a returning backcourt headlined by Dalen Terry and Kerr Kriisa and potential for one or both of Koloko and Tubelis to return, this group will be in the mix to win the Pac-12 yet again.
Expectations will be dramatically higher for Year 2 of the Tommy Lloyd era, and for good reason. Even with the presumed departure of playmaking wing Benedict Mathurin and the potential exit of big man Christian Koloko, the Wildcats have enough pieces to remain a force. We expect Tucson to be a popular destination for transfers, as well.
Eli Boettger, HeatCheckCBB: No. 9
Arizona had a breakout season under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd and now looks to keep the momentum going in Year 2. Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko are projected first-round draft choices and Justin Kier is out of eligibility, but the rest of the group could be back. Arizona figures to be active in the portal, especially if Dalen Terry turns pro.
Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News: No. 13
Barring any unexpected losses to the NBA Draft or transfer portal, Arizona returns a team that should be in the mix for a top 10 ranking entering next season. That’s a far cry from last fall, when the Wildcats weren’t even ranked heading into the year.