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What’s next for Arizona men’s basketball after first-round NCAA exit

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arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-tommy-lloyd-roster-transfers-kerr-kriisa-azuolas-tubelis-2023-2024 Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This time a year ago, Arizona was preparing for a trip to the Sweet 16 that no one could have predicted going into Tommy Lloyd’s first season as a head coach. Now the Wildcats head into a critical offseason between Lloyd’s second and third years on the job after their shocking upset loss to a Princeton team that’s turned out to be a lot better than your average No. 15 seed.

“I think we had a great season,” Lloyd said in the immediate aftermath of the loss. “We’re still trying to build and develop this program, and I’m still trying to develop as a coach. I thought we performed well on lots of big stages. Just unfortunately, ultimately you’re going to be judged sometimes by how you play in this tournament. That’s the good and the bad of it. I’ve been on the good side a lot. So I’m tough enough to be on the bad side and learn from and have it kind of help re-energize me to make sure that we come back to that as a program.”

So then, what’s next for the Wildcats? Here’s a breakdown of what to keep an eye on:

The 2023-24 roster

Arizona must replace senior guards Cedric Henderson Jr. and Courtney Ramey, who are both out of eligibility, but it’s very likely it will have other holes to fill. Who else ends up departing could dictate the direction Lloyd and his staff go in terms of finding replacements.

At the top of the list is junior forward Azuolas Tubelis, a second-team All-American and first-team all-conference selection who became the first player to lead the Pac-12 in scoring and rebounding since 2005-06. His 694 points were sixth-most in school history, and if he returns in 2023-24 he’d be able to climb into the top 10 of the UA career scoring list (he’s at 15th).

Tubelis isn’t high on any NBA draft boards—The Athletic ranked him No. 74 earlier this month—but he may still want to test the waters. There’s also the overseas route, where his game would fit in perfectly back in European pro leagues.

“My thoughts right now are just to get better,” Tubelis said when asked about his future after the Princeton loss. “Take some time off and get back into the gym. I have no idea what I’m gonna play, I have no idea where I’m going to play or what to do. We just lost a tough game, so you can’t really expect an answer right now.”

While Oumar Ballo won Pac-12 Most Improved Player he still has a lot of room to get better, so he should be back. Same with wing Pelle Larsson, who overall had a disappointing season though started to pick it up once he returned to his sixth-man role. And Kylan Boswell is the future for Arizona, and all signs point to him taking over the starting point guard spot next season (when he’s no longer just 17).

The biggest question mark is, not surprisingly, Kerr Kriisa. Despite leading the Pac-12 in assists in consecutive seasons, something no one had done since the turn of the century, and being only the second UA player—the other is Damon Stoudamire—with back-to-back seasons of 80-plus 3-pointers, Kriisa’s play was inconsistent all year. He had only 15 points and was 4 of 20 from 3 in the final four games, though most of that came after a shoulder injury sustained in the first half of the Pac-12 quarterfinals against Stanford.

If Kriisa comes back for next season, it figures to be off the ball. If that’s not a role he wants, the 6-foot-3 Estonian may decide to go pro or find another college program that wants his services.

Of the non-rotation players, Adama Bal seems like the one most likely to move on. The sophomore wing was expected to take a big leap in 2022-23 but that never materialized, and freshman Filip Borvicanin looks like he has a much higher upside as does incoming 4-star signee KJ Lewis.

Freshman big men Dylan Anderson and Henri Veesaar should both be back unless one or both decide they don’t want to be brought along slowly as Lloyd’s plan appears to be. Veesaar would probably head back to Europe, while Anderson would be a candidate for the NCAA transfer portal.

Arizona figures to be very active in the portal, with at least two spots to fill if not more, though it may try to add another prep signee. There aren’t many left among the top 100 prospects in the 2023 class, but overseas remains a viable option.

The schedule

Very little of the 2023-24 slate is known, other than a pair of scheduled road games with very different opponents in terms of pedigree.

The UA is set to play Nov. 10 at Duke, the start of a home-and-home series that will bring the Blue Devils to McKale Center in 2024. That will be the second game of the season, after presumably a home opener against a buy opponent.

Arizona will also play at Southern, a return game as part of the Pac-12/SWAC scheduling partnership that began last season. The Wildcats beat the Tigers 95-78 in Tucson in November, and this rematch is likely to be on the way back from Duke.

The Wildcats will play in the Wooden Legacy, a 4-team tourney in the Los Angeles area over Thanksgiving Weekend. None of the other competitors have been announced, but last year’s field included Washington, Vanderbilt, Saint Mary’s and Fresno State.

Expect six of the other seven nonconference games to be at McKale, with the other one possibly a neutral-site clash like last year’s game against Indiana in Las Vegas.

As for the Pac-12 schedule, the 10-year rotation that was a approved a few years ago—and will need to be scrapped with UCLA and USC leaving after next season—calls for Arizona hosting USC and visiting Oregon before Christmas, while it won’t host UCLA or visit Oregon State and play everyone else home-and-away.