Arizona brought 12 scholarship players on its much-shorter-than-expected NCAA Tournament run in March. A little more than two months later the Wildcats again have a dozen on scholarship, but the makeup of that roster is completely different.
Since the 2022-23 season ended abruptly, with the first-round exit to Princeton in Sacramento, the UA has said goodbye to five members of that team while bringing in five new pieces. Gone are four starters, including Pac-12 scoring and rebounding leader Azuolas Tubelis and conference assist leader Kerr Kriisa, and in their place are three incoming freshmen and a pair of talented transfers.
With so much change in such a short time period, how does this change the way Arizona’s roster looks? Here’s what stands out the most:
So much size
Tommy Lloyd loves to play big men, regularly going with two at a time last season. And though he has to replace the sizable shoes of Tubelis, Arizona’s go-to scorer, there are plenty of tall options.
The signing of 7-foot-2 Lithuanian big man Motiejus Krivas gives the Wildcats four 7-footers, joining Oumar Ballo, Henri Veesaar and Dylan Anderson. That’s in addition to 6-8 Lithuanian forward Paulius Murauskas and 6-7 San Diego State transfer Keshad Johnson.
The other two newcomers, 6-4 freshman KJ Lewis and 6-3 Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley, are both the same height or taller than the guards they’re replacing.
The average height of Arizona’s 12 scholarship players is 79.875 inches, which would have been the tallest team in Division I last season. The Wildcats’ 2022-23 squad averaged 78.5 inches and ranked 25th-tallest nationally but only seventh in the Pac-12.
A potentially deeper group
Arizona spent the last half of last season with a 7-man rotation, only going deeper when absolutely necessary, which to fans felt more often than Lloyd did. Wing Adama Bal was supposed to be the eighth man, but that didn’t pan out, and freshmen bigs Anderson and Veesaar (along with wing Filip Borovicanin) showed they weren’t ready for prime time.
The Anderson, Veesaar and Borovicanin are back, and the hope is that each will be much better prepared after a full offseason in the program.
Bradley and Johnson both come in with starting experience, at big-time programs, with Bradley scoring 14 points in the NCAA title game and Bradley logging 22 starts for the top overall seed. Combine them with veterans Oumar Ballo and Pelle Larsson and no-longer-17 Kylan Boswell and that should be at least eight regulars.
And if any of the freshmen can make an instant impact—Lewis is the most likely—Lloyd will have plenty of lineup options. That includes some solely focused on defense, as Johnson ranked in the top 10 in the Mountain West in defensive rating the past two seasons while Ballo led the Pac-12 in defensive rebound percentage.
The days of the super short bench may be over if things go as planned.
Adding another guard wouldn’t hurt
Arizona has one open scholarship, a slot it didn’t use last season in anticipation of it potentially being taken away by the NCAA as punishment for the recruiting violations under Sean Miller. That didn’t happen, so there’s room to add another player.
If Lloyd opts to go to 13, which is really 12 since senior forward Tautvilas Tubelis plays less than most walk-ons, it would make sense to use that extra scholarship on a guard.
The roster only has three pure guards: Boswell, Bradley and Lewis, though Larsson is a strong ballhandler and can play the 2 in a big lineup, and after testing the NBA Draft waters he will be looking to expand his skill set as much as possible. Same could be the case for Borovicanin, whose 18.5 assist rate in his limited minutes were behind only Kriisa and Courtney Ramey last season.
And before you start trying to will it into existence, don’t expect Caleb Love to be that final addition. The North Carolina transfer, who backed off his commitment to Michigan, doesn’t fit the role of a backup guard—he’s started 96 games, including 38 for a UNC team that made the 2022 NCAA final—that Arizona would be looking for.