For much of 2015, fans and analysts have been expressing how Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats' staff have underachieved in terms of recruiting. And, for most of that time, that would be true.
However, as it usually happens, a new year has brought new possibilities and a potential for an 'out of this world' recruiting class (sorry for that X-Files theme, I'm all in on the rebooted TV show right now).
As it currently stands, Sean Miller and Co. have five-star big man Lauri Markannen on board as well as five-star guard Kobi Simmons.
Here is what Scout has to say about both of them:
Markkanen, who is 6'10" out of Finland (though Miller said he's closer to 7'1" with shoes) will offer something of a Grant Jerrett type for the Cats. As someone who can step outside and stretch defenses, the Fin will create match up nightmares for opposing coaches thanks to his "prolific" shooting ability along with a pretty solid dribbling skill set as well.
"He puts the ball on the floor and is very agile," said Sean Miller, "When you watch him on video he looks more like a 6-foot-8, skilled forward that we see a lot in college basketball. The difference is he does play that way, except he is seven foot."
Plus, and possibly most importantly, he will open up the lane for our guards.
When you can pull a seven-footer away from the hoop, offensive possibilities arise faster than lava from an active volcano. First, is the obvious dribble-drive to the hoop. But after that, with Arizona's recent string of huge combo guards, the ability to post those guards up becomes a lot easier without a behemoth towering just feet away.
The ability to have a multidimensional offense is key in college basketball and with Markkanen, that becomes a reality.
One of those dimensions is an exceptional three-point shot, and Miller didn't hold back on his rave reviews.
"He can really shoot the ball and there’s a difference shooting in the FIBA line and our college game," Miller said. "It separates the men from the boys. He is a prolific three-point shooter from the FIBA line."
Additionally, Arizona and Miller expect an array of talent from him. "He comes in at a very crucial time for us, so getting that skilled wing forward that can do a lot of things was a quest for us."
That's because Arizona will be losing center Kaleb Tarczewski, power forward Ryan Anderson, small forward Mark Tollefsen, and guard Gabe York.
Which then brings us to Kobi Simmons, who will help fill the void at the guard/wing positions.
Simmons is another one of those huge guards I mentioned earlier. He would join the likes of Justin Simon, Elliott Pitts, and Allonzo Trier (if he sticks around) who are all 6'5" and above.
Just think about how much pressure that puts on an opposing team. That kind of height from your guards creates rebounding disparities, an ability to switch nearly every position on defense, and a team length that can shut down passing lanes.
Furthermore, there's the ability to cause havoc on the offensive end and that is what Simmons plans to do.
He told ZagsBlog what he hopes to bring to the program, "Play-making abilities. Come in and hopefully be one of the leaders, and just bringing whatever they need for the team. And just an overall playmaker."
With the experience that is leaving Arizona from the post positions, the Wildcat guards - new and current - are quite suited to handle the transition from role players to central figures.
Just look at Justin Simon, who continues to gain playing time with Pitts (personal issues) and Trier (broken hand) out. He may look raw right now, but we can see the potential in him. Plus, it will only benefit the team next season; giving the team one more player who understands Miller's offense and defense not just from a film standpoint but from an on-the-court one as well.
Right now, in a world where transfers or NBA declarations don't happen, the Wildcats have Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen, Allonzo Trier, Elliott Pitts, Kobi Simmons, and Justin Simon for the guard spots. Obviously, with less big men (and the size of our guards) those can/will spill out into the wing positions.
At the forward spots, the Cats should have Ray Smith, coming off his second ACL tear .... and that's it.
In the post, Arizona will have Markkanen, Chance Comanche, and Dusan Ristic.
As you can see, it's a little bare, which is why filling out the 2016 recruiting class is so pertinent to success in 2016 and *knock on wood* giving U of A the best shot at Phoenix for the 2017 Final Four.
The Chosen One
Josh Jackson. It's been Jackson from that start.
The number one player in the country according to 247, which compiles all public rankings and ratings into one national ranking, is the Detroit, Michigan phenom.
At 6'7", 185 pounds, he's the prototypical wing player. His all-around ability makes him a program changer. And his potential makes him an easy consideration for number one overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
His arrival in Tucson would make the Cats a likely choice to begin the year in the top three.
Jackson is that good.
It was reported in late December by the Detroit Free Press he was down to just Michigan State and Arizona, but Jackson refuted that report.
The Baltimore Sun reported on December 29th that the 6'7" star would choose a school "by late February from five schools: early favorites Arizona and Michigan State, as well as Kansas, UNLV and the Terps."
However, many do believe it is down to MSU and U of A.
The reasons are simple.
Sean Miller, who coached Jackson on the USA circuit, was able to create a strong connection as well as show him what type of coach he would be. This is influential, when convincing a recruit to come play for you. You have already shown them the offense and coaching ability you possess.
On the other side, though, is Tom Izzo and the heralded Michigan State Spartans. The history of Izzo and MSU have been around for over two decades. In addition to his coaching ability, Sparty landed one of Jackson's close friends Miles Bridges. At one time, this was thought to have swung the pendulum towards MSU.
That bounce though, may have returned back to earth. With the Jackson camp extremely quiet on the recruiting front, we may truly never know until he's in front of the cameras and picks a school.
Til then, we can go off of 247's Crystal ball which currently has Arizona leading, but not by much.
So sit back and hold on to your hat as late February is only a month away.
The Aussie Big Man
Harry Froling, who was not on many radars, has emerged as a potential 2016 recruit. The 6'10" big man out of Australia actually will commit sometime Monday night.
I'll be announcing on the 25th USA time. Stay tuned ✍ I #staytuned— Harry Froling (@HarryFroling) January 24, 2016
If you can't read emoji's, he's down to the Arizona Wildcats, the Colorado Buffaloes and the SMU Mustangs.
Froling really enjoyed his trip to Tucson a couple weeks ago, tweeting:
McKale Centre is an unbelievable atmosphere. Can't even use the bathroom in peace and quiet!!!! #beardown— Harry Froling (@HarryFroling) January 15, 2016
However, as much as Arizona needs a big man for next year, it looks like SMU will be a hard team to beat, thanks to a little blood connection.
Froling's sister, Alicia, is on the SMU women's basketball team. It also doesn't help that coach Larry Brown has the Mustangs off to their best start in who knows how long, posting an 18-1 record through today.
From the few highlights available, the four-star big man shows good footwork around the rim - with an ability to use both hands - and a nice looking outside jump shot (while I'm stating the obvious, form is much more indicative of long term success than just making buckets on a highlight tape).
I would liken Froling to Dusan where, while we might not have heard a lot prior to his visit, he can come in and a be productive player over probably four years.
Keep an eye out for his announcement sometime Monday night Arizona time.
The Last Hope
Rawle Alkins, a five-star shooting guard out of New York, wasn't even on Arizona's radar before Kobi Simmons committed. But, like in life, connections are always a good thing.
Alkins told ZagsBlog that when Simmons committed, he also reached out to the New York product in hopes he would want to play with him at Arizona.
"So before he committed, he texted me, he was like, 'Are you ready?' So I mean he's pretty cool. I played a lot with him over the summer, USA Basketball, adidas Nations, all of that stuff."
Alkins continued, "I think [Simmons] is going to probably be the primary ball-handler, though, if I end up going there. They're talking about getting Josh Jackson, too, so if they get [Simmons], Josh Jackson, me and imagine if Allonzo Trier stays another year, so who knows? ... Imagine that lineup."
However, Arizona will have to beat out eight other teams and teams that have been recruiting him for longer than Miller has. Those other teams include North Carolina, N.C. State, Louisville, Kentucky, Kansas, UNLV, St John's and Indiana.
Currently, Arizona's not even on the prediction map:
Alkins can come in and give Arizona the type of physical guard play we saw from Kevin Parrom. He might not be a great outside shooter as of now, but as we've seen with nearly every recruit, once they get to Tucson, Miller and the staff puts them through arduous shooting drills to get that jumper fine-tuned for the season.
But as we saw with the Kobi Simmons commitment, it's a crazy world out there and anything can happen.
Lastly, with Arizona being one under the 13 scholarship limit this year, and a minimum of four scholarship players leaving, there is room for all five of these guys to be brought in.
On the flip side, being so guard-heavy next year, would Alkins even want to come to Tucson where his playing time would surely be less than if he went to a school like NC State or St. John's?
But then again, those programs haven't proven to be winners like Sean Miller's Arizona Wildcats.
The 2016 class who have not committed yet may sign their National Letter of Intent starting on April 13th. But we should know far before then who will be making up the class which hopes to make a Final Four in Tucson's back yard.