No team in the Sean Miller era of Arizona Wildcats basketball—the 2010-11 version that won 30 games en route to a Pac-10 crown and Elite-8 appearance notwithstanding—has felt so complete. Deep, talented, and experienced, the 2012-13 Wildcats have set basketball-crazed Tucson abuzz with hopes of a trip to Atlanta come April.
In case receiving a preseason #11 ranking (USA Today/Coaches Poll) wasn't enough to create excitement in the Old Pueblo, former ESPN and current CBS college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb picked the Wildcats to win the National Championship.
But why exactly would a team coming off of a disappointing first round exit in the NIT receive so much love after falling well short of expectations just a year ago?
Detractors and skeptics alike will point to the fact that Arizona received a national ranking in both the USA Today/Coaches preseason poll (No. 16) and the AP preseason poll (No. 16) last year. That Wildcat team would finish with a 23-12 mark in an abysmal Pac-12, capped with a shocking first round NIT defeat at the hands of Bucknell.
Yet, supporters will claim that what ailed the team a year ago will no longer be a problem moving forward.
The phrase 'death by inches' will be erased from Sean Miller's vocabulary. With freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski (7'), Grant Jerrett (6'9"), Brandon Ashley (6'8"), and sophomore Angelo Chol (6'9") set to receive large minutes down low, the 'Cats will no longer be forced to play out of position. Just a year ago, Jesse Perry (6'7") was thrust into the center position while Solomon Hill (6'6") was placed at power forward.
While Arizona has certainly loaded up with talent down low, skeptics will point to youth and inexperience as reasons why the 2012-13 Wildcats may stumble.
Just a year ago the Wildcat faithful had high hopes for freshmen Josiah Turner and Sidiki Johnson. Johnson was suspended in late November and would leave the program in early December. Turner never found his stride on or off the court and was eventually slapped with an indefinite suspension in March. Their shortcomings—and the negative impact they had—provide reason to question whether Miller's new batch of freshmen will fare any better.
Wildcat supporters, on the other hand, will quickly point towards Sean Miller's glowing comments regarding the team's freshmen. Miller has credited the team's trip to the Bahamas as invaluable in putting the group ahead of schedule and has on numerous occasions praised his freshman for their togetherness and work ethic.
And then there's the issue of depth.
In the above video head coach Sean Miller states that the team has depth. However, he adds, "I always believe there is a fine line in saying it because all of us are one significant injury away from being a much different team."
Case in point, Kevin Parrom.
The do-it-all forward endured a gunshot wound before last season only to have his campaign curtailed with a season-ending injury in late January. Without him the Wildcats were never the same.
Fast forward to this year and depth, though it is undoubtedly a fine line, seems to be far down the list of concerns. Not only will Sean Miller be able to put his players in their natural positions, but each position appears to be two deep.
Point guard Mark Lyons is backed by junior Jordin Mayes, shooting guard Nick Johnson is likely backed by freshman Gabe York, versatile and now healthy Kevin Parrom can back Solomon Hill at forward or play the two position, and the four aforementioned bigs can be used interchangeably at the four and five slots.
In short, is there reason for unguarded optimism? Absolutely. That's what being a fan is all about, after all. Is there reason for skepticism? Indeed. However, a handful of factors seem to lead critics to the former as opposed to the latter.
The 2012-13 Wildcats will boast an inside presence they didn't have before, benefit from outstanding senior leadership, and above all will be talented across the board. Like Rush front man Geddy Lee, Wildcat fans can't stop thinking big.