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October 22, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 15 Arizona

STRENGTHS: Whereas last season's Arizona team rode Derrick Williams and his supporting cast to a Pac-10 championship and an unlikely Elite Eight berth, this season's Wildcats will have to rely on their balance. There's no obvious star unless one of last season's role players takes a giant leap forward or one of the freshmen guards dominates from the get-go, but there are an abundance of players capable of scoring in double figures. F Solomon Hill averaged 8.0 points and 4.7 rebounds a year ago, and he could become an all-league-caliber player if he shows more consistency on his jump shot and more aggressiveness as a scorer. Uncharacteristically inconsistent 3-point shooting limited G Kyle Fogg's effectiveness last season, but he is capable of sinking greater than 40 percent of his shots from behind the arc to go with underrated play-making skills and lockdown perimeter defense. And F/G Kevin Parrom will provide inside-outside scoring and quality perimeter defense, assuming he recovers quickly enough from gunshot wounds to his leg and hand suffered last month. The returning core will be bolstered by a freshman class rated among the nation's best. Highly touted Josiah Turner will battle with sweet-shooting Jordin Mayes for the starting job at point guard. Nick Johnson will slide into the wing rotation. And Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson will provide frontcourt depth behind Hill, Jesse Perry and Kyryl Natyazhko.

F Solomon Hill (6-6/226, Jr.)
F/G Kevin Parrom (6-6/205, Jr.)
F Jesse Perry (6-7/220, Sr.)
G Kyle Fogg (6-3/190, Sr.)
G Josiah Turner (6-3/185, Fr.)
C Kyryl Natyazhko (6-11/264, Jr.)
F Angelo Chol (6-9/215, Fr.)
F Sidiki Johnson (6-8/220, Fr.)
G Nick Johnson (6-2/195, Fr.)
G Brendon Lavender (6-5/215, Sr.)
G Jordin Mayes (6-2/190, Soph.

Coach: Sean Miller (3rd season at Arizona)
Last season's record: 30-8 overall, 14-4 in Pac-10 (1st in league)
Postseason: Lost to Connecticut in NCAA tournament West Regional final
Final regular-season RPI: 19th
Last time didn't made NCAA field: 2010

WEAKNESSES: So much of Arizona's offensive success last season depended on Williams that it begs the question of whether the Wildcats can be nearly as effective this season without their star. Will Arizona come anywhere close to shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point range as a team again this season without an NBA lottery pick freeing up shooters by drawing double-teams in the paint? Can any of the current Wildcats consistently create their own shots or get to the foul line when Williams isn't there to draw attention away from them? And will anyone emerge as a go-to scorer down the stretch ... or replace departed PG Lamont "MoMo" Jones' fiery leadership and swagger, for that matter? In addition to those concerns, center also is a question mark. Williams' ability to log some minutes at center masked the slow development of Natyazhko, and the 6-foot-11 Ukrainian must show he's capable of logging more than the 9.5 minutes per game he did a year ago by playing solid defense, rebounding and setting good screens. Otherwise Arizona will have to go small or Johnson or Chol may be pressed into greater roles than the coaching staff would like.

[More Arizona coverage: GOAZCats.com]

OVERVIEW: If last season's Arizona team snuck up on some opponents in the regular season and the NCAA tournament, this season's Wildcats won't be so fortunate. Arizona will begin the season in the top 20 and as a slight favorite over California, UCLA and Washington in what should be a wide-open Pac-12 race. That the Wildcats have the depth and talent to win their league in what could be a transition year is a testament to the job coach Sean Miller has done rebuilding the program. Next season is when many believe Arizona will contend for a national title again, but the Wildcats will attempt to weather the loss of Williams and two other starters this season in hopes of defending their Pac-12 championship and making a mark nationally once more.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger, Y! Sports' college basketball blog. Email him, and follow him on Twitter.

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