Welcome to the six part series in which I will analyze each Pac-12 team for the 2015-16 season and give a forecast of how the season will play out. Under the microscope this time: Arizona and Arizona State. Unsurprisingly, there is little doubt Arizona will continue to be the perennial powerhouse of the Pac-12. However, ASU has a chance to make large strides with Bobby Hurley now at the helm. So, let's take a look what we can expect from the state of Arizona in Pac-12 basketball next year.
Departures: T.J. McConnell (Senior), Brandon Ashley (NBA Draft), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (NBA Draft), Stanley Johnson (NBA Draft)
Returnees: Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Elliot Pitts, Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright
Newcomers: Allonzo Trier (ESPN100 #15), Ray Smith (ESPN100 #28), Justin Simon (ESPN100 #37), Chance Comanche (ESPN100 #90), Ryan Anderson (Transfer - Boston College), Kadeem Allen (JUCO - redshirt last year)
Despite losing four of their starters to either graduation or the NBA Draft, Arizona should not miss a beat next year. The Wildcats return star center Kaleb Tarczewski, and bring in four freshman all ranked in the ESPN100.This monster haul has landed the Wildcats fourth ranked recruiting class in the country. Arizona's most prized recruit is Allonzo Trier. At #15 on the ESPN100, the McDonald's All-American will no doubt be the player with the most raw talent and potential next year. Trier will replace the spot left by Stanley Johnson, who declared for the NBA Draft. Along with the all-star freshman, prized transfer Ryan Anderson will join the team, after sitting out the 2014-15 season. During his three years at Boston College, Anderson led the team with 13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
The biggest issue next year will be the lack of a senior leader at the point guard position. With McConnell on his way out, the massive hole must be filled for Arizona to play at their maximum potential. Hopefully, Anderson can shoulder some of that burden. It will also crucial that Parker Jackson-Cartwright and incoming freshman, point guard Justin Simon mature over the summer to fill the hole left by McConnell. The Wildcats dodged a bullet when Kaleb Tarczewski chose to return for his senior year. Still, that does not mean they are off the hook. Tarczewski must step into a leadership role, and sophomore Dusan Ristic has to continue to develop. This year, as a freshman, Ristic did not wow anyone with his performance, and has quite a lot of room to improve on both sides of the ball. Newcomer Chance Comanche may help as well, but at only 205 pounds, he is not strong enough yet to be a dominant center in the Pac-12.
Best Case Scenario: Everything comes together for the Wildcats. Anderson and Tarczewski become the leaders of the team, the freshman live up to their hype, new players take over their roles flawlessly, and once again Arizona has another deep run into the NCAA Tournament. Maybe Sean Miller even erases his name as "The Best Coach to Never Make a Final Four".
Worst Case Scenario: The talent is there all year for the Wildcats, and but carriers them only so far. Arizona still finishes as one of the best in the Pac-12, but lacking leadership and team chemistry makes them an early upset in the NCAA Tournament.
Departures: Shaq McKissic (Senior), Bo Barnes (Senior), Jonathan Gilling (Senior)
Returnees: Eric Jacobson, Gerry Blakes, Savon Goodman, Tra Holder, Kodi Justice
Newcomers: Andre Spight (JUCO Transfer), Bobby Hurley (Head Coach)
The Sun Devils will have a big hole to fill a large hole next year left by the departure of senior Shaq Mickissic. The versatile forward was ASU's rock. McKissic opened up the floor for his team, as he was always a threat to drive. Along with McKissic, Arizona State loses Bo Barnes and Jonathan Gilling, their two best three point shooters. The drive and dish was a reliable scoring method for the Sun Devils the entire year. Now, only Kodi Justice and Willie Atwood remain as the team's pure shooters.
If the Sun Devils do anything during the offseason, they must find a way to replace McKissic. Thankfully for the Sun Devils Savon Goodman, Gerry Blakes and Eric Jacobson, their second, third and fourth leading scorers, respectively, will return. If they cannot find one player to replace McKissic, ASU could use a combination of players to fill the void. Goodman and Blakes will have to replace the driving threat of McKissic's, while Jacobson will need to become the threat in the paint. Also, Kodi Justice, and Willie Atwood must continue to improve their shooting in order to fill the vacancies left by Gilling and Barnes.
Best Case Scenario: Bobby Hurley brings the magic he had at Buffalo to ASU. The JUCO transfers exceed expectations. Kodi Justice and Willie Atwood become even better threats from deep. Goodman, Blakes, and Jacobson fully replace McKissic's roles, and ASU finishes in the top half of the Pac-12. The Sun Devils either sneak into the big Dance or make a deep run in the NIT.
Worst Case Scenario: Bobby Hurley can't seem to pull it together. The shadow of McKissic looms over ASU all season long. The players do not mesh with the coach and do not develop as much as necessary. Arizona State fights it out for last place in the conference.
Both teams in the desert have very crucial off seasons if they want to take a step forward. Both teams share the similarity of needing a leader. For Arizona, most of the team's success is riding on the freshman. If they are not able to develop, it might be a long season for Wildcat fans. In ASU's case, the upperclassmen need the most work. Still, it will be an exciting several months to see how both teams progress.