It’s a fun game to play at this time of the year: Predict the lineup.
All the more entertaining with the Arizona Wildcats basketball team, which has undergone a roster makeover that includes the addition of one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. And size. Plenty of size.
Coach Sean Miller, much to his regret, had to play small last season — 6-foot-7 Jesse Perry at center, 6-6 Solomon Hill at power forward and 6-3 Kyle Fogg often at small forward.
The re-configured lineup for 2012-13 gives Miller plenty of mix-and-match opportunities. The team is nicely balanced now between the backcourt and the frontcourt. From this great preseason distance, it appears as if competition for minutes could be fierce, always a good thing.
But with all the potential lineup combinations, Miller would like to start with this premise:
Hill, who earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season as an undersized power forward, will absolutely not play that position as a senior.
“I would like to think that, a lot like Solomon’s sophomore year, he won’t play one possession at the four, that he will be able to be a true small forward,” Miller said Tuesday at a news conference to preview the offseason.
“He is working toward that right now. That’s his natural position. And when he is out of the game, we have a great asset in Kevin Parrom, not only because of the player that Kevin is, but also because he’s a senior.
“We should have a very experienced, physically strong player at that position. That’s part of making our team better. When you think of Kyle Fogg playing that position a lot this past year, at his height, to replace that with two players who are 6-6 and very physical, that makes us a much different team.”
Parrom, whose foot has healed from a midseason stress fracture that cost him the rest of the season, is going to have to carve out playing time at multiple positions because Miller said Hill has earned the right to play at least 32 minutes a game at small forward.
That leaves eight minutes there for Parrom, who can also play shooting guard in what could be a very big, physical lineup.
This is still all in the best-case scenario phase. Miller didn’t plan for Hill to play so much at power forward last season, but Kyryl Natyazhko couldn’t hold the fort at center, freshman big man Sidiki Johnson didn’t last a semester, 7-footer Alex Jacobson was limited and freshman Angelo Chol was painfully but promisingly raw.
Miller’s best-case scenario this season is that Chol leads a group of young big men, featuring incoming freshmen Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski. If those guys can capably split up 80 minutes in the frontcourt, then Hill is free to thrive at small forward.
“I’m excited watching Angelo play,” Miller said.
“He’s much bigger and stronger now. He can block shots. He can really move his feet. The impact he can have definitely can really be fun to watch. He’s going to be so much smarter as a sophomore than he was as a freshman on defense.”
Then there’s the backcourt.
The key piece — to the whole season, really — was the addition of graduate student Mark Lyons, a transfer from Xavier who will be immediately eligible. He often played off the ball for the Musketeers, but he is expected to handle the point guard spot for Arizona.
So, let’s play. My projected lineup:
Point guard — Mark Lyons
Shooting guard — Nick Johnson
Small forward — Solomon Hill
Power forward/center — Grant Jerrett
Power forward/center — Angelo Chol
Talking about size and height, Miller said, “For the first time, we can put a team out there physically that has the ability to be a positive for us in that area.”
Parrom is going to get ample time — somehow, some way — and his energy off the bench would be a big boost if he’s not in the starting lineup.
The above lineup would leave Jordin Mayes to handle backup point guard minutes (Johnson will continue to work at that position in practice, as well), with freshman guard Gabe York perhaps filling a sharp-shooting role off the bench.
That’s a rotation that can win the Pac-12, right?
Miller will have 10 scholarship players at his disposal, with Duquesne transfer point guard T.J. McConnell having to sit out this season per NCAA rules, and Arizona planning on redshirting junior college transfer forward Matt Korcheck.
Miller, who will be entering his fourth season at UA, has had to do some fast juggling this offseason after Arizona lost six scholarship players from last season — including the transfer of freshman point guard Josiah Turner to SMU.
He won’t be missed.
The roster appears to be to Miller’s liking.
“I think,” Miller said, “we have both feet on the ground for the first time.”