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Arizona basketball: Let the season of high expectations begin

Sean Miller

Sean Miller might be doing a lot of smile at NCAA Tournament press conferences next season. Photo by Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

With “One Shining Moment” still buzzing around inside our heads, it’s time to look to the next college basketball season.

Can’t wait, can you, Arizona fans?

Last week’s commitment from five-star recruit Aaron Gordon has pushed the Wildcats into elite status in the way-too-early projections for the 2013-14 season.

First up after Louisville roared past Michigan in the national championship Monday night was the Las Vegas oddsmakers. They installed Arizona as the eighth-best bet to win the 2014 title, at 18-to-1 odds.

Over the next 12 hours or so, three major media outlets released rankings for next season. It all will get further adjusted with offseason transfers, signings, defections, but the Wildcats appear stable amid any potential noise around them.

Top scorers Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill are gone — as is Kevin Parrom, who provided 3-point shooting and energy — but the introduction of point guard T.J. McConnell, the return of Nick Johnson, the further maturation of big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett, and the addition of another stellar recruiting class make the Cats, at the very least, the easy favorite to win the Pac-12.

Here are three national projections (each of which have Kentucky on top):

USA Today: Arizona No. 7. The Wildcats’ freshman class gets a grade of A+. “Gordon and Chester (Pa.) small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are the gems in what is far and away the Pac-12′s best class,” writes USA Today.

ESPN.com: Arizona No. 4. Writes Jason King: “Whether the Wildcats are a good team or an elite one will depend on the play of freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.”

CBSSports.com: Arizona No. 4.

And here is a more statistical-based projection from RealGM.com, which puts the Cats at No. 7. Writes Dan Hanner: “The model is mostly concerned whether Sean Miller can bring together an elite defensive team. Last year was Miller’s best defensive team yet, but it still wasn’t an elite defensive team. Until Miller gets his team to play great defense for a full season, there will always be reasons to be skeptical.”

You can find more early projections from various outlets — and more will pop up over the next couple of days — but, for Arizona, they will all amount to the same thing. Next season can’t get here soon enough.

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