After an embarrassing first-round loss, the Arizona Wildcats retool looking to not only win the Pac-12, but the NCAA Tournament.
As is tradition, CBB Review is again ranking the top 100 teams heading into the new college basketball season. Each day, we will reveal the next team until we reach the team slotted at number one. Follow along with #CBBRank on all our social media channels.
Since Tommy Lloyd took over as the Arizona coach, the Wildcats have been nearly unbeatable, going 61-11 with two conference tournament championships. Unfortunately, the Wildcats are yet to see this translate to the NCAA Tournament, especially last year after they were shocked by the Princeton Tigers, the 15 seed in the Round of 64.
The biggest reason for their success was Azuolas Tubelis, a back-to-back All-Pac 12 first-team member, and a second-team All-American last season. He is gone now, leaving the Wildcats in search of a replacement of their star. They have options, with the most notable being Oumar Ballo. Ballo was an absolute beast last year, averaging 14 PPG and forming a nearly unstoppable frontcourt last season. We’ll talk more about Ballo later.
The biggest splash of the offseason was Caleb Love. Love, the former UNC Tar Heel initially committed to Michigan, but later flipped to become an Arizona Wildcat. Love could be the biggest boom or bust player in the country. Two seasons ago, Love was a college basketball superstar, being a key reason for UNC’s run to the championship game. Last year, however, he looked like a completely different player, failing to get it going many times and became an extremely inefficient player. Love’s performance this season determines how far Arizona can go, something to monitor throughout the season.
They brought in several other transfers, including Jaden Bradley from Alabama and Keshad Johnson from San Diego State. Both players should be big-time impact players for the Wildcats, especially from a depth perspective. They also bring back two key players in Pelle Larsson and Kylan Boswell. Many people in the college basketball world believe Boswell has the potential to be a star in college basketball one day, and this will be a good opportunity for him to showcase that.
The Wildcats did themselves no favors in scheduling in the nonconference, playing against three of the preseason top 5 teams. Oh yeah, none of them are at home either. Duke is a road game, and Michigan State and Purdue are neutral-site matchups. That’s not all, they also play #10 FAU and #24 Alabama in the non-conference slate. This is arguably the hardest non-conference schedule in the whole country.
Luckily, the Pac-12 looks to be more of the same in its final season. They’ll have 3-4 teams at the top, with those being USC, Colorado, UCLA, and themselves, then a bunch of average teams. This will be Tommy Lloyd’s toughest test yet, but he and his team feel more than capable of being just as successful this season.
Click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams heading into the 2023-24 college basketball season.
Head coach: Tommy Lloyd (3rd season, all at Arizona)
2022-23 record: 28-7 (14-6)
2023 postseason finish: Lost to Princeton, 59-55, in first round of NCAA Tournament
Notable departures: Azuolas Tubelis (NBA), Courtney Ramey (Graduated), Kerr Kriisa (Transferred to West Virginia), Cedric Henderson (Graduated)
Notable non-conference games: at Duke (Nov. 10), vs. Belmont (Nov. 17), vs. Michigan State (Nov. 23), vs. Colgate (Dec. 2), vs. Wisconsin (Dec. 9), vs. Purdue (Dec. 16, in Indianapolis), vs. Alabama (Dec. 20), vs. FAU (Dec. 23, in Las Vegas)
PG: Kylan Boswell (6-2, 200, So.)
2022-23 stats: 4.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.6 APG
SG: Caleb Love (6-4, 205, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 16.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.1 SPG (UNC)
SF: Pelle Larsson (6-5, 215, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 9.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.1 APG
PF: Keshad Johnson (6-7, 225, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 7.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.7 APG (San Diego State)
C: Oumar Ballo (7-0, 260, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 14.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.3 BPG
6: Jaden Bradley (6-3, 200, So.)
2022-23 stats: 6.4 PPG, 3.1 APG, 2.6 RPG (Alabama)
7: KJ Lewis (6-4, 205, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 85 rated recruit
8: Paulius Murauskas (6-8, 225, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 107 rated recruit
9: Henri Veesaar (7-0, 225, So.)
2022-23 stats: 2.4 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.5 APG
10: Dylan Anderson (7-0, 240, So.)
2022-23 stats: 1.4 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 0.1 APG
Arizona Wildcats MVP: Oumar Ballo
The more he gets involved, the better not only he is, but the team itself. Last year, his minutes went up from 15.2 to 27.6, and as a result, his points increased by 7.4, rebounds by 4.2, and assists by 1. He also did this on 65% shooting from the field, an impressive number. Remember, this is all as the second frontcourt option.
Now, he has the keys, and with his 7-0, 260 frame, there are little to no players in the whole country that can match up with him on both ends of the floor. He’s not much of a threat outside the perimeter, but has a soft touch around the rim and doesn’t try to force anything. He had 12 double-doubles in 25 games, including a 30-point 13-rebound performance in the Maui championship game against an eventual Elite 8 team in Creighton. Against the eventual runner-up San Diego State, Ballo shot 5-for-6 and grabbed nine rebounds while battling foul trouble.
As we see with most players, a year of experience plus an increased role leads to great success, and we expect Ballo to do so fully. In a conference with many talented players, he is my pick for player of the year.
Arizona Wildcats make-or-break player: Caleb Love
As I mentioned earlier, Caleb Love could be the biggest make-or-break player in the country. Looking at his stats last year, you might actually think he improved, but that is not the case. Against Power 6 teams who made the tournament last season, Love shot 67-of-210, or 31.9% from the field, and 26-of-104, or 25% from three. Those are not the numbers you want to see from your star. His most notable game was against Alabama, where he played 58 minutes and scored 34 points, but did so on 13-of-36 shooting, including many selfish and bad shots in those overtime periods to extend the games.
However, there will always be the memories of his postseason performance in the 2021-22 NCAA Tournament, where he scored 23+ points three times and put the team on his back to beat UCLA and Duke on their way to the National Championship game. They need to find that Caleb Love again, and they can. Lloyd is great at playing to his players’ strengths, and without another ball-dominant guard at his side, Love should reap the benefits.
Defensively, he’ll most likely be a liability, but if he can make up for it on the other end then no one will seem to mind. Plus, when you have a 7-0, 260-pound man in the paint, teams will have to shoot their way to victory anyway.
Boswell and Bradley are both solid guards, and perhaps Boswell can be the player many think Love will be, but Love’s offensive talent and experience can’t be replicated.
Key analytic: Offensive Efficiency
In both years under Coach Tommy Lloyd, Arizona has finished top 10 in AdjO, finishing 7th in his first season and 10th last season. When he was an assistant at Gonzaga, he finished in the top 50 all 20 years, including 1st three times, and top 3 five times. The bottom line, this guy can coach offense. In every season since 2014 and in 21 of the 24 seasons since KenPom was invented, the national champion finished top 10 in offensive efficiency.
Heading into this season, the Arizona Wildcats are projected to be 4th in this category. Offense wins championships, and although this hasn’t led to one yet for Tommy Lloyd and the Wildcats, they are due and have the personnel if their guys can play to their peak capabilities.
Arizona Wildcats 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 1st in the Pac-12
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament championship game