As impressive and drama packed as the out of conference season was for Arizona, Cats' fans couldn’t help but feel that they were watching a far from finished product and understandably so. With a nucleus that features three freshmen, inconsistent play was inevitable.
The fact that Arizona has perhaps more room to grow than any other national title contender should be quite maddening to any other school in the Pac-12 hoping to compete for a conference championship. If the Cats were able to go undefeated against the likes of Florida and San Diego State while receiving little to no support from seven footer Kaleb Tarczewski, imagine what havoc they might bring when the former high school All-American becomes more assertive.
Arizona is beatable right now. Come March, it has the ability to become an unstoppable machine captained by a trio of experienced seniors.
No game better portrayed the incompleteness of the country’s third ranked team than the Diamond Head Classic final. Facing a San Diego State squad with modest size and a couple dangerous scorers, Arizona’s freshmen big men were for the most part helpless.
Tarczewski, by far the tallest player on the court, had zero points and zero rebounds. He passed the ball out of the low post nearly every time it was given to him and not once could he avoid a box out to grab a crucial offensive board.
If he hadn’t recorded a career-high 13 rebounds two nights before, perhaps the performance wouldn’t have been so frustrating. At the same time, it’s a reminder that when the center adjusts to the physicality of the college level, he should become more of a dependable force down low. And it is definitely a matter of when.
Now as for the continued dropped passes by Tarczewski, it is a matter of overcoming the speed of the college game. For a player who showed great hands in high school, that's something that will come along with repetition.
Fellow freshmen Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley have also had their share of erratic play. Jerrett scored more than seven points just twice this season while logging over 17 minutes. His two baseline jumpers in the late minutes of the Florida game appeared to signal a shift in scoring confidence but he had more fouls (2) than points (1) against the Aztecs.
Ashley is the leading scorer and rebounder among the three yet failed to score in a third of the Cats’ first 12 games.
It would be amiss to only point out the negative performances of the freshmen. Ashley has already recorded two double-doubles, Jerrett’s range from outside is something very few post players in college possess, and Tarczewski gives Arizona size in the paint that it could have only dreamed of in years past.
But all three are lightyears away from being NBA lottery picks and that bodes well for Arizona in the short and long term. If they continue to progress at a healthy rate, the Cats will have one of the more feared front lines in the nation come Selection Sunday. Mix that in with the poise of Nick Johnson, and the all-around leadership and skill sets of Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons, and Kevin Parrom and you have a team more than capable of cutting down the nets in Atlanta.
Until then, Ashley, Jerrett, and Tarczewski will have 18 opportunities plus the Pac-12 tournament to transform from apprehensive freshmen to formidable big men. If talent is any indication, all three will be just fine.