November 12, 2015

(AP) - Arizona coach Sean Miller seems to warn against early expectations every season. Even when the Wildcats had nearly everyone back from an Elite Eight team last season, he preached patience.

With a batch of new players and veterans filling new roles, the 12th-ranked Wildcats may need even more time to jell this season.

''I think that we'll be that team - if given the benefit of health - that in February we could be a much better team than maybe we are at the beginning of the year in November when we're trying to put all of this together,'' Miller said.

Arizona went 34-4 last season and reached the Elite Eight for the second straight season, again losing to Wisconsin.

This Wildcats team debuts Friday night against Pacific looking much different after losing Stanley Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

The only returning starter will be 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, who has been in the middle all four seasons of his career. Sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright gets a chance to run the team at point guard after a year as McConnell's understudy and streaky-shooting senior guard Gabe York returns as well.

Junior shooting guard Elliott Pitts and sophomore center Dusan Ristic are the only other players who played any significant minutes last season and will be expected to play bigger roles.

Joining them will be some veteran transfers and another batch of talented freshmen.

Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefson have Division I experience - Anderson at Boston College and Tollefson at San Francisco - and Kadeem Allen was the national JUCO player of the year before sitting out as a transfer last season.

Dynamic guard Allonzo Trier, one of the nation's top prospects, is expected to have an immediate impact, but the Wildcats took a hit when fellow talented freshman Ray Smith tore his ACL in practice last month.

Arizona still is exceptionally deep - the rotation could go 9-10 deep - and even with all the turnover the Wildcats were picked to repeat as Pac-12 champions for a third straight season in the preseason media poll.

''Hopefully the way they picked it, it finishes that way,'' Miller said. ''That means a lot of good things have happened for us.''

Tarczewski has been the anchor on defense since he arrived as a freshman in 2013, making it difficult for opposing offenses even when he isn't blocking shots. Tarczewski, whose nickname is Zeus, has worked on his offensive game, trying to become more than a dunker and scorer around the rim. He's also smart, on pace to graduate from Arizona's prestigious business school, and has a chance to leave school with more wins than any player in school history, which is saying something with this program's history.

Jackson-Cartwright learned some valuable lessons playing behind McConnell, the gritty, heady point guard who earned a roster spot with the Philadelphia 76ers as an undrafted free agent. PJC used his quickness effectively at both ends as a freshman and bulked up during the offseason to better handle the rigors of playing point guard in the Pac-12.

Arizona has had some stellar freshmen under Miller, including Derrick Williams, Aaron Gordon and Johnson last season. Trier could fit that same mold. An athletic 6-6 guard, Trier is a good deep shooter with a tough-to-defend step-back shot and is a superb finisher at the rim. With York returning at shooting guard, Trier will likely have time to develop instead of being thrust into a starting role right out of the gate.

One Wildcats player that Pacific is familiar with is Tollefson, who averaged 19.0 points in San Francisco's three games against the Tigers last season.

Pacific lost all of those games and the last one came in the opening round of the West Coast Conference tournament, capping a 12-19 season. Things aren't expected to be much better this season with the Tigers picked to finish toward the bottom, though they've won six straight season openers and the last two were on the road - on buzzer beaters at Nevada and Western Illinois.

Junior guard T.J. Wallace is a preseason all-WCC pick after leading the team with 13.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game in 2014-15.

He'll again play alongside high school teammate Ray Bowles, the only Pacific player to start all 31 games last season even though he was a freshman. Bowles became a bigger part of the offense as the season went along, scoring in double figures in six of his final 13 games.

The Tigers have lost 15 straight against ranked opponents since upsetting Providence in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. They've lost three of four all-time meetings with Arizona but haven't faced the Pac-12 power since 1976.

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