CBS’s Norlander ranks Arizona basketball in top 30, ASU in top 100

Oct 17, 2021, 9:30 AM | Updated: 9:33 am

CBS Sports senior writer Matt Norlander placed solid expectations on Arizona basketball this season, rankings the Wildcats 29th in his preseason national rankings.

Norlander ranked all 358 Division I teams in the nation over the last three days. The top 68 teams were revealed on Thursday with the rest of the top 200 teams released on Wednesday.

The Wildcats are fourth in Norlander’s rankings among Pac-12 teams, which aligns with the Wildcats’ placing in a tie for fourth place in the Pac-12’s preseason media poll.

ASU, meanwhile, is 82nd in Norlander’s national ranking. The Sun Devils are ranked eighth among Pac-12 teams.

The 2021-22 season will be the first season for Tommy Lloyd as Arizona’s head coach after a two-decade period as an assistant coach at Gonzaga.

Norlander said that Arizona may not be a top 25 quality team before Pac-12 play begins, but the Wildcats have the potential to work their way to that position. He cited three returning players that will make a difference for the Wildcats in the wake of James Akinjo’s departure for Baylor.

Lloyd is playing with house money in year one, so look for Zona to be loose and free. The most productive player Lloyd did not retain was James Akinjo, but in the end I think that will serve Arizona better. U of A has six new players in the fold, but it’s three particular guys still here — from last season’s roster — who are the most important factors in getting Arizona to the Big Dance in ’22: 6-11 Azuolas Tubelis (12.2 ppg), 6-7 Benedict Mathurin (10.8 ppg) and 7-1 Christian Koloko (5.3 ppg) will be an unorthodox trio that could grow into a tricky collective mismatch for many Pac-12 teams.

Mathurin earned preseason All-Pac-12 First Team honors while Tubelis is on the preseason All-Pac-12 Second Team.

The Sun Devils are in a top 100 position mainly because of the return of sophomore forward Marcus Bagley. Norlander said that Bagley will need to produce at an elite level for ASU to achieve NCAA Tournament ambitions.

After some thoughtful deliberation, Marcus Bagley wound up being one of the surprise returnees to college basketball. He is going to need to be a 16-and-10 guy to give the Sun Devils a chance at making the NCAAs. Toledo transfer Marreon Jackson will be tossed into the fire, but he proved it a level below with averages of 18.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists last season.

Bagley earned a place in the preseason All-Pac-12 First Team. No other Sun Devils are on the all-conference preseason lists. Jackson’s performance last season earned him the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year award.

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