Pac-12 champion Arizona is not expected to defend its men’s basketball crown in 2022-23, according to a vote of 33 media members who cover the league and announced UCLA in the preseason top spot and the Wildcats at No. 2 prior to media day on Wednesday.
Arizona lost three players to the NBA Draft, but head coach Tommy Lloyd is confident returnees Kerr Kriisa, Azuolas Tubelis and Pelle Larsson can evolve into team leaders for several key transfers and freshmen.
“We’re excited to start a new journey,” Lloyd said on Wednesday. “Obviously we’ve got a great group of guys. (Kriisa and Tubelis) have done a great job this preseason getting this team ready to roll. So we’re excited to see what the season brings.”
The Wildcats posted a 33-4 record and won the conference title by three games in 2021-22, Lloyd’s first season. He said a strong culture is firmly in place.
“We wanted to establish a style of play (last season),” Lloyd said. “We wanted to implement a system with great pace, great player movement, great ball movement. On defense we want to be tenacious. We want to really pressure the basketball. And I really wanted to hammer home, more than anything, the effort and energy that we’re going to play with every single day.”
Arizona went to the Sweet 16 last season, a relatively disappointing result after entering the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed with a 31-3 record.
Despite losing Bennedict Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko in the draft, Lloyd is not lowering the bar after 2021-22. Even if he views this as a new story.
“I didn’t set any limitations,” he said. “I mean, let’s see how good we can get, and these guys did an unbelievable job last year of just getting better week by week. When we lost, we learned from it. So it was a joy. All these seasons are journeys, and they kind of unfold and become their own story. So that’s what makes it fun.
“But I wasn’t trying to script what we were doing last year. I was just trying to give these guys everything I got, and I was just trying to kind of follow their lead, and they did an amazing job.”
UCLA, which is ranked No. 8 nationally in the preseason, received 26-of-33 first-place votes in the Pac-12 media poll. Arizona, ranked 17th nationally, got three first-place votes.
Transfers Courtney Ramey (Texas) and Cedric Henderson (Campbell) on the wings should help return some experience to Arizona’s roster, while freshmen Dylan Anderson, Henri Veesaar and Kylan Boswell could contribute.