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From Beyond The Arc: 2023 Arizona Men’s Basketball Preview

Arizona is improving, but still has lofty goals to reach

Princeton v Arizona Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Head coach Tommy Lloyd enters his third season at the helm of the Wildcats, having taken over for a disgraced Sean Miller. In his first two seasons, Lloyd has done a commendable job of completely turning the Arizona program around. The Wildcats have ended in first or second place in the Pac-12 under Lloyd. Last season, AZ was a #2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament and defeated #1 UCLA 61-59. Going into the 2023 NCAA tournament, the Wildcats were a 2-seed, but were bounced out of the first round by #15 Princeton. (Princeton made it to the Sweet 16 and was defeated by Creighton).

UCLA v Arizona
Head coach Tommy Lloyd
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona finished 2022-23 at 28-7 (14-6, Pac-12). They prevailed in their OOC games against all their opponents, including #6 Tennessee, #10 Creighton, #14 Indiana, and #17 San Diego State. Other than their NCAA loss, all of Arizona’s losses came in Pac-12 conference play.

While the McHale Center can be inhospitable for the visiting team and difficult to squeak out a win, it is not on the level of Pauley Pavilion. The Wildcats did experience a couple of home losses during the Pac-12 season to Washington State and Arizona State. The remainder of Arizona’s losses were on the road to Utah, Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA.

Arizona v Oregon Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

As a team, the Wildcats shot 49.4% from the field (37.8% on threes), and 70.8% at the line. Their field goal percentage is what stands out here; they are easily the best in the Pac-12. Arizona is also an excellent rebounding team, especially off the defensive glass. Over the course of the season they averaged 6 more rebounds per game than the opposition, all being defensive rebounds.

Arizona had an enormous 19-man roster last season (and this season will have 18). Of that roster, nine players started or played all or most of the season’s games, and the other half of the roster played very little. The gap between the two is profound, and is perhaps the starkest that I’ve seen on any Pac-12 team.

Last year’s starters were 6-11 Jr. F Tubelis Azoulas, 7-0 R-Jr. C Oumar Ballo, 6-3 5th yr. G Courtney Ramey, 6-5 Jr. G Pelle Larsson, 6-3 Jr. G Kerr Kriisa, and 6-6 5th yr. G/F Cedric Henderson, Jr. Tubelis, Ballo, Ramey, and Kerr started and played nearly every game, while Larsson and Henderson played every game but divided starting duties relatively evenly between them.

The primary bench player was 6-2 Fr. G Kylan Boswell, who did not start but played in all 35 games. The other players off the bench that picked up meaningful minutes were 6-7 So. G Adama Bal and 7-0 Fr. F Henri Veesaar.

Azoulas Tubelis was nearly a force unto himself last season. He started in 34 of 35 games, and averaged 19.8 PPG on 30.1 MPG, with 9.1 RPG (the PPG and RPG were highest on the team, and meant that he nearly averaged a doube-double in every game last season). Tubelis shot 57% from the field (31.3% on threes), and 76.4 % at the line. He led the team in steals with 40 and was also second on the team in blocks with 24.

Oumar Ballo started and played all 35 games. He averaged 14.2 PPG, 27.6 MPG, and 8.6 RPG. Ballo shot 64.7 % from the field (does not shoot threes), and 56.5% at the line. Of course, he led the team in blocks with 45.

Courtney Ramey started and played in 32 games, averaging 10.5 PPG in 31.0 MPG with 3.9 RPG. He was second on the team in steals with 34. Ramey shot 39.8% from the field (40.3% from distance), and 54.1% at the line.

Pelle Larsson played in all 35 games and started in 18. He averaged 9.9 PPG in 27.4 MPG with 4.3 RPG. Larsson shot 47.2% from the field (35.6% on threes), and 83.5% at the stripe.

Kerr Kriisa started in 34 of the 35 games he played. He averaged 9.9 PPG in 31.2 MPG with 2.4 RPG. Kriisa was the assists leader on the team with 5.1 APG. He shot 37.2% from the field (36.6% on threes), and 76.7% at the line.

Cedric Henderson Jr. started in 20 of the 35 games he played. Henderson averaged 8.1 PPG on 23.1 MPG with 3.5 RPG. He shot 46.2% from the field (40,2% on threes) and 76.4% at the stripe.

Kylan Boswell did not start in any games but played every game last season. He averaged 15.2 MPG, shooting 45% from the field (39% from distance) and 78.9% at the line.

The others that played significant numbers of games during the season were Henri Veesaar (29) and Adama Bal (26).

For the 2023-24 season, Arizona returns Oumar Ballo, Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell, and Henri Veesaar. Also returning from last year’s team are Dylan Anderson, Will Menaugh, Filip Borvicanin, and Grant Weitman.

The Wildcats return their entire freshman and nearly all of their true sophomore class from last season.

5th years Cedric Henderson Jr., Courtney Ramey, and Matthew Lang ran out of eligibility. Senior Jordan Mains graduated.

Azoulas Tubelis declared for the NBA draft. He was not drafted and signed with the 76ers.

Adama Bal transferred to Santa Clara. Tautvilas Tubelis explored the NBA draft along with his twin brother Azoulas, but was not picked up and there is no further information on where he went. Ben Ackerley transferred to USC. Kerr Kriisa transferred to West Virginia. Luc Krystkowiak is no longer with the team and there is no information on his whereabouts.

Arizona has brought in five freshmen in 2023:

The freshman class is highlighted by 4* 6-4 G KJ Lewis. Lewis comes from El Paso, TX, but grew up in Tuscon. He was nationally the #85 recruit coming out of high school.

6-8 F Paulius Murauskas is a 4* recruit from Kaunas, Lithuania. He was nationally the #107 recruit.

Motiejus Krivas is a 3* 7-2 C from Siauliai, Lithuania. He was the #135 ranked recruit nationally.

Will KuyKendall is a 6-3 G from Santa Maria, CA.

Jackson Cook is a walk-on 6-3 G from Oxford, England.

Sean Miller’s last three seasons were lackluster at Arizona, to say the least, and he was fired as a result, because the Wildcats will not stand for being a middling basketball team. Tommy Lloyd has returned Arizona to their winning ways and it has generated excitement again in Tuscon.

However, last season’s drubbing in the NCAA tournament at the hands of a 15-seed is a stark reminder that Arizona has not completely returned to their days of glory. The Wildcats need to replace the production of three essential starters, reload, and shoot for a deeper postseason run this season. Can they do it? That will be the major story line to watch for this year’s Arizona Wildcats.