Versatile Wildcats on the rise again

Versatile Wildcats on the rise again

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Claims of Arizona's return to prominence last season turned out to be a bit premature, derailed by injuries, suspensions and unfulfilled promise.

There's no reason to think it'll happen again this year.

With another stellar recruiting class by coach Sean Miller, a transfer guard who could be a star and a talented core of returning players, the Wildcats appear ready to re-claim their spot among the college basketball elite.

And not just for this season.

The way Miller has built the program during his three years in the desert, Arizona, ranked No. 12 in the AP preseason Top 25, is set up to be good for the long haul.

``I believe with the talent level that we have on this year's team, some of the experience that we combine with it, we are positioned to be good and to do great things,'' Miller said. ``What those are though, I don't know yet.''

Expectations were high at Arizona last season after the Wildcats came within a few seconds of the Final Four the year before and Miller added a stellar four-player recruiting class.

The projections fell short.

Point guard Jordin Mayes was bothered by a nagging foot injury and forward Kevin Parrom wasn't the same player he was the year before after being shot and losing both his mother and grandmother just before the season.

Freshman forward Sidiki Johnson left the team in December and point guard Josiah Turner was suspended twice before transferring at the end of the season.

The Wildcats won 23 games, but missed the NCAA tournament and finished off the season with a big thud, losing to Bucknell at home in the opening game of the NIT.

Expectations are again up there this season, though they seem to be a little more on target.

A master recruiter, Miller again pulled together one of the best classes in the country, a group that includes four of the best incoming big men in the country.

Athletic guard Nick Johnson and physical forward Angelo Chol, two of the four players from Miller's previous recruiting class, are back. Parrom and Mayes are both healthy and forward Solomon Hill, an All-Pac-12 player last season, moves to his natural position of small forward.

If that wasn't enough, the Wildcats brought in point guard Mark Lyons.

A graduate of Xavier, Lyons has a year of eligibility left after helping the Musketeers reach the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. Quick, heady and a good finisher at the rim, not to mention a strong on-the-ball defender, he could end up being one of the best transfers in college basketball this season, a player who could put the Wildcats over the top.

``Adding him to our team is very unique because he is a talented player, but the experience I described (three trips to Sweet 16) is really difficult to put into words,'' Miller said. ``He gives us competitiveness, toughness and he's been in the arena in a big game.''

The other four newcomers aren't bad, either.

One of Arizona's weaknesses last season was its lack of depth in the frontcourt.

It should become a strength this season with the addition of 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-10 forward Grant Jerrett and 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley.

All four are athletic and versatile, giving the Wildcats a revolving door of big men who can swap in and out - with the 6-9 Chol - without a fear of them getting tired or a drop-off in talent.

They also should benefit Hill, who has played out of position pretty much since high school. Often matched up against bigger opponents his first three seasons at Arizona, he can now shift from the bruising blocks toward the perimeter, where he can better utilize his shooting touch, passing and ability to beat players off the dribble.

``It's always great to have depth,'' Hill said. ``That's the reason we were successful two years ago and the reason we'll be successful this year.''

Unlike last season, the Wildcats have reason to believe claims like that are legit.

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.