No. 2 Arizona opens season against Mount St. Mary's

Nov 14, 2014 - 4:34 PM Tucson, AZ ( - The second-ranked Arizona Wildcats will get their first taste of the 2014-15 season on Friday when they host the Mount Saint Mary's Mountaineers at the McKale Center.

At the end of the 2012 campaign, the Wildcats did not make the NCAA Tournament. In the two seasons since, they have been one of the best teams in college basketball. Following a Sweet 16 appearance in 2013, Arizona spent much of 2014 atop the Top-25 en route to earning the Pac-12 Conference's regular-season title and a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. However, the Wildcats fell short of the Final Four due to a heartbreaking, 64-63, setback against Wisconsin. Sean Miller has an extremely deep team yet again this season, and one that his hungry to build on last season's 33-5 finish.

The Mountaineers also competed in the NCAA Tournament last season after winning the Northeast Conference Tournament as the fourth seed. They won four- straight games overall before falling to Albany in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (71-64). The surge at the end of the campaign saved a rather pedestrian effort by Jamion Christian's club. Mount Saint Mary's posted an overall record of 16-17, including a 9-7 mark against the rest of the NEC. The team has won at least 16 games in back-to-back seasons following an 8-21 finish in 2012.

This bout marks the first-ever meeting between these two schools in men's basketball.

Although there are a ton of expectations weighing on the Wildcats, they are not without empty roster spots. Specifically, they need to find fill-ins for Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson and freshman phenom Aaron Gordon. Helping the cause will be the return of Brandon Ashley, who missed most of the stretch run last season with a foot injury. He averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game before going down, and he is the only double-digit scorer back from last season. However, expected improvements from Rondae Hollis- Jefferson (9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Kaleb Tarczewski (9.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg) make for an intimidating frontcourt, while T.J. McConnell (8.4 ppg, 5.3 apg) should continue to offer a steady hand at the point. Of course, the most exciting player for the Wildcats hasn't even played a collegiate game yet, as highly- touted recruit Stanley Johnson will make his debut on Friday.

If there was one thing Mount Saint Mary's did well last season it was score. The Mountaineers led the NEC in points per game (75.9), while ranking second in field goal percentage (.438). Unfortunately, none of their top offensive performers are back, with Rashad Whack (17.6 ppg), Julian Norfleet (17.2 ppg) and Sam Prescott (11.1 ppg) all gone. That leaves Taylor Danaher (7.1 ppg, 5 rpg) and Byron Ashe (7 ppg), who both have starting experience and the ability to become go-to scorers, as the top options. Gregory Graves (6.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) was a solid reserve last season and should be an even more important contributor this time around.

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