Arizona won a Pac-10 championship and made an Elite Eight appearance last season under Sean Miller, and the respect level for what the coach has accomplished has many believing the Wildcats will be back on top this season despite losing Derrick Williams to the NBA draft. His fellow coaches seem to think so, as they ranked Arizona ahead of UCLA and Cal in the preseason poll.
But Miller wouldn't pick his own team as the favorite so far, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
"It would be split between Cal and UCLA, because of Cal's experience and UCLA's strength inside," Miller said of his hypothetical pick. "I wouldn't think that we would be the favorite. Hopefully we can compete for the championship, but UCLA's size and Cal's experience, to me, trumps what we have right now."
Miller said UCLA's "physical size is scary" and the Bruins have to be one of the bigger teams in college basketball. Cal has a strong returning core in guard Jorge Gutierrez, wing Allen Crabbe and forward Harper Kamp, Miller added.
"Those two stand out, Washington is always very good," Miller said, "and there's always going to be those one or two teams that surprise you."
Arizona is without its top two scorers from last season and is being cautious about forward Kevin Parrom's status after the junior was shot during a visit to New York in September. It does have Kyle Fogg expected to take a step forward and one of the top incoming freshmen classes in the nation. Until the Wildcats begin playing games, it's not easy to tell how this team will stack up against UCLA's talented frontcourt and Cal's returning players.
But note that in Miller's statement, he does use the words "right now" when saying the Bruins and Bears are further ahead at this stage. Give him time to get freshman point guard Josiah Turner acclimated to the offense and line up big men Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson alongside Jesse Perry, and then we'll see who finishes where in the end.
Preseason predictions, after all, are just guesswork.