As the upcoming college basketball season nears, many national pundits have the Arizona Wildcats ranked in the top 10. Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports picked UA to win the Pac-12 and reach the Final Four. Doug Gottlieb picked the Cats to win the national championship.
Yes, the national championship.
With such high expectations, many wonder if this team is not mentally prepared for the side effects. After all, this is the same program that was ranked in the top-20 polls last season just to fall flat on their faces before exiting to Bucknell in the first round of the NIT.
Nick Johnson was a member of last season's team that fell short. Johnson says he learned a lot in his freshman campaign, and that the experts liking Arizona doesn't bother him.
"You welcome it, but you also can't give into the hype," said Johnson. "You have to put in the work and everything will take care of itself."
While hindsight is 20-20, there were plenty of glaring weaknesses with last year's team that are simply not present with this year's squad.
A lack of size? Sean Miller went out and added three five-star freshmen to control the paint.
A lack of a proven point guard? Mark Lyons has started 66 games in the last three years.
Depth? Look for the Cats to go 10-deep during non-conference play to begin the season.
The pieces are all in place for a memorable campaign in Tucson. And while some fans may not be fond of the high ranking to begin the year, the players couldn't be more welcoming to the added pressure each time they take the floor.
"It's great," Lyons said of the preseason expectations. "But weren't not that good. We've got to get better every day and honor the process."
It's safe to say everyone learned their lesson in Tucson last year. Get excited about the team, but don't let perception become reality. Given the amount of veteran leadership and talent on the roster, it's tough to imagine coach Miller allowing his team to fall into the same reckless patterns they were in a season ago.
With hard work, a commitment to improving every day and even a little bit of luck along the way, perhaps these Wildcats can live up to their lofty expectations come next March.