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Pac 10 Basketball Preview: Arizona

Let me take a moment to welcome Laughing Stock to our writing team! His Write-ups on the USC/Ohio State game before the series were excellent and very insightful. He will be sharing the duties with us here. We look forward to many more insightful posts... Paragon

With practice already underway it’s time to take a look at what to expect from all of the teams in the Pac-10. After the departures of freshman phenoms and experienced talent, it will be interesting to see how the Pac 10 recovers after being among the best conferences in College Basketball this past season. Who are the contenders? Who are the sleepers? Part 1 of our A-Z overview will take a look at Arizona.

Key Returners: Nic Wise (9.2 PPG, 4.4 APG), Chase Budinger (17.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.9 APG), Jordan Hill (13.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG)

Key Losses: Jerryd Bayless (19.7 PPG, 4.0 APG), Jawann McClellan (8.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.7 APG), Brandon Jennings (5 star, #1 PG).

Key Recruits: Jeff Withey (4/5 Rivals, #8 Center)

It has been a wild ride for Arizona this off season. Chase Budinger declared for the draft, was a projected lottery pick, then came back. Brandon Jennings was going to Arizona, then he did not have qualifying test scores, and while waiting for his retesting scores he simply decided he would be better off playing in Europe. Finally, Lute Olson returned from a season long hiatus only to abruptly fire multiple assistants and publicly calling out high profile recruit Emmanuel Negedu on his coachibility after Negedu asked for a release from his scholarship. Combine this with Arizona’s recent lack of success (consecutive first round exits and a 7th place finish last year) and the Wildcats definitely qualify as a program in turmoil.

But regardless of the behind the scenes drama, a team proves its worth on the court and Arizona still has plenty of talent. As mentioned above, Budinger is expected to be a lottery pick and it is not hard to see why. Not only can he hit the outside shot (38% on 3 pointers for the year), but with his athleticism and height (A deceptive 6’7”) he can also move to the hoop and pull down rebounds. In addition the front court is anchored by the workman like Jordan Hill who consistently put up double digits in points and had nine double-doubles on the season. Nic Wise rounds out the trio, and while he may not be on the same talent level as Hill or Budinger, Wise brings important experience to the critical PG position.

Although all three players have their issues (Budinger is an especially streaky shooter),but the biggest hurdle the Wildcats will face to being competitive is a glaring lack of depth. The graduation of McClellan and reserve Bret Brielmaier, the departure of Jerryd Bayless, and the loss of Jennings and Negedu from the recruiting side only exacerbate the issue for a team that had trouble going deep into the bench last year. It is even likely that recruit Jeff Withey will be expected to make a significant contribution early on as their front court is especially shallow. However, while Withey is highly rated he is certainly not an immediate impact kind of player. Arizona has some very talented players, but if there is no production from the bench then it may not even matter.

The starting five will likely be good enough to compete with any team in the conference, but Lute Olsen will have trouble finding any kind of spark off of the bench. Despite this issue, the Wildcats should still imporve on their conference standing from the previous season as many other teams are as equally depleted. Getting back to the up tempo offense they are known for should help, but will it be enough to keep the NCAA tourney streak alive and be competitive in the Pac?

Prediction: 5th (getting ever so slight an edge over Washington St.)


Only a day after publishing this story comes this from ESPN:

Arizona's Lute Olson is stepping down as the school's men's basketball coach, a source has told ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale.

Unexpected to say the least, and quite an unceremonious end of an era for UA hoops. All the better for USC, and I think you have to revise down expectations to 6th place for this upcoming season.