Scrimmage sheds some light on substitutions

The Cats participated in their fourth open scrimmage since practice started and for the first time Lute Olson tipped his hand to what his rotation may be. Instead of breaking up the teams for competitive balance, Olson sent his first seven up against four walk-ons and Kirk Walters. The game gave us a glimpse into what we might see from the team.

The starters won the game 115-72 and were never really threatened. They had some trouble shaking the upstarts early on, but it was clear that the starting group would have no trouble dispatching the team of practice players.

The most interesting thing about the scrimmage was the strategies employed by Olson. He began the game with a two big man, three perimeter player line-up. It was a very traditional line-up for the Wildcats, with Isaiah Fox and Channing Frye down low and Mustafa Shakur, Salim Stoudamire and Andre Iguodala roaming the outside.

Things got interesting on the first substitution. The Cats went with four perimeter players and just one big man inside. Both Iguodala and Hassan Adams will play inside during this line-up, but they will spend more time at their natural perimeter positions. The Cats lose a lot of height with this line-up employed, but still rebound well. Iguodala has great instincts and his reach makes him a very tough rebounder. Adams has his amazing vertical leap, but also has good strength and pretty good instincts.

What was very interesting was a line-up that used Chris Rodgers at the three along with a backcourt of Shakur and Stoudamire. Essentially the team had two centers, a point guard and two-combo guards. Rodgers is around 6-4 and really does not give up too much height, especially with his great quickness and defensive tenacity.

The biggest question is which guards will start. Olson has always picked his early season starters by who rebounds the best and that appears to be this year's criteria.

"It's still very close with the guards," Olson said. "Today it got even closer. We have three guys tied with Chris, Mustafa and Salim. Hassan missed time this week, so we will take an average for him."

Adams missed the Red/Blue Scrimmage due to illness and seems to still be bothered by what he describes as a virus. He played with both a long sleeve and short sleeve shirt on under his jersey and wore a sweatshirt when he was on the bench.

Although Olson commented that early on he may set a record for the most substitutions in a game, it is becoming apparent that he won't dip deep into the bench. It appears the Cats will primarily use a seven-man rotation, with Kirk Walters getting spot minutes when the Cats need an extra big man. Walters continues to improve and shows flashes of brilliance, but still has a way to go before he logs serious minutes.

"Kirk will be there," Olson stated. "Kirk's going to be a player eventually. I just don't know how long it will take."

Beau Muhlbach and Matt Brase have both shown that they are great competitors who may be able to contribute. Don't expect a lot of key minutes from the two newest walk-ons, but the team seems comfortable with the pair if they are needed.

Lute was pleased how well the undermanned white team played. They ran off six in a row before the half and cut the starters' lead to 14 at the intermission.

"The white team played really hard," Olson said. "They didn't have any subs like the blue team did."

While Cat fans are worried about post depth, most teams around the country would kill to have a threesome like the Cats have. Isaiah Fox continues to impress on the offensive end and if he can improve his rebounding, he could be in for a very nice season. Frye is simply developing into one of the best big men in school history. He's especially impressive when he has some rest. When he does not have to go the full 20, as he has at times in scrimmages, he runs the floor as well or better than any center in the country.

The Cats can go a long way. They will still be vulnerable to teams with effective, physical post play. A team like Texas could give them fits. The good news is most teams in the Pac-10 Conference are finesse teams and there are few teams in college basketball who will be able to run with the Wildcats.

In many ways this is a team modeled as Olson would like. He does not have to go deep into the bench to be fair to deserving players. He's always preferred a seven or eight-man rotation and that is really all he has. He doesn't have to worry about scholarship players desiring more minutes, because with just eight scholarship players there are plenty of minutes to go around.

Things look bright around McKale, even if the bench area has plenty of seating.


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