Looking Ahead: Point Guards

The irony of the 2005-06 season is that the Wildcats were beaten by a team with superior guard play. Granted, few teams, if any have better guards than Villanova, but it is a rare day that guard play beats the Wildcats. Unfortunately, the Cats were inconsistent at the point guard position, but will that be the case next season?

While there are tons of questions about the Arizona point guards, there are tons of positives as well. Arizona could return as many as four players who have handled point guard duties plus they add freshman Nic Wise.

The position has been manned for three years by Mustafa Shakur and next year he should be in that spot. Although Shakur had been at best inconsistent, but the last month of the season he looked more like the player who was billed as the nation's top point guard recruit not the player that had Arizona fans and coaches puzzled.

The past two games have Wildcat fans thrilled. Add to them his play in the Stanford game at the Pac-10 Tournament and you have a confident, skilled player. A player that Arizona could potentially ride a long way in next year's NCAA Tournament. Shakur was aggressive, but smart. He showed offensive skill, but did not press or force things. Most importantly, he was clearly a leader. THE leader.

The only problem for Wildcat fans is that maybe Shakur played too well. Many NBA analysts have long been intrigued by Shakur's size and quickness and after his performance in Philadelphia, his stock is as high as it ever has been.

With that said, Shakur has already informed people that, as of now, his intention is to not even test the waters, but to concentrate on his senior season. Although it wouldn't be a complete shock if he investigated his draft status, he has to realize that any shot at becoming a first rounder is predicated on his returning to the Wildcats next season. The rest of the point guard situation is also in flux. Freshman J.P. Prince has had a rocky first year at Arizona. He showed great promise in the early part of the season, but had been suspended on one occasion and has had his work ethic questioned. Although earlier in the season he stated that he was coming back to Tucson next fall, he backed off those claims following the Wildcats' loss to Villanova.

"I think I'll have a tough decision to make," Prince told the Tucson Citizen.

Prince showed great floor awareness, especially in terms of his passing and his ability to get the ball inside. His shot selection was iffy and he failed to improve on the defensive end. If Prince returns he'll need to buy into the Wildcat work ethic and become a better defender. With his size and vision he has so much upside that it would be a shame to lose him.

If Prince does not return, that will put added pressure on incoming freshman Nic Wise. Wise comes in with a ton of promise, but a load of questions as well. The undersized point guard is not built like traditional Wildcat guards. He's built more like former Wildcat Kelvin Eafon or even UConn's Khalid El Amin, minus the spare tire. He may not be long and he may not be tall, but Wise is a winner. He led his Kingwood high team to the 5A Texas Championship game two years in a row, winning it his junior season.

He has the potential to solve a few of the Wildcats' problems from last season. He has great basketball IQ and has been nothing short of solid in crunch time. A streak shooter, he is capable of knocking down several three pointers in a row. It remains to be seen if he can create his own shot against bigger point guards, but expect him to be able to knock down the open shot.

Like any true freshman, there is no guarantee that Wise will be able to play right away. He has to learn the Wildcat system, and you can never gauge how quickly a newcomer can pick things up.

If Prince leaves and Wise is not ready, and those are two big ifs, then you can expect a few different players to contend for minutes at the one. Marcus Williams handled the duties at times during Chris Rodgers' suspension and did a decent job. Daniel Dillon was recruited as a combo guard and with some improvements could play a bit at the one. Lute Olson has actually mentioned that Chase Budinger may be skilled enough to play point guard.

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