A few "ifs" must be answered

Doing what I do for a living I get a lot of questions about the Wildcats. E-mails and phone calls come in all the time. A trip to the barber shop could me an extra hour or two just talking UA sports. Although the questions tend to differ, one question always gets asked "how good is the basketball team going to be?"

From the start of August until tip off, this is the most frequent question I get asked. I always tend to answer it the same way, "they could be REALLY good if…"

Let's look at the "if's"

If Mustafa Shakur plays like he did in Philadelphia

Great guard play can take a team a long way in March and Shakur has the potential to be a great guard. This aspect of the Wildcats is so important that we've already written two stories on the point guard position.

To frank, if Shakur plays like he did in the two NCAA Tournament games last March the Cats will go a long way. If he reverts to the tentative performances we saw against UCLA last season then the Cats are merely a good team and not a great team.

If the Cats get production from the center spot

The power forward spot seems to be in more than capable hands with Ivan Radenovic, but the center spot is another story. Kirk Walters gets a final year to assert himself, but he will also be pushed by a number of unproven players.

Walters came to Arizona as a project, but Lute Olson touted the near seven-footer as a future NBA player. To date he has never shown that kind of consistency or ability. Walters will get every chance to be the starting center, but must make vast improvements over a year ago where he started 26 games but averaged just 6.1 points and had a rebounding average that was less than Shakur's.

The good news is that if Walters is not the answer there are other bodies. The bad news is that they are inexperienced or undersized.

Bret Brielmaier is a hard working, banger, but lacks height and is better suited as a physical presence off the bench. Like Brielmaier, Fendi Onobun lacks height and will also be seeing time at the wing.

Both Mohamed Tangara and Jordan Hill have good athletic ability and size, but neither has proved they can do it at the collegiate level. Tangara has been hampered by injuries and a lack of minutes, while Hill is an incoming freshman.

The Cats don't need superstar production from the center spot, but they do need to average about 10 and 8, plus get good defense from their big men. If they get this, the team should be balanced enough to make them very tough to stop.

If there are enough minutes to keep guys happy

It seems like we say this every year, but the Cats come into the season with unprecedented depth. There are talented bodies at ever position, but are there enough minutes to make guys content?

At point guard you have the incumbent Mustafa Shakur, J.P. Prince and incoming freshman Nic Wise. Although conventional wisdom would say that Wise would struggle to scratch out playing time, he has shown that he can be the kind of smart point guard who can play early at Arizona.

The wing is even worse. Most programs would kill to have Marcus Williams and Jawann McClellan starting, but there is no guarantee that the pair will start. Chase Budinger is too good not to play, and Daniel Dillon is not only a defensive stopper, but arguably the most improved player over the last two years. Add to the fact that Prince can play the wing and Fendi Onobun wants to see time there. That's six players assuming that David Bagga does not get playing time. You'd expect that Williams, McClellan and Budinger would get the bulk of the time, but Dillon was the Cats' best player in the Canada trip and could be the team's best defender.

The post also has a ton of bodies but few sure things. We all know that Ivan Radenovic is inked in at the four and you'd expect the senior to log in the neighborhood of 30 minutes a night. That leaves about 50 minutes for the rest of the bigs. Kirk Walters will assuredly get his fair share of time and everyone is raving about the play of freshman Jordan Hill. Bret Brielmaier's physicality and smart play will earn him playing time. Mohamed Tangara is improved, while Onobun's strength and speed make his a very unique player on the Pac-10.

IF Olson can work out a rotation and IF the players accept their roles and minutes, watch out.

If these guys can get along:

There have been some chemistry problems the past few years. Even the Elite Eight team two years ago had some issues with guys getting along. Last year was bad, and we all remember the debacle that was 2004.

This year the guys are saying all the right things. So far this team is getting along and more importantly, having fun. The question is whether it can last.

You have a handful of players with at least one eye on the NBA. This was trouble in 2004, and to a lesser extent last season, when some guys were playing more to impress scouts than to win basketball games. Mustafa Shakur, Marcus Williams and Ivan Radenovic are all likely to be drafted next spring, and the fear is that the desire to be an NBA player will overshadow the season.

You also have an influx of players. With limited minutes available, it is not inconceivable that some guys become disenchanted with their role. In recent years players have left the program because they do not like their role, and transfers seem to be the norm, not the exception.

There have been speculation about players considering leaving the program. The most frequent name is J.P. Prince, but he insists he is happy and ready to improve upon his freshman season.

Players like Daniel Dillon and Mohamed Tangara are also hoping to build upon their roles from a year ago.

For now everyone appears to be content and happy. A happy team is usually a winning team. IF this team can remain happy, content and on the same page, then good things will happen.

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