Can the Wildcats get good point guard play?
Although staff writer Erik Thompson touched on this question last week, I think it needs further examination. It is my belief that if the Cats can get good play from the PG spot, they can be an elite team. They have scorers, the defense appears improved and they should be able to consistently shoot from the outside.
Is Jerryd Bayless ready to play PG at a high level? Has Nic Wise improved enough to assume the role? The smart money is on Bayless being the starter when the season begins. Although he played PG in high school, many recruiting experts feel he is better suited for the off guard position. The Wildcats don't seem to be in that camp. Bayless was recruited to play the point and will get every chance to play point guard. He does not have to have as good of a freshman year as Mike Bibby did to lead the Cats, but he has to be more consistent than Mustafa Shakur was his first year.
Wise won't be going down without a fight. He's in the best shape of his life and has worked hard to get his chance. Before getting to Arizona he was seen as a great pass-first point guard prospect, but struggled to learn the system last year and was prone to poor decision making and taking too many shots.
Can the Cats get good post play?
The bodies are there, but is there enough talent? Jordan Hill already looks better and should be a factor inside, but no one else is a sure thing. The Cats want Kirk Walters to be the guy. With his size, he has the best chance to be a shot blocker and rebounding presence inside, but his endurance is still weakened and he has yet to prove he can be a 25+ minutes a game player.
The bodies are there, Bret Brielmaier, Fendi Onobun, Mohamed Tangara and Alex Jacobson are all fighting for minutes and don't count out Jamelle Horne as a possibility to see action at the four. The only problem is that there is no one proven. Every player has limitations or question marks. Brielmaier has experience, but lacks athleticism. Onobun is undersized, Tangara has battled various injury issues and Jacobson is raw and still learning. Although Horne has played some power forward in high school, he's really a natural wing and better suited playing there.
If Walters isn't ready to go, the Cats could go small and hope they can resemble the NBA team to the north who has been known to succeed with an undersized line-up.
Will the defense be better?
Although Kevin O'Neill was brought in the shore up the defense, the Cats need their bigs to step up as well. If the Cats can find a shot blocker, then the defense can be extended. Last year neither Hill nor Ivan Radenovic was a good enough shot blocker to allow the Wildcat perimeter players to extend the defense. As such they were susceptible to the outside shot.
The Cats should also benefit from more overall team speed and confidence. Chase Budinger should have better footwork, Jawann McClellan should be healthier and players like Daniel Dillon could have a bigger role. At worst Jerryd Bayless should be Mustafa Shakur's equal, and if his high school defensive effort translates to the college game, he should be better than the departing senior.
Come December should fans look for potential transfers?
If Fendi Onobun or Nic Wise are not seeing much time, they could be candidates to leave. If both are seeing consistent minutes, this team could remain intact. The freshmen all seem to know what their roles are, and you can't see an upperclassman leaving.
Come April will any of the players look to declare early?
It is here the Cats could get hurt. Chase Budinger seems destined for the 2008 Lottery. If Hill has a big year he could go, especially if he feels an obligation to help out his family. If Bayless is a lock for the Lottery, he could have some major decisions to make.
How far can this team go?
If they get solid point guard play and develop quality frontcourt depth, the sky is the limit. Between a ridiculous non-conference schedule and the loaded Pac-10, the Cats will be battle tested come March.
If point guard is an issue and the front court fails to produce, the Cats could settle for another low seed and first weekend exit.