Overall Rank: #29
Conference Rank: #4 Pac-10
2007-08: 19-15, 8-10, 7th
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
At times last year, Arizona was a two man team. Jerryd Bayless, half of the two, split for the NBA after a superb freshman campaign, but Chase Budinger withdrew him name from the draft on the last possible day. As much as it was a surprise, it was also the decision that could very well save Arizona’s 24 consecutive NCAA Tournament streak. The 6-7 Budinger averaged 17.1 points per game and hit 38.0 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Those numbers might have to increase now that Budinger is the biggest scoring threat on the team.
Bayless had better numbers than Budinger, tallying 19.7 points per game. He was also much more effective getting to the basket. Without Bayless, the Wildcats have lost their most creative and dynamic scorer. As if losing Bayless was not enough, there are plenty of more losses this year at Arizona. Guard Jawann McClellan started all 34 games and was a decent scorer. The group on the perimeter also will have to do without the services of Daniel Dillon, who averaged 14.4 minutes per game. For a team that lacked a lot of depth on the perimeter as it was, not having Bayless, McClellan and Dillon will make this a very inexperienced team. Bret Brielmaier, Kirk Walters and Mohamed Tangara occasionally played some quality minutes, but the key frontcourt players are mostly returning.
So one would expect the Wildcats to reload in the backcourt and maybe bring in another Bayless type player. Not quite. Garland Judkins, Kyle Fogg and Brendon Lavender are not bad players by any means, but none of them are anywhere near where Bayless was heading into his freshman campaign. Judkins is a solid point guard who can bring a steadiness to the team. He is not a flashy scorer, but he can handle the ball and see the floor. Fogg could be the best of the bunch and step into a starting role right away. His quickness and ability to score from anywhere on the floor will make him very valuable to this team whether he starts or not. Lavender can add some toughness to the wing. At 6-3, he is also the tallest of the backcourt newcomers and he uses that toughness and size to effectively finish around the basket. Judkins, Fogg and Lavender have to be productive right from the get-go since Coach Lute Olson has few other options. If they are not ready, Arizona will be in for a long season. The guys in the frontcourt might have a little less pressure on them, but they too will be asked to contribute. The most likely one to do so is center Jeff Withey. The 6-10 center has a ton of potential and should be effective on the defensive end of the floor right away. He also has a decent looking mid-range jumper and can finish around the basket. Alex Jacobson and D.J. Shumpert will provide emergency depth up front.
Who to Watch:
If Withey does not take away a starting job up front, they will belong to Jordan Hill and Jamelle Horne. Hill was the team’s third scoring option last year and his ability to score in the paint really opened things up for Bayless and Budinger on the perimeter. Besides averaging 13.2 points per game, Hill led the team with 7.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Horne is not as effective of a scorer, but he is a solid and versatile defender. Horne started nine games last year and may begin the season as a starter this year, but he will have some competition from Withey, especially if the Wildcats want a bigger lineup on the floor. The only other returning option up front is Fendi Onobun who averaged just 8.8 minutes per game.
What makes Arizona even a contender for the Pac-10 crown is point guard Nic Wise. He only started 11 games last year, but Wise led the team with 4.4 assists per contest and shot 48.1 percent from three-point territory. His job will be more difficult this year without Bayless to bail him out when he makes mistakes, but Wise is now an upperclassman who is prepared to take over the leadership role and emerge as the team’s third consistent scorer.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Nic Wise, Junior, Guard, 9.2 points per game
Brendon Lavender, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Chase Budinger, Junior, Forward, 17.1 points per game
Jamelle Horne, Sophomore, Forward, 3.0 points per game
Jordan Hill, Junior, Forward, 13.2 points per game