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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Five questions for UA hoops

    Michael Schwartz
    Michael Schwartz

    With men’s basketball season starting up, the Wildcats have five burning questions to answer if they hope this season ends better than the last two:

    1. How much of an impact can an assistant coach make?

    The Arizona athletics department paid $375,000 for interim head coach Kevin O’Neill, surely betting that the answer is “”a whole lot.””

    Besides being noted as a stellar recruiter, helping with the commitments of top recruits Brandon Jennings and Abdul Gaddy, O’Neill brings a reputation as a fine defensive coach with a number of stops in the NBA, including one as head coach of the Toronto Raptors, and 11 years as a college head coach.

    Last year, the Wildcats’ Achilles’ heel was revealed on the defensive end, as Arizona allowed 72.5 points per game, ahead of just Washington’s porous defense in the conference. Sure, some of that can be attributed to the Wildcats’ up-tempo style, but their 44.1 percent opponents’ field-goal percentage did not help things much.

    If O’Neill lives up to his reputation and makes Arizona a sound defensive team, you can call that money well spent.

    2. Will Chase and Jordan have stars in their eyes?

    No two players arguably carry a bigger burden on the floor heading into the season than starting forwards Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, both of whom have to avoid getting stars in their eyes with the NBA calling.

    Budinger has the look of a lottery lock in the 2008 NBA draft and has already been named a preseason All-American.

    With a developed offensive game that includes a smooth jump shot, incredible athleticism and great vision, Budinger will be Arizona’s best player and leader – so long as he does not get Marcus Williams Syndrome and spend too much time thinking about the next level.

    Hill came out of nowhere to start 12 games and could be a double-double waiting to happen with his explosive athleticism. He has spent the summer working on his jumper to complement a solid inside game and great shot-blocking skills, making it important for him to stay out of foul trouble.

    If Hill makes the kind of jump the Wildcats expect after a year of seasoning, expect him to join Budinger in the league next season.

    3. Which McClellan will we see?

    Last season, the Wildcats jumped out to a 12-1 record with guard Jawann McClellan providing an outside threat to the tune of 13.3 points per game, twice scoring a career-high 22 points.

    As the Wildcats slid to an 8-10 mark the rest of the season, McClellan averaged only 7.2 points per game, scoring in double figures only four times and grinding out six points or fewer on 11 occasions.

    McClellan’s banged-up knees hindered him down the stretch, making Arizona’s offense that much more tame, especially in the shooting department.

    With McClellan also serving as the emotional leader and the squad’s top senior, how well his knees hold up could go a long way in determining Arizona’s season.

    4. Will the Wildcats shoot it better from the perimeter?

    Despite leading the conference in scoring offense (78.0 points per game) and field-goal percentage (47.8 percent) last year, the Wildcats shot just 34.1 percent from 3-point range, ahead of only bottom-feeders ASU and Oregon State in the Pac-10.

    That’s likely to change this year, with Budinger likely taking more shots, McClellan healthier and the addition of guard Jerryd Bayless.

    Bayless may be better known for his quickness and ability to break down a defense, but he also hit 180 3s his past two high school seasons. He brings much-needed scoring punch at guard, having scored 30 or more points on 44 occasions, 40 or more 14 times and 50 or more three times in high school.

    That’s not to mention the long-range abilities of guard Nic Wise and 3-point specialist Zane Johnson, a forward.

    5. Who is the X-factor?

    None other than the most versatile Wildcat of them all, freshman forward Jamelle Horne.

    Although less heralded than Bayless, the recruiting Web site Rivals.com still ranked Horne as a five-star prospect and its No. 21 overall player.

    With athleticism that helped him block four shots in the Nov. 4 exhibition game against Condordia, he’s been compared to former Wildcat Richard Jefferson. Although he’s built similarly to Williams at 6-foot-6 and 204 pounds, he could play an undersized power forward role to get Arizona’s best athletes on the floor.

    A starting five of Bayless, McClellan, Budinger, Horne and Hill would be among the most athletic in the country, and Horne would be able to outrun most power forwards Çÿ la Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns in a lineup that would be tough to handle.

    – Michael Schwartz is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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