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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Bulls & Bears: Questions for Arizona Basketball

Sean Miller’s roster is so balanced that he could adjust three completely different lineups and tinker with dozens of other substitution combinations.

Does that mean Arizona can begin another streak of NCAA Tournament appearances? It depends where that balance sits on the spectrum of college basketball. If previously unseen role players like Brendon Lavender can do damage beyond the arc to a Pacific 10 Conference opponent, that’s a dangerous slope most opponents might not be prepared to handle.

Of course, Derrick Williams will be expected to handle a bulk of the team’s offensive production, but outside of that, this team’s identity and potential storyline remain unclear.

But it’s only November. Here’s what to watch for as the season progresses:

 

Can Momo Jones handle the starting point guard load?

From ESPN.com to the ZonaZoo newsletter, it’s the most obvious question surrounding this team.

Not to discredit anything Nic Wise accomplished in his junior and senior seasons, but hasn’t Jones already answered these questions? Smack in the middle of Pac-10 play last season, Miller put his trust in Jones to hit the game-winning buzzer beater (he did) while Wise watched from the bench.

To imply that a surprise spotlight and sudden pressure snuck up on Jones doesn’t make sense. He’s been the guy hosting recruits on campus and pushing his teammates in practice all summer and fall.

Miller said he wants Jones to become the quarterback of this offense, and who better to have than the most animated character on this team?

Jones doesn’t need to score — just distribute, take care of the ball and most importantly play defense. And whether Miller opts to use freshman point guard Jordin Mayes in a more niche lineup of jump shooters — that’s just more flexibility.

 

Can Jamelle Horne step up as the X-factor?

That’s been the question since his freshman year when he arrived as a coveted five-star recruit with an absurdly athletic physique.

And nothing changed. He earned the nickname “”Wildcard”” his sophomore year after nobody knew what game they would see on a nightly basis.

But this year’s different, he says. With an improved mental approach to basketball and academics, Horne can still play effective by crashing the offensive boards and delivering the monster blocks we’ve seen periodically.

Expect incoming junior college transfer Jesse Perry to push him to become a better player in practice, but for now, it’s still Horne’s starting spot to lose.

 

Can Derrick Williams and Kyryl Natyazhko play together?

That’s the plan.

Williams would like to open up the floor and knock down open jump shots. Otherwise, once defenders see Williams with the ball, expect them to suddenly crash the paint.

Improving his jump shot would add a crucial element to his game — especially if he’s a small forward prospect in the NBA — and subsequently allow Natyazhko (or Alex Jacobson, who has seen considerable playing time) to set screens and further open up the floor.

Defensively, that lineup becomes that much longer.

“”We’re much different if Derrick (Williams)’s at the four, Kyryl (Natyazhko) is at the five and Solomon (Hill) or Jamelle (Horne) is at the three,”” Miller said. “”We have to adapt and adjust. It may help us on defense.””

Natyazhko can also add value without scoring at the post, as he’s looked comfortable taking 15-foot jumpers early on this season.

“”I believe he’s headed in the right direction,”” Miller said. “”His improvement is a big thing for our team.””

 

Will Daniel Bejarano play at all?

Sunday’s “”kabillion””-point blowout gave Miller no option but to allow Bejarano to play a few minutes in the second half, since every other player did, down to the walk-ons.

But the absence of Bejarano from every other exhibition game has provided an interesting storyline this preseason. Arguably Miller’s most heralded incoming freshman — and the state’s most hyped high school basketball player — Bejarano remains very far behind the rest of the team competitively in practice. Miller has said it’s to the point where it “”would be very difficult”” for him to crack the regular rotation.

“”There’s a gap, and he’s gotta close that gap,”” Miller said. “”You know, Daniel (Bejarano) is a fantastic kid. But not everybody gets to play, and the reason he didn’t play has nothing to do with his demeanor or attitude. It’s just that in practice he’s not been able to have three weeks of practice worthy of playing.””

While Miller said it was “”doubtful”” that Bejarano would redshirt the season, it proves that playing time isn’t guaranteed.

Will Bejarano stick around long enough to play as a deep reserve? Since he played in a regular season game on Sunday, transferring would mean he would miss one year of eligibility. 

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