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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    5 questions for Arizona basketball

    1. Will Russ Pennell control the drama and chemistry better than last season’s interim coach?

    The hard-nosed, temperamental approach from ex-interim head coach Kevin O’Neill barely passed the hurdle of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

    But given all the off-court events from last season, to consider the 2007-08 season an underachievement may be a little unfair.

    Either way, current UA interim head coach Russ Pennell is faced with a similar situation: develop talent and keep the Wildcats motivated.

    At points last year, O’Neill seemed to have stunted the growth of five-star freshman recruit Jamelle Horne. Now, it’s Pennell’s turn to utilize a brand-new coaching staff.

    Will the Wildcats buy into this year’s regime? Time will tell, and a lack of depth will certainly hurt the wiggle room that Pennell has to tweak in lineup rotations.

    Pennell said it best when asked if he had plans on hiring a third assistant coach: This team doesn’t need any more distractions or adjustments. For the three leading juniors – Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise – they’re about to embark on their third coach in as many years.

    2. Can an unknown freshman class fill the roles?

    It’s tough to swallow the fact that Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Negedu and Jeff Withey could’ve supplemented the Big Three Juniors this season. Now, only Brendon Lavender remains in the once-heralded recruiting class, accompanied by a platoon of under-proven talent.

    Late signees Garland Judkins and Kyle Fogg could be looked upon not only to eat minutes, but provide crucial roles as a backup point guard (Judkins) and shooting guard (Fogg) – and that’s not factoring in potential injuries to the starters.

    Pennell has called Fogg one of the most coachable players on the team, citing a high intelligence and work ethic throughout the preseason. But whether pure dedication can outdo natural talent remains to be seen.Judkins and Fogg are a clear reflection of this season’s Wildcats – They’re out to prove themselves and fight for respect, as opposed to years past when high profile recruits fought just to maintain the respect and hype that preceeded them.

    3. How will Jamelle Horne and Zane Johnson factor into the rotation?

    Which Jamelle Horne will appear? Fans saw two different players in No. 42 jerseys last season: Sometimes Horne would display his immense athletic ability and contribute heavily to the game, while other games he struggled to play more than five minutes off the bench.

    Whether or not O’Neill was unable to develop Horne’s transition from high school to college, one thing can be taken from last season – Horne has matured on the court, Pennell said.

    Last season, Horne was expected to fill the role of “”X-factor”” based on his dynamic ability to knock down shots beyond the arc with the body of a power forward.

    On the other hand, fellow UA freshman Zane Johnson unexpectedly made his Tucson debut after O’Neill yanked his redshirt on Jan. 9 at ASU.

    Johnson has the ability to hit 3s as one of the team’s pure shooters, and could potentially be one of Arizona’s go-to guys or sixth man in the rotation.

    Pennell will certainly need to tweak the rotations as the season progresses and players find what rotations work successfully.

    As Pennell said himself, some players excel off the bench, while others need to start in order to succeed.

    4. Will Jordan Hill stay out of foul trouble?

    As offensive fundamentals continuously improved in Jordan Hill’s game last season, the UA forward often found himself benched and flustered due to early foul trouble.

    His athletic ability and size has certainly made Hill into one of the Pacific 10 Conference’s most dangerous forwards, but careless fouls forced him to miss considerable playing time – and opponents figured that out.

    O’Neill’s strict man-to-man defense certainly didn’t help Hill’s cause, but this year’s playbook should.

    UA associate head coach Mike Dunlap runs a unique 1-1-3 formation that blends zone and man-to-man defense. It should essentially help Hill, who will remain anchored down low, as opposed to running the baseline to cover an opposing forward.

    Pennell may choose to risk Hill fouling out later in the game or bench him after two fouls. Either way, the Wildcats will deeply miss his presence down low.

    5. Can Nic Wise stay healthy?

    Of all the Wildcats, Wise undoubtedly and consistently displays the most passion on the court.

    However, with high intensity comes the risk of injury – a problem that has plagued Wise on multiple occasions over the past year.

    The Wildcats went 2-5 without Wise last season after his knee injury. This season Wise has already endured two separate ailments – a sprained ankle and a cut to the head.

    Neither of these are long-term injuries, but the lack of point guard depth highlights the importance of Wise’s health.

    Without prized recruit Jennings or the combo-guard skills of Jerryd Bayless, Pennell will be faced with either Budinger or Judkins at the point.

    – Bryan Roy is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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