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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

5 Questions for Arizona men’s basketball

There aren’t as many questions as last year’s Wildcats faced, but the identity of Sean Miller’s team is far from defined.

Here are five questions surrounding the 2009-10 season:

1. Can the Wildcats end their ASU losing streak?

More than half of the UA student body has never seen Arizona beat ASU in basketball.

It’s jaw-dropping to think a five-game losing streak spans across two seasons, but give credit to ASU head coach Herb Sendek’s rebuilding process.

Ex-Sun Devil James Harden, selected third overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, earned a laundry list of awards during his two seasons in Tempe — both of which were 20-win campaigns.

Most notably, he left without ever losing to the Wildcats.

Losing Pacific 10 Conference Player of the Year Harden and veteran Jeff Pendergraph, a senior selected in the second round of the Draft, leaves the Sun Devils without go-to scorers, aside from senior point guard Derrick Glasser.

It’s all too familiar in Tucson.

The Wildcats also lost the vast majority of their points to the Draft — Jordan Hill went eighth overall and Chase Budinger went in the second round — and enter this season without go-to scorers aside from senior point guard Nic Wise.

Now it comes down to whose freshmen are better. Sendek was out-recruited months after Sean Miller’s arrival.

A top-15 freshman class should get it done.

“”Every school has their rivalry. Our program is at such a level, it’s not like how can we do against such and such. It’s big picture,”” Miller said. “”That game means a lot. We’re not going to say that’s just another game. No it isn’t.””

 

2. Is the young frontcourt ready for prime time?

Miller will rely on freshmen Kyryl Natyazhko and Derrick Williams to play the majority of the No. 5 spot.

Ideally, Natyazhko and Williams will eventually play on the court together with UA junior Jamelle Horne in a size-oriented lineup. For now, it’s a three-guard backcourt with Natyazhko and Williams sharing time down low until the Wildcats face longer teams.

Williams, an oversized 6-foot-8 power forward, is one of the more athletic and versatile men in the freshman class and could certainly be a threat come Pac-10 play.

The three will attempt to replace rebounder and inside scoring machine Jordan Hill, who averaged a team-high 18.3 points and 11 rebounds per game last season.

 

3. Will Wise stay healthy?

Wise missed seven games in the 2007-08 season due to an ankle injury, and in that stretch, the Wildcats went 2-5 with combo guard Jerryd Bayless running the point.

Last year, Wise managed to stay injury-free while averaging a team-high 37.6 minutes per game.

“”Like a leader and like a senior — and Nic is both for us — he really stepped up and played excellent,”” said Miller after the Wildcats’ season opener against NAU.

Wise sprained his ankle twice this season and hasn’t fully recovered.

“”Nic and I have that relationship where I trust him,”” Miller said. “”This late in his career, he knows what he can do and what he can’t. We’re hopeful we can get him through this next three or four days and on Thursday, he feels better.””

4. Can Jamelle Horne stay consistent?

The jubilant locker room in Miami shed light on one nickname that team goofball Horne probably didn’t want to hear: “”Wildcard.””

“”We always call him the wildcard because you never know what you’re going to get out of him,”” said ex-UA forward Fendi Onobun after the Wildcats defeated No. 11-seed Cleveland State to reach the Sweet 16 last season.

Horne’s inconsistencies date back to his freshman year under interim head coach Kevin O’Neill, a time he admitted was frustrating.

“”(Former assistant coach Mike Dunlap) confronted me in front of the group and told me that I really needed to have a look of seriousness on my face and have a mental thought of being serious,”” Horne said at Miami. “”It wasn’t the foul trouble that he was disappointed in, it was the energy and effort I gave out on the court.

“”That hurt me,”” he added. “”That stuck with me and made me not want to disappoint the team.””

One year later, the Wildcats cannot afford to endure a bad game from Horne.

“”I’ve had two years under my belt, I’ve had a ton of experiences and I can’t be a wildcard this year,”” said Horne at media day this year. “”I have to be Mr. Consistent this year. I’m ready for that.””

5. Will ‘The Streak’ continue?

Sean Miller said The Streak could very well end this season. 

“”It’s something that can really be damaging to this year’s team,”” Miller said. “”It’s something we can’t control.””

Twenty-five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances will face another bubble ready to break this postseason — not necessarily because of the Wildcats’ youth, but the Pac-10 youth as a whole.

The Pac-10 could be a three-bid league this season, one year after NBA ballers Hill, Harden, DeMar DeRozan of USC, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison of UCLA and Taj Gibson of USC were all selected in the first round.

That’s a lot of star power gone, and any team beyond preseason favorites Washington and California must legitimately earn bids.

Expect another bubble. This one might pop.

— Bryan Roy can be reached at

media@wildcat.arizona.edu

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