Thursday, August 7, 2008

Arizona: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Record: 19-15, 8-10 Pac-10 (7th)

Key Losses: Jerryd Bayless (19.7 ppg, 4.0 apg), Jawann McClellan (8.6 ppg, 33 starts), Brandon Jennings (does he count?)

Key Returnees: Chase Budinger (17.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Jordan Hill (13.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Nic Wise (9.2 ppg, 4.0 apg)

Newcomers: Jeff Withey, Kyle Fogg, Brandon Lavender

Arizona suffered through one of the more turbulent off-seasons in recent memory (although it pales in comparison to Indiana's), with Lute Olsen coming back after a year off and the subsequent firing of his coaching staff. Then, what was once a top 10 recruiting class had Emmanuel Negedu (a consensus top 40 player) back out of his letter of intent and Brandon Jennings (maybe the best player in the class) head to Europe to play his one-and-done year. Couple that with Jerryd Bayless leaving school for NBA riches, and you are looking at a less than ideal situation in Tuscon.

Things could be much bleaker, however. Chase Budinger, who looks like a pre-season favorite for Pac-10 player of the year, decided to withdraw from the draft and PG Nic Wise, who is talented but inconsistent, decided not to transfer. The Wildcats also return the up-and-coming Jordan Hill, an athletic, 6'10" forward that is quietly becoming one of the best big men in the Pac-10. Arizona also adds 7'0" freshman Jeff Withey, a top 50 recruit, and SG Kyle Fogg, a 6'3" defensive stopper.

The biggest issue for the Cats last year was their depth, and after losing Jennings, Bayless, and Negedu, it looks like they will face the same issue next year. Budinger and Hill are both potential first-team all-conference players, and Wise is an above average point guard, but beyond that, there is not much talent on the Arizona roster. Olsen has always had a reputation for throwing the ball out there and letting his superior recruiting win him games (which is why talented Arizona teams always seem to underachieve), so without the talent on his roster that he is used to, it could be a long season in Tucson.

Outlook: Budinger may be the best player in the Pac-10, and Hill could end up averaging a double-double, but Arizona simply does not have enough depth to compete for a Pac-10 title.

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