October 27, 2006

Narrowing down rotation is focus for Lute Olson

So what did we learn from Thursday night's Red-Blue scrimmage?

Well, Jawann McClellan showed he can still play, putting up a 22-point, six rebound effort.

Ivan Radenovic proved he should be one of the best big men on this side of the country after scoring 35 points to go with 10 rebounds.

Mustafa Shakur scored and found his teammates, putting together a stat line of 14 points, 13 assists and six turnovers.

Arizona's three freshmen, Chase Budinger, Nic Wise and Jordan Hill, showed they're plenty talented and inexperienced at the same time. All three players will contribute this year, but they'll all make freshmen mistakes too, as they did Thursday night.

The rest of the lineup showed their talent, inconsistencies and deficiencies throughout the course of the game.

So what did we learn on Thursday night?

Essentially, nothing. We knew about the talent of McClellan, Radenovic and Shakur coming in and the freshmen were all as advertised.

The key from now until the Virginia game is finding the right mix of players on the court at the same time. It was very obvious watching Shakur, Radenovic and McClellan play together that they had been doing this a long time. Those three, plus injured sophomore Marcus Williams, are going to be able to play together without a problem.

Arizona has to find players to mix with that core group. Budinger, despite an up and down Red-Blue game (he had 20 points and seven boards but eight turnovers) is a lock to not only play significant minutes, but looks very likely to start as well.

That leaves three positions open for eight guys, according to Lute Olson.

"We'll end up going down to a seven or eight man rotation right away to start getting ready for the exhibitions and Virginia," Olson said after the scrimmage. "I thought we had enough where we could look at 10 guys but it's obvious there are some we can't wait for any longer."

The significance of that statement can't be overlooked. At first, this appeared to be one of the deepest teams in UA history, but Olson is making it clear that only seven or eight players are going to play serious minutes.

Shakur, Radenovic, McClellan, Williams and Budinger are all going to get their time. Walters will be an important piece to this team once he's fully healthy, meaning the plan is for only two other players after that to be major contributors.

"With Kirk, he's been out a lot," said Olson. "But he would be in that eight. It's just going to be a battle from this point on for the guys to get in the top eight."

There's not one scholarship player on the team that you can rule out to take one of those spots. Some might point to sophomore Mohamed Tangara, but he was actually one of the Wildcats that Olson praised on Thursday night.

"I thought Mohamed played really hard and well," said Olson. "All we need from him is rebounding, good tough defense and he's going to get some points off the glass or some points from other people penetrating."

Wise is a strong candidate to back up Shakur and make the team's eight man rotation. He scored 22 points with five assists and Olson didn't seem to concerned with his six turnovers.

"If Nic is with a Mustafa or the veterans, then you wouldn't see the number of turnovers that he ended up with. I'm pleased with his development," Olson said.

Finding five players on Arizona's roster to spend the majority of the season on the bench definitely isn't going to be an easy task. However, the top of the roster is so talented that it's going to be tough to keep some Wildcats off the court.

We knew how talented Arizona was before Thursday night's scrimmage and we know how talented the team is now. It's up to Olson to find the right mix of players to help him win his second national championship.

He has all the pieces he needs, but how they fit together and grow as a unit from here on out will determine just how good this team will be.

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