The 2008-2009 season started out with a Bang. While many Wildcats fan including myself where looking forward to see former USC Recruit Brandon Jennings don the Cardinal and Navy. Well we all know how that turned out since he is playing professionally in Italy. In October the Cats Hall of Fame Coach called it a career after it was revealed that he had a stroke. Then a few days later Jeff Withey, Former Rick Patino recruit, decided that he didn’t want to play in Tucson and requested a transfer. The request was promptly denied by Athletic Director Jim Livengood. As I type out this article the request has been appealed and a decision has yet to be determined. So that was the ups and downs of the off season in a nutshell.
For those of you that have been in a bunker the past month or so, Russ Pennell, Former Arizona State Scum Devil assistant, is the interim head coach for the season with Reggie Geary, yes that Reggie Geary, Mike Dunlap (Former Denver Nuggets assistant) and newly hired Matt Brase (formerly the director of basketball operations and grand son of Lute Olson) are Coach Pennell assistants for the season. I wish them all the best of luck. Lute’s shoes can not be that easy to fill!
Now with the season just around the corner here in my opinion are a few games to watch out for. The first game when you look at the schedule that jumps out at you should be the game against Kansas. While the Jay hawks are the defending NCAA Champs they are not the team they where last season but that doesn’t mean that the Cats should over look them. If you get down to it both teams are in similar situations. While both clubs lost their leading scorers to the NBA, Jerryd Bayless for the Cats and Brandon Rush for the Jay Hawks doesn’t mean that each team doesn’t have plenty of ballers on their squad. The name for the Hawks that jumps out at me is Sherron Collins who was the 5th leading scorer on the team last season average almost 10 points a game. The Cats and Jay Hawks game last season was a fun one to watch and this season match shouldn’t disappoint.
Another out of conference match to look for is the game against Gonzaga. The Zags are ranked # 11 heading into the season. This match has been a long time coming and could easily show if the Zags are for real. To me the key match is going to be Jordan Hill against Austin Daye. Daye, On paper at least, should be a tough match for Jordan Hill who is more of a inside presence. While Daye, who shot just under 42 percent from beyond the 3 point line season, appears to be an outside threat don’t count out the Cats by putting Jamelle Horne or Chase Budinger, who are both great leapers and are both pretty lanky, on him. This game should be fun to watch and if rumors are to believe Mark Few the current coach at Gonzaga could be roaming the bench in Tucson in the near future.
A couple of in conference games to look for are the 2 games against UCLA. Guard play will be key for the Cats and Bruins in this game. While Arizona State are the Cats in state rivals, the games I, as a fan, look forward to more then the games against the Scum Devils are the 2 games versus Stanford. While the Cardinal lost Twins 7 footers in Brook and Robin Lopez. These games never disappoint. The Cats and Cardinal have had some classics in the past. I hope that these two games don’t disappoint. And now, to the Scum Devils. While yes the Scummies beat the Cats twice last season don’t forget the fact that Bayless didn’t play in the first game and they couldn’t stop him in the 2nd game when he dropped a 40 spot on them. Key match ups in this game should be Nic Wise versus James Harden and Jordan Hill versus Jeff Pendergraph. If all of the Cat fans recall Jordan Hill had his coming out party vs Pendergraph during the meeting in Tucson during Jordan Hill freshman season. These 2 match up nicely and have played physically in the past and this season should be no different. As a Cats fan, I am truly looking forward to these 2 games to see if the Scum Devil fan will show their classiness that they are know for. Don’t believe me ask Steve Kerr about their class.
This is going to be a interesting season. While many think 20 wins is out of the question I don’t. The Cats have a young team this season as David Bagga and Fendi Onobon are the only 2 seniors on the roster. This team isn’t with out talent. Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill are both NBA Talents. Chase Budinger is on the list of 50 Wooden Award finalists. If Chase can play the way we all know he is capable of this team should be okay. If not its going to be a long season. In my opinion the player that will surprise a lot of people will be Garland Judkins. He has a very quick first step and isn’t afraid to get in the lane. If you watch any of the game against Incarnate Word, the team looked pretty good with Judkins running the Point Guard spot that was made famous by the likes of Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and Jason Gardner.