Since I know next to nothing about our incoming class (Tony Wroten, Hikeem Stewart, Jernard Jarreau, and Andrew Andrews), aside from Wroten being an absolute beast, I’ll go ahead and save them for a different post. Here, I’ll be talking about our returning guys.
Talent-wise, there’s a lot to like about who’s returning. If I had to speculate on a starting five, I’d look at the following:
- C – Aziz N’Diaye
- F – Darnell Gant
- G/F – Terrence Ross
- G – Abdul Gaddy
- G – Isaiah Thomas
My thinking being: if we DON’T start Gant, our team as a whole is going to be pretty small.
Behind them, you’ve got Wroten coming off the bench as another ball-handler, you’ve got Suggs and Wilcox as your primary 3-point shooters, you’ve got Desmond Simmons as a freakish athlete who will probably play some forward, and maybe another incoming freshman coming in to round out a 10-man rotation. Hopefully, that involves us recruiting another big man from the Junior College ranks, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
On paper, you have to not only like our chances to lead the Pac-12 in scoring, but our chances to be among the top 5 teams in all of college basketball. It’s the defensive end where I’m concerned. Like I alluded to yesterday, we lost a huge chunk of our defense to graduation this year. IT is still going to play 30 minutes a game, probably on the other team’s best guard. Aziz will hopefully take a step up toward being a real bad-ass in the paint. Gant and Simmons are likely to be our primary rebounders (with Simmons leading us in double-doubles, so long as he gets the minutes). The key will be: can we count on Wilcox, Suggs, Gaddy, and Wroten? I’ve been hearing some good things about Suggs’ defending this past season, so maybe that’s a good sign.
Another definite concern will be: who’s going to score points in the post? I’ve made it clear I don’t trust Aziz, but that doesn’t mean he won’t develop into something passable. Still, it’s impossible to expect him to transform from the bumbler he was this past year to a legitimate scoring threat with just a summer’s worth of training. Gant has never been a back-to-the-basket scorer and with his build, it’s unlikely that will change. I’m told Terrence Ross is currently our best post-player, but with his slight build, it’ll be tough to expect him to accomplish much with bigger, stronger men banging him down low. My guess would be, if it is Ross, we’ll have to spread the court, hope for a 1 on 1 matchup, and watch as he shuffles from side to side before opting for the turn-around fade away jumper over an outstretched arm. Not exactly my favorite basketball shot in the world, but with his touch and leaping ability, it’s not impossible to believe he’d be effective in that role.
Other than those guys, and potentially whoever our JC transfer will be, you’re going to be looking at a jump-shooting team the likes of which we’ve never seen before. We’re going to have to run and gun. We’re going to have to set better screens and move better off the ball. And we’re GOING to have to work the pump fake and get to the key for some easier 2’s instead of constantly jacking 3’s.
The bottom line is: we’re still going to be athletic, we’re still going to push the tempo, we’re still going to live and die by the long ball. Here’s something Romar never thought he’d have to do (until this past season): we’re going to have to rely even MORE on the zone defense. That’s going to be something we will have to perfect by the time we hit Pac-12 play. It was certainly effective for us late in the season (especially in the Tourney), but next year, with our size disadvantage, the zone will have to be mandatory. I don’t know how I feel about that (since it tends to lead to an inordinate amount of offensive rebounds for the other team), but I don’t know if I’ll have a choice in the matter.
Boy, do I hope there’s a JC stud out there just waiting for his opportunity to stick it to fools who didn’t recruit him.