I am not a college basketball coach, though I do play one frequently on radio and on the Internet. I have never built a program and was really pretty young when I witnessed Lute Olson build Arizona.
From the outside looking in it seeems to me that Sean Miller has two options play for today or prepare for tomorrow.
While making the NCAA Tournament is tough, it is not an impossibility. The Cats would need to win 10 or 11 down the stretch to get into the tournament and it appears that the only way that is going to happen is if Sean Miller shortens his bench.
The Wildcats played with just eight players against UCLA and played their best game of the season. For the final 25 minutes against USC the Cats also played with an eight-man rotation and nearly came back against the Trojans.
It seems to me that the Wildcats’ best chance at getting those wins and making a push at the tourney is to shorten the bench.
The Cats’ starting line-up of Jamelle Horne, Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill, Kyle Fogg and Nic Wise may lack height but is a strong group. It seems as if it can fare favorably with most in the Pac-10 as the players are talented and versatile, if inconsistent.
The bench is even more inconsistent. If Miller wants to really make a push for No. 26 he should go to the bench a lot less. He’s been going with rotations that have gone nine, 10 and even 11 players deep.
As of now the best combination seems to be Kevin Parrom as the wing off the bench, with whoever is practicing better between Kyryl Natyazhko and Alex Jacobson in the post and the Brendan Lavender and MoMo Jones splitting minutes as the third guard.
While that line-up may be best for making a push this season, it does not bode well for the future. The Cats need to get guys minutes and in-game work. Odds are the Cats will need significant contributions from Natyazhko, Jones and the other next season, but right now they are struggling. Do you trim minutes form more solid performers in hopes of getting some wins or do you keep making sure guys like Jones and Natyazhko get in-game action, even if they struggle?
It’s not an easy decision and one reason Miller makes upwards of a million dollars a year.
If it was me I’d use the next three or four games as a litmus test for the shortened bench. If the Cats can rattle off some wins and get into a position to make a push at the tournament then I think you have to do it. However, if a shortened bench does not produce right away, then I think Miller has to go all out and prepare for next year. This means seeing if Jones and Fogg are capable of playing to point, possibly sliding Wise to the off guard so he can still showcase his scoring for the pros. This means seeing just what Lavender, Jacobson and DJ Shumpert are capable of and whether they have a chance to be rotation players in the future or whether they are destined to be role players.
They have to get Natyazhko minutes and hope that at some point things start to click.
It’s a delicate time for Wildcat basketball. No one wants to play for next season, but at the same time no one mortgage the future for current success that may or may not happen.