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What could Arizona women’s basketball’s depth chart look like in 2020-21?

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Arizona v Oregon Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

There are still so many questions up in the air about the Arizona Wildcats’ roster construction next season. Some of those questions need the NCAA to weigh in. Others need Aari McDonald to make her WNBA call. But some things are starting to fall into place with the addition of Indiana transfer Bendu Yeaney.

Yeaney’s eligibility still needs to be sorted out. She played only six games of her junior season with her last appearance coming against Maryland on Jan. 20.

The problem for Yeaney is that the Maryland game came after the halfway point of the season. Her other five contests were all prior to the New Year, which should have made her eligible for a medical hardship waiver. That game in mid-January throws a wrench into the works.

Not only did it mean Yeaney played after the halfway point of the season, but the Maryland appearance also showed that the previous injury was not season-ending, which is another requirement for the medical hardship waiver. If the NCAA is a stickler, it seems unlikely that she will recover her junior season.

With that caveat, let’s take a look at the options Arizona has depending on the scenarios.

Aari McDonald returns and seniors are granted another year

When the NCAA granted another year of eligibility for all athletes in spring sports, the question of whether this would happen for winter athletes was left open. There are arguments on both sides to consider.

If extra eligibility is granted—whether for all student-athletes or just seniors—it would have to come with an expansion of roster sizes for one season to accommodate incoming freshmen who have already signed their NLI. That would be an extra cost for schools and, likely, an extra headache for coaches.

Such expansion could dramatically alter the landscape. A prime example is California. The team made a run at the end of the Pac-12 season, but they were subpar most of the year. They also have a top-10 class coming in next season which would join the returning seniors. They could conceivably bypass teams that finished ahead of them this season.

The argument for allowing an extra year of eligibility is easy to see from an Arizona perspective. Players like Lucia Alonso and Dominique McBryde helped rebuild the Wildcats’ program, likely earning hosting rights. They earned their way to the tournament after a 15-year drought by the program. Without relief, they will never experience it.

On the men’s side, there are similar stories. Rutgers was set to break into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 29 years. Like Arizona, the absence that stretches back over decades is gone like a puff of smoke.

If that relief is granted, there will be few changes in the lineup, but that doesn’t mean there will be no changes.

Starting Five

  • Guard: Aari McDonald
  • Guard: Shaina Pellington
  • Forward/Wing: Sam Thomas
  • Forward/Post: Dominique McBryde
  • Forward/Post: Cate Reese

Key Reserves

  • Amari Carter (G), Helena Pueyo (G), Lucia Alonso (G), Bendu Yeaney (G), Semaj Smith (P), Sevval Gül (P), Lauren Ware (P)

Depth

  • Mara Mote (W), Marta Garcia (P), Tara Manumaleuga (G), Bryce Nixon (G), Derin Erdogan (G), Birna Bennonysdottir (P)

The Rationale

The truth is that the second guard spot is a toss-up between Carter and Pellington. Carter had experience in the starting lineup this season, which might get her the nod. However, Pellington’s play in the Olympic qualifying events was impressive. She held her own with and against experienced WNBA players.

The rest of the lineup is a matter of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Aari McDonald returns, but the seniors are gone

The loss of the opportunity to fight for a berth in the NCAA Tournament would be a tough pill to swallow for seniors like Alonso and McBryde. Alonso was Arizona coach Adia Barnes’ first recruit, as she often points out. McBryde arrived a year later along with McDonald and Tee Tee Starks, the transfer trio that kicked things up a notch.

Starting Five

  • Guard: Aari McDonald
  • Guard: Shaina Pellington
  • Small Forward: Sam Thomas
  • Power Forward: Cate Reese
  • Center: Semaj Smith

Key Reserves

  • Helena Pueyo (G), Bendu Yeaney (G), Sevval Gül (P), Lauren Ware (P), Marta Garcia (P), Mara Mote (W)

Depth

  • Tara Manumaleuga (G), Bryce Nixon (G), Derin Erdogan (G), Birna Bennonysdottir (P)

The Rationale

The loss of the seniors moves several players who would be depth into positions of being key reserves depending on matchups and fouls. The post will be affected the most.

The loss of McBryde is much larger than what she is on a stat sheet. Solid position defense in the post and the ability to lead are key components of McBryde’s game. No one else has quite the same combination of those characteristics.

Ware will be unavailable until Pac-12 play due to her commitments with the Arizona volleyball team, making it more important that committed (but unsigned) Spanish post Marta Garcia is ready to go for those nights when Arizona bigs face foul trouble.

Once again, this scenario includes Yeaney, but the same reservations apply to her in all three possible lineups. Considering the current rules, it seems unlikely that she will be available until the 2021-22 season.

Aari McDonald opts for the WNBA and the seniors are gone

This is the scenario that many dread. Perhaps wanting to move into life after college, especially considering her recent engagement, McDonald throws her name into April’s WNBA draft. Not only do the Wildcats lose the chance to experience everything they earned in 2020, but they face a tougher climb to get back there in 2021.

While it would be a very different team, the one positive is that the remaining and incoming players are all promising. There’s only one McDonald, but there are still very talented options on the Arizona roster.

Starting Five

  • Guard: Shaina Pellington
  • Guard: Helena Pueyo
  • Small Forward: Sam Thomas
  • Power Forward: Cate Reese
  • Center: Semaj Smith

Key Reserves

  • Bendu Yeaney (G), Mara Mote (W), Sevval Gül (P), Lauren Ware (P), Marta Garcia (P), Tara Manumaleuga (G)

Depth

  • Bryce Nixon (G), Derin Erdogan (G), Birna Bennonysdottir (P)

Rationale

This would be the scenario where Arizona would really hope that Yeaney could be eligible to play all season. She would give them a long guard with good defensive skills to come off the bench or challenge Pueyo for a starting spot.

Pellington has not had the opportunity to show Arizona fans what she can do, but both her time playing for the Canadian women’s national team and practice with the Wildcats have given glimpses into her style of play. Like McDonald, she is tough. She steals the ball. She is not called upon to score much for her national team, but she’s capable of doing that, too.