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Lead guard depth now a strength for Arizona

Utah v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats have an abundance of guard depth no matter what Brandon Williams‘ future holds. They return Jemarl Baker Jr. and add James Akinjo, Terrell Brown, Kerr Kriisa and Dalen Terry, giving them (at least) five players with the skills to be a lead guard.

That is a stark contrast from the 2019-20 season when Nico Mannion consumed 90 percent of Arizona’s point guard minutes—Baker received the other 10—and dished out more than twice as many assists as the next Wildcat.

Relying so much on one player made Arizona prone to cold streaks any time Mannion had an off game. He was a freshman, so that happened a lot.

Now, the Wildcats can ride the hot hand. Or, rather, hot hands.

“Not only do I think that at times we’ll have two ball-handlers on the court, but really for the first time maybe since we’ve had Nick Johnson and Gabe York with T.J. McConnell...we’re going to have three guards on the court,” head coach Sean Miller said. “That’s where our depth is, and even the subs. So when you go through whoever starts, whoever doesn’t, when we sub on the perimeter, I think that won’t change. There’s guys that can pass, dribble and shoot and are more guards than they are big wings and forwards. So I think that’ll allow us to get more dribble penetration and not rely maybe on one pure ball-handler, maybe like Nico was in this year that role. And those guys kind of play off of each other and help each other more.”

Per KenPom, Arizona played at its fastest pace in 2019-20 since 2014-15, a trend that could continue if they are committed to playing small. It only helps that one of their best frontcourt players, Lithuanian forward Azuolas Tubelis, is known for his ability to push the ball in transition.

“The days of just playing a point guard, two big wings, a power forward and a center are over,” Miller said. “You want to put your best players on the court. I think this year we’ll have lineups that have three guards that play different styles.”