With a 74-72 double overtime loss to UNLV last night – setting its record at 3-3 – it’s an understatement to say that Arizona is not run by flash and big names this year. With Lute Olson thrice removed and the Encinitas Enigma, (coined by yours truly; shirt orders to my Twitter…) Chase Budinger, and Jordan “Coach’s Decision” Hill both gone to the pros, the ‘Cats aren’t the national draw they once were. Add into the mix a Pac-10 conference that is seeing its lowest production in years and an influx of untested youth, and you have a recipe for bland, mistake-riddled basketball. In a region dominated largely by guard play, most of the attention has surrounded Cal’s Jerome Randle and Washington’s Isaiah Thomas – and deservedly so.
Someone forgot to relay the message to ‘Zona’s Nic Wise.
The 5-10 senior from Houston, Texas is averaging 16.4 points, 4.8 assists and 1.6 steals a game for the Wildcats as of Thursday. What’s more important than Wise’s stats, is the way he has corralled his young team and has been the dominant factor in each of their three wins. He also had 19 points and 6 dimes in that loss to #21 UNLV.
It’s easy to have forgotten Wise in the fray of other Pac-10 and Arizona guards during his past four years in Tucson. Over his first two years, Wise salvaged minutes behind Mustafa Shakur, Marcus Williams, Jawann McClellan and Jerryd Bayless before finally securing the starting role as a junior during the 2008-09 season (averaging 15.7 and 4.6 a game). Then, last season after an exit in the Sweet 16 to Louisville, Wise made a surprising decision to test the NBA waters; quickly – and predictably – coming back to ‘Zona for his senior year. Six games into this season and he has been playing the best basketball of his career. He might also be the best pure point guard in the Pac-10.
I am certainly not promoting the idea that Wise is a better talent than either Thomas or Randle, but it can be argued that he is a better floor general. Thomas isn’t even the best point guard on his own team, with freshmen Abdul Gaddy becoming more familiar with the system in Seattle. Washington is unbeaten on the season and the hardest opponent they have faced thus far is San Jose State. We will see if Thomas – pegged solely as a scorer – can keep up his 20.6 ppg when he faces tougher competition.
Randle seems unstoppable this season, but looks more concerned about his own shot selection. Across the board, Randle is a dynamic playmaker with a great feel for the game. Still, I would give the slight edge to Wise in regards to overall game management. Wise possesses a great basketball IQ and can help develop his Arizona squad. He is far more vital to his team’s success than Randle is to Cal’s.
Not to say that Wise doesn’t have his knocks.
Wise still struggles with inconsistent shooting nights and does not fit the NBA niche for smaller guards. At 5-10, he is not explosive enough to be a small two-guard and at 22 years old, his potential for vast improvement is not very high. He can become a successful player in Europe if he doesn’t find any opportunities closer to home.
Don’t sleep on the Pac-10 just yet. It has taken a whooping lately from other, and many times smaller, conferences, but it will still be competitive. Keep your eye on Wise come conference play; if anything else, we will witness some great point guard battles this year.
I also noticed that this makes two stories in a row on Arizona point guards. Interesting, because I am an Oregon guy…
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