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4 Days ‘Till OSU Basketball: Arizona Wildcats Preview

Could Sean Miller’s group claim another league title?

Pac-12 Basketball Tournament - First Round Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Arizona Wildcats

  • Head Coach: Sean Miller (11th Season) | Overall: 264–89
  • Last Season: 17-15 (8-10) | Post-Season: None
  • Pac-12 Media Preseason Poll: 4th (263 Points - 2 First Place Votes)

Projected Starters

  • Nico Mannion (Guard - Freshman)
  • Max Hazzard (Guard - Graduate)
  • Josh Green (Guard - Freshman)
  • Ira Lee (Forward - Junior)
  • Chase Jeter (Forward - RS Senior)

The Skinny

Despite keeping their head above water last season, there’s likely no team that wants to move on from the tumultuous nature of the 2018-2019 campaign that Arizona.

The NCAA FBI scandal was essentially headquartered in Tucson, where assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson kept the Wildcats in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It didn’t help that the fallout from the off-the-court noise translated down onto the floor, as Arizona posted head coach Sean Miller’s worst campaign with the Wildcats since his first year in the desert.

Whether it was distractions, injuries or missteps from the team, last year lived up to the billing as a year that couldn’t be finished soon enough for the Wildcats. Heading forward into the 2019-2020 season, there is air to be found surrounding the Arizona program again.

Two of the biggest breaths of that newfound oxygen will come from a pair of All-American recruits in Nico Mannion, a speedy point guard from Arizona, and Josh Green, a next-level athlete. The duo, who were both regarded as five-star recruits and spent time meshing with one another at a litany top-level high school events, are expected to calm the fleeting whirlwind and infuse energy into a mix-and-match assortment of transfers and developing pieces.

2019 Powerade Jam Fest
Arizona freshmen Nico Mannion and Josh Green will be two key pieces on the Wildcats roster.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Powerade

Mannion, a well-hyped prospect, was viewed as the top point guard in the 2019 class not named Cole Anthony (UNC) and has already shown flashes of being an immediate game-changer at a question mark spot for Miller’s group. Green on the other hand, has been referred to by Miller himself as reminiscent of former Arizona star Nick Johnson, the 2014 Pac-12 Player of the Year.

Nothing like placing high expectations on a duo of brand new pieces to campus.

While that pair of freshmen will received more of the incoming acclaim, Miller did a strong job of building up the whole recruiting class around them, which also features two towering interior talents in Zeke Nnaji and Christian Koloko. The mix of them with returning stalwarts in Chase Jeter (10.9 PPG), a one-time Duke outcast who is now firmly in the debate for Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Ira Lee (6.6 PPG), a reliable veteran presence, has the potential to make Arizona a front-court anchored squad.

However, like almost every other season in Miller’s tenure, it’ll be the guard play that defines their long-term success and with a wealth of options in the back-court, Arizona is growing into a legitimate Top 20 team.

Max Hazzard, a graduate transfer from UC-Irvine who came of national acclaim during their NCAA Tournament run, is a plug-and-play talent who should get the starting nod from day one. He’ll be flanked by the aforementioned Mannion and the recent addition of Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker Jr., another last-minute talent to be cleared in the useless NCAA waiver process.

If there’s any negatives to look at, it’s that the Wildcats can’t even lie to themselves when the discuss the loss of Brandon Williams (11.4 PPG) for the season, but other pieces like Dylan Smith (7.2 PPG) and Devonaire Doutrive (3.3 PPG) should hop into bigger roles. In all though, Sean Miller has always been at his most ruthless when his is deep and balanced and that’s very well what we’re looking at with the 2019-2020 edition of Arizona.

Four Non-Conference Games To Watch

  • 11/10 v. Illinois
  • 12/7 at Baylor
  • 12/14 v. Gonzaga
  • 12/21 v. St. John’s* (Hall Of Fame Al Attles Classic)