Arizona Wildcats (11-4, 1-1)
- Head Coach: Sean Miller (11th Season)
- Top Performer: Zeke Nnaji (16.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG)
- Points For: 82.4 PPG (11th)
- Points Against: 64.7 PPG (78th)
- Last Game/Streak: 74-73 Loss at Oregon (1L)
What a time for Oregon State to see Arizona staring them in the face.
The Beavers started conference play with a tough loss at Utah, stunned the league by knocking off Colorado and then returned to Corvallis, hopeful to take down Arizona State and set-up an interesting scenario where they could pick up an NCAA Tournament resume win against Arizona. But that plan fell by wayside, when Wayne Tinkle’s group couldn’t get things together for their battle against the Sun Devils.
Sunday’s meeting with the Wildcats is now suddenly a whole lot more intriguing.
Arizona is coming off a defeat in their own right, in an overtime thriller at the hands of Oregon, which featured a ruthless final few minutes of action. It’s one of those types of losses that usually doesn't deflate a team, but instead fuels it and that’s not a good sign for the Beavers. When Sean Miller finally finds a way to click with his teams, the league has not found too much success against them.
While the Wildcats aren’t there just yet, three players seem to be a bit ahead of the curve in the freshman trio of Zeke Nnaji (16.2 PPG), Nico Mannion (14.7 PPG) and Josh Green (13.3 PPG).
Nnaji, who is featured below in our Player to Watch, has been one of the biggest freshman surprises in the league, as he has shot past his complimentary role expectations and become one of the more infuriating players for opponents to handle. His ability to score with ease on the offensive end only makes him all that more difficult of a cover, especially when he’s fighting endlessly for rebounds on both ends of the floor. The Beavers need to avoid picking up easy fouls on Nnaji, who has a strong skill to push opponents into those situations.
As for Mannion, the much-hyped freshman has actually been a more capable distributor than some projected, as he’s leading the Wildcats with 6.1 assists per game. Mannion has shown a veteran calmness at times to handle the difficulties of keeping a revolving door rotation finding shots in the right areas, while in the meantime still remaining an offensive threat himself.
And when it comes to Green, the superbly athletic wingman was likely always going to be a second-option, but another tool in the drawer he certainly is not. Green is a legitimate scorer, who I think has actually shown more progress on the defensive end, where Miller’s preseason praise of having “Nick Johnson-like athleticism” has continued to prove true.
While that trio makes the Wildcats go, the true guts of this team is in their six-man grouping around their stars, which gives Arizona the ability to play through injuries, foul trouble and slow nights and usually emerge on the right side of things.
Dylan Smith (8.7 PPG) seems the most comfortable he’s been in the red and blue uniform, while expected key pieces like forwards Chase Jeter (8.1 PPG) and Ira Lee (3.4 PPG) have somehow been alright in reduced roles. Even Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker Jr. (6.5 PPG), a late addition thanks to the NCAA, has been serviceable, as have graduate transfers Stone Gettings (5.1 PPG) and Max Hazzard (4.7 PPG).
But with no true head of this team, the Beavers may have their hands full on Sunday with one of the country’s best offensive teams coming to Gill Coliseum. If there’s been one game in the past two seasons that Oregon State needs to be ready for more than this one, I can’t recall it. It’s simply go time for the Beavers right now.
Player To Watch
Zeke Nnaji (Forward - Freshman)
Four straight double-doubles against some stiff competition has left Nnaji in a spot where he has to be considered among the best forwards in the country. The freshman has had an easily assimilation to the free-flow offense of the Wildcats and has not let his scoring take away from his effort on the glass. If he keeps it going, Nnaji could develop into an NBA lottery pick.
- Date: Sunday, January 12th
- Time: 7:00 PM PT
- Location: Gill Coliseum (Corvallis, OR)
- Coverage: Fox Sports 1