Key Returners: Chase Jeter, Dylan Smith, Ira Lee, Devonaire Doutrive
Key Losses: Brandon Randolph, Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther, Alex Barcello, Brandon Williams (to injury for the year)
Key Newcomers: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Zeke Nnaji, Max Hazzard, Stone Gettings
Outlook: Good grief, what it must be like to be an Arizona basketball fan…
Putting all the FBI rumors and allegations over the past two years to the side, keeping tabs with a roster that’s been more fluid than a Triple-A baseball team has to be exhausting. Just to put this in perspective, I whipped up a quick timeline of all the news clippings from a one month timeframe, spanning from the end of May to mid August:
5/23/19: Terry Armstrong, a consensus 4-star top-100 recruit, responds to speculation that he intends to leave the program after signing his LOI in November
5/27/19: Devonaire Doutrive’s guardian, Laurian Watkins, tells the Arizona Daily Star that Doutrive plans to leave the program…
“He is looking for a spot that’s more suitable for him going forward,“ Watkins told the Star via text message. “U of A was awesome just not the best fit for him!”
6/19/19: Less than a month removed from reassuring fans of his commitment to the program, Armstrong ultimately chooses to forego his freshman season at Arizona and go pro
6/20/19: After initial rumors were swirling that Brandon Williams would not be returning for his sophomore season, PlayerProgramsU, reported that Williams’ is 100% committed to coming back
6/24/19 (8:19 AM): Alex Barcello decides to transfer out of the program
6/24/19 (12:50 PM): Just hours after Barcello’s announcement, Doutrive officially states his plans to return to Arizona, clearing up the confusion from the initial report:
8/7/19 (6:23 PM): After rumors started swirling on Arizona message boards (and in our inbox - we could have broken this story, sigh), the Wildcats confirmed that Williams would miss the season with a knee injury:
So, after all the musical chairs with the roster this summer, here’s where the dust finally settled.
Doutrive and Dylan Smith return as the two perimeter incumbents, teaming up with UC Irvine grad transfer dynamo Max Hazzard and 5-star phenom Nico Mannion, to form what will likely be a logjam in the backcourt depth chart. The unquestioned headliner is Mannion, a local kid from Phoenix, who looks like the dynamic floor general Arizona has been missing since TJ McConnell graduated in 2015. When Mannion is at his best, he puppeteers the offense with complete and utter control. Mannion isn’t ultra-explosive, but he has an NBA-level feel for winding his way into soft spots in the defense and displays an advanced finishing touch from the midrange and in. He’s also underrated as a long-range shooter, which leaves few holes in his overall scoring package, but his passing is what separates him from his peers. As Sam Vecenie pointed out in his 2020 Way Too Early NBA Draft breakdown, Mannion routinely sprays the ball around to his teammates on time and on target.
Mannion’s pristine table setting as the primary initiator should generate more efficient shots for whoever Miller slots next to him at the 2. Williams wasted no time establishing himself as a reliable conductor of the offense early on last year, and a late season surge in his outside jumper had me quite bullish on a Mannion / Williams perimeter pairing looking ahead to 2020. With so few reliable guards, Williams was the rock of the Wildcat backcourt. His true value was quickly revealed when he was sidelined during a 6-game stretch in February - Arizona went 1-5 during that span, including an inexcusable home loss to Washington State. Miller simply had no one else to turn to behind the volatile Smith and Coleman, accentuating the need for Williams’ leadership on the floor.
Without Williams next season, Hazzard is the best bet to solidify the second guard spot. The former UC Irvine standout is a certified bucket getter, who can fill it up from all over the floor. His historical shot-chart indicates he’s most efficient as a long-range shooter, since his lack of size can inhibit his ability to finish efficiently inside – still, floor spacing was a glaring weakness for the Wildcats last year, and Hazzard has proven to be a highly accurate long range marksmen on a large volume of attempts at Irvine.
The real intriguing decision facing Sean Miller this offseason is how to extract the most out of the high-flying Josh Green, another 5-star blue-chipper blessed with otherworldly athleticism. All scouting reports cite that Green is devastating in transition, where his long strides and springboard-bounce are impossible to stop when he gets a full head of steam. The Wildcats have played at a modest pace during the Miller regime, only finishing in the top-100 of kenpom.com’s adjusted tempo once in his 10 years at the helm. Now, with a generational talent running the show at point and a freak athlete galloping nearby on the wing, Miller would be wise to consider hitting the turbo boosters this season.
From a lineup construction lens, Miller seems to prioritize size and physicality over speed and skill at the 4 position. Historically, this has caused him to gravitate toward a traditional 2-big lineup over a 4-out, 1-in structure. So, as much as I’d like to see Green play some small-ball 4 this season, a twin-tower lineup with Chase Jeter and either top-40 freshman Zeke Nnaji or Cornell grad transfer Stone Gettings seems more likely. Even with decent size up front last season, the Wildcats were still gashed at the rim, a problem that was illuminated against longer, more athletic opponents in Pac-12 play. One of the issues was Ryan Luther’s lack of explosive verticality, as he struggled to challenge drivers and post-up operators inside. Ira Lee relieved Luther at the second forward spot last year, and while he posted strong per minute rebounding and block rates, his defensive positioning intelligence still lags behind. The advanced on / off numbers were not kind to Lee’s impact on that side of the ball last season, so I’d expect both newcomers, Nnaji and Gettings, to get ample opportunities right away.
The scouting report on Nnaji reads that he’s oozing with long-term offensive upside, but still has a lot of work to do in the weight room, so I’m not convinced he’s the immediate solution defensively. Gettings was a rebounding machine at Cornell, but the frontlines he went toe-to-toe with in the Ivy League don’t hold a candle to what he’ll see in the Pac-12. I see him being more of an offensive asset, where his passing and shooting combination at 6’8 should make him a useful trigger man to run the offense through when the right matchup presents itself.
Bottom Line: This roster is the perfect placemat for Sean Miller to silence the critics who claim he doesn’t optimize his bench and roster depth. At all five positions, Miller has multiple options to plug and play with, many of whom offer contrasting styles that can be used to counter just about any type of opposing scheme the Wildcats run into. The loss of Brandon Randolph looks harmful on paper, but most Arizona fans aren’t losing sleep over an inefficient gunner leaving the team. Replacing his minutes with Mannion and Green, two sublime talents at the point and on the wing, respectively, should restore Arizona right back to the top of the Pac-12 totem pole. You can count on one hand the number of teams whose rosters fuse together multiple 5-star freshmen with proven All-Conference caliber veterans - one of those can be found in Tucson this season.