Arizona basketball: Nnaji, Mannion make SI's top 50 list

Anthony Gimino

Arizona Wildcats basketball fans are awaiting news on the draft decisions of freshmen Nico Mannion, Zeke Nnaji and Josh Green and wondering what might have been if the postseason hadn't been cut short and the NCAA Tournament canceled.

Would Arizona have made a run after winning its first-round game over Washington in the Pac-12 tournament?

We'll never know, of course, and those three freshmen didn't get a chance to write the final chapter of their legacy in 2019-20. (In the podcast above, InsidetheWildcats' Brad Allis discusses why being "NBA ready" does not matter.)

With a 21-11 record, the Wildcats' season was largely disappointing, pockmarked with too many close losses and a lack of signature moments. But Nnaji (16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds) was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and a first-team all-league pick; Mannion (14.0 points, 5.3 assists) was a second-team choice, and Green averaged 12.0 points and 4.6 rebounds.

Last week, Sports Illustrated's Jeremy Woo picked the top 50 players from the abbreviated college basketball season -- and Nnaji and Mannion made the list.

Here is what he wrote:

30. Zeke Nnaji, Arizona, Freshman

Although Nnaji was underhyped coming into the season, his productivity speaks for itself as one of the country’s top rebounders and most efficient scorers. While at times he struggled on the defensive end, his energy on the glass and reliable production proved essential for Arizona.

48. Nico Mannion, Arizona, Freshman

Although Mannion’s year wasn’t all that strong statistically, he finished second in the Pac-12 in assists and piloted Arizona to a solid season, passing the eye test as a leader and decision-maker. He didn’t entirely live up to the degree of hype that followed him to Tucson, but there were few players as entertaining to watch on a good night.

Comments (2)
No. 1-2
Brad Allis
Brad Allis

Editor

It was not so much that Nnaji was a bad defender, but he did struggle at times against elite bigs like Isaiah Stewart and physical teams like St. John's and UCLA. In reality, he was a solid to good defender, but there is fear that he will struggle to defend on the next level because he is a little small to play center and not fleet enough to guard stretch 4's BTW Lute felt Salim was an elite defender. Not in the Geary/Jefferson mode but pretty close. He said that both on and off the record.

Wineknow
Wineknow

No offense to you professional sports writers, but I think there are some writing assignments where you just have to write some fluff. I think someone says something one time and it gets repeated, ad museum forever, every time anyone writes about that player. This team was, quietly, a terrific defensive team - STARTING with Nnaji. I cannot recall a frosh big man that talented on D - when did he struggle on D? Did not happen. OUR offense was the issue and if Nnaji struggled it was in this games where no one could score for 12 minutes at time. Thats called "offense", mr. Woo. Woo just needed to write something. Same thing goes back to Salim Stoudamire. I played BB, have watched it all my life. Never once did I ever hear the term 'on-ball' defender until Salim and virtually no one could say his name with out the term 'on-ball' defender. Have rarely heard it since. Salim was a solid defender, but he was not a great or special defender - but the got that rap and it stuck.


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