Arizona men’s basketball is in the process of almost entirely overhauling its roster, yet again, now that both Nico Mannion and Zeke Nnaji have officially declared for the NBA Draft. Fellow freshman forward Josh Green is expected to join his peers in the days or weeks ahead, leaving Sean Miller with just three returning contributors for next season.
Miller and his staff have already signed or received commitments from some very nice prospects, but the challenge of replacing over 85% scoring, 80% rebounding, and 80% of assists from last season’s roster will be a herculean effort.
If and when Green announces his intention to enter the NBA Draft, Arizona will have lost three promising sophomores to be that combined to average 42 of Arizona’s 76.4 points per game in 2019-2020. That’s over 50% of the team’s offensive output from the departing freshmen alone. When you combine the point production from departing seniors and graduate transfers Dylan Smith, Stone Gettings, Max Hazzard, and Chase Jeter, as well as Devonaire Doutrive, who left the program mid-year for disciplinary reasons, Arizona is left with a roster of contributing players that only accounted for 11.3 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, and 97 of the team’s 492 assists.
Perhaps this is good news.
After all, last year’s team only finished in fifth place in the Pac-12 regular season.
Of course, this could also be disastrous news.
In the last few seasons, chemistry and continuity has been an emerging issue, particularly against the elite opponents, as Miller and his also ever-changing coaching staff has had to routinely reshuffle the roster top to bottom. This has resulted in some exciting games and some enjoyable winning streaks. However, it has also resulted in some less than spectacular losses and very short NCAA Tournament runs since the program advanced to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances.
The Pac-12, as a whole, has yet again been decimated by elite talent chasing NBA dreams this offseason, so that helps Arizona. Unfortunately, the Wildcats will still be near the bottom of the conference in returning statistical production.
Jemarl Baker Jr. will return for his junior season after averaging 5.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game (third on last season’s team with 73 total assists). Power forward Ira Lee also returns. Lee averaged 3.3 points and 3.1 rebounds. Christian Koloko, a very promising 7-foot center with solid defensive instincts, also returns after averaging 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds as a freshman.
As the Wildcats look ahead to next season, improved production from Baker, Lee and Koloko is a must. Further, Miller must hope that graduate transfer Terrell Brown, who committed to Arizona last week, can somehow come close to his 20.7 points per game scoring average at Seattle University last season. Miller also needs Georgetown transfer James Akinjo to first be cleared by the NCAA to play immediately and then deliver on the court in terms of scoring output, assists and defensive tenacity. Otherwise, Arizona will need to wait until December for Akinjo to be eligible, which opens the door wide open for chemistry concerns. Finally, Miller must hope that Nevada transfer Jordan Brown, who sat out last season due to transfer eligibility rules, has absorbed Arizona coaching and fully adopted Miller’s “trust the process” mantra to become a key contributor on both ends of the floor.
At 6-foot-11, the athletic Jordan Brown has a chance to make an immediate impact as an inside-out force. Similarly, the guard trio of Baker, Akinjo and Terrell Brown has a chance to be a dynamic mix of scrappy defenders and offensive playmakers. The college-level experience each of these student athletes brings to the table could prove invaluable if they are able to unite on the court, execute as a team, and deliver in the many tight ballgames that will undoubtedly occur in the always competitive Pac-12.
Finally, there’s the incoming freshmen.
Arizona will assuredly need them to step up and play above their age. Still, regardless of the skill set, the truism that a freshman generally plays well at home and often struggles on the road is absolute reality. Even the likes of Mannion, Green and Nnaji had some moments on the road that defied their normally consistent production.
Signee Dalen Terry is a promising small forward. Commit Benedict Mathurin is an intriguing athlete with tons of upside. Recruiting target Kerwin Walton, like the others, is an athletic wing, while top target Ziaire Williams is a potential game changer with the ability to positively impact Arizona from day one.
Regardless, the one thing we know is Arizona needs to replace over 65 points, 29 rebounds and nearly 300 assists from last season’s roster. It’s a load for sure.