The Arizona Wildcats will unofficially open the 2019-20 college basketball season Friday when they host an exhibition against the Division II Chico State Wildcats.
Tip off is set for 6:30 p.m. PT. You can watch the game on Arizona Live Stream.
Here are some things to keep an eye on.
Chico State’s zone defense
Arizona played Chico State every fall from 2015 to 2017 for a reason. Chico is one of the better Division II teams in the West and its zone defense gives the Wildcats a good opportunity to iron out their zone offense, which we know can be very clunky.
A few years ago, Chico State took Arizona to the wire, losing 78-70 but leading 29-17 at one point. UA couldn’t hit anything from the perimeter that night.
Friday’s game isn’t expected to go that way, but Arizona has a ton of newcomers and may start three freshmen, so it would not be the least bit surprising if it gets off to a slow start as it tries to solve Chico’s zone.
The starting five
As I outlined in my updated depth chart yesterday, it is all but certain that Nico Mannion, Chase Jeter and Josh Green will be starters if they are healthy. Jeter had a groin injury that kept him out of the Red-Blue Game and Green had offseason shoulder surgery, though it is not expected to affect his UA career.
The other two starting spots can go a number of different ways. Freshman Zeke Nnaji is probably the most talented 4, with a tantalizing blend of skill, size and mobility, but senior Stone Gettings and junior Ira Lee are more experienced. Gettings’ shooting and passing could be a real zone-buster too.
At the 2, Devonaire Doutrive, Max Hazzard, Dylan Smith and newly-eligible Jemarl Baker Jr. are all candidates to get the nod, though I tend to think Hazzard will start because of his experience and ability to space the floor.
Who’s the backup point guard?
It is doubtful Mannion will have a normal workload in this game, meaning there will be some extra time to gauge how comfortable the other guards are running the point.
None are pass-first players, but at least one or two need to show they are capable of keeping the offense flowing when Mannion is off the court. We’re only nine days away from Arizona’s first game against a power-conference team (Illinois) so ideally the Wildcats will have the backup point guard situation sorted out by then—or at least have a decent idea of who isn’t ready for that responsibility.
At the same time, Arizona needs someone to emerge as a tone-setter on defense. The Wildcats have not had a tenacious perimeter defender since Kadeem Allen graduated and it has shown in their efficiency numbers over the past couple seasons.
Will it be someone new like Green or Baker? Or will one of the returners like Smith or Doutrive step up in that role?
This is Arizona’s first game with the international-length 3-point line so it will be interesting to see how many 3s it hoists. Sean Miller said at Pac-12 media day that the extra distance will change the game, but he wasn’t sure how it will affect his team.
Arizona shot roughly 22 3-point attempts per game last season, a higher 3-point rate than usual even though it only made 33.6 percent of them.
Defensively, Arizona typically allows a lot of 3-point attempts, a byproduct of the pack line defense, which emphasizes protecting the paint.
The freshman connection
Arizona fans have waited so long for this freshman class to arrive and return to the program to winning ways, so now it’s time to enjoy the fact that they’re here.
Especially since a couple of them probably won’t be around for very long.