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What to watch for when Arizona hosts South Dakota State on Thursday

arizona-wildcats-sean-miller-press-conference-postgame-illinois-interview-basketball Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats (4-0) return to the hardwood Thursday when they host the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (4-2).

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network.

Here are some things to watch for:

Another easy win

Aside from the first half against Illinois, Arizona has breezed through its non-conference schedule, owning an averaging scoring margin of 34.5.

This game shouldn’t be any different. While South Dakota State is typically a solid mid- major team—it has won 20 or more games in four of the past five seasons—it’s currently in a transition period. The Jackrabbits graduated three of their top four scorers from last season and saw the other—David Jenkins Jr.—transfer to UNLV to follow former head coach T.J. Otzelberger, who left after last season.

So far, SDSU has been blasted by major-conference competition. It lost to USC 84-66 and Nebraska 90-73.

KenPom ranks the Jackrabbits as the No. 213 team in the country, with the No. 171 offense and No. 265 defense. The analytics site gives Arizona a 98 percent chance of beating them with a projected score of 84-62.

Zeke’s streak

UA freshman Zeke Nnaji has taken the college basketball world by storm, averaging 21 points and 6 rebounds per game. Among all 20+ point scorers, he owns the highest field goal percentage (84.6) by a wide margin.

It helps that he has not missed a shot in two games, making 17 straight field goal attempts dating back to the Illinois game. He is not just dominating in the paint, but showing a smooth mid-range game as well.

If that wasn’t enough, his length and quickness gives Arizona’s defense a dynamic it has not had in at least a few years. The Wildcats are the only team in college basketball with a top-10 offense and defense.

The turnover differential could get ugly

Arizona’s offense is 27th in the country in turnover percentage. SDSU’s defense is 344th.

Arizona’s defense is 13th. SDSU’s offense is 219th.

Put that together and you are looking at potentially nasty turnover margin in this game. That could mean lots of transition opportunities, and highlight plays, for Nico Mannion, Josh Green and company.

Staying hot

The Wildcats have flipped the script with their perimeter shooting this season, currently ranking 13th in the country in 3-point percentage. They were 214th last year.

As I wrote yesterday, that is mainly due to newcomers like Mannion, Jermarl Baker Jr. and Stone Gettings, who are a combined 19 for 34 from 3.

Let’s give Dylan Smith some credit as well. He has drained half of his 10 3-point attempts.

Any major lineup changes?

Probably not. We probably won’t get a real glimpse at Arizona’s rotation until the Baylor game on Dec. 7.

However, two things I will be looking for are Devonaire Doutrive’s minutes and how much time Nnaji spends at the 5.

Doutrive has played 16 minutes in each of his first two games as he gets up to speed after his suspension. If he starts to have a bigger role, it could signal that Arizona plans to move him into the starting lineup once it faces tougher competition. After all, Miller did refer to Doutrive as a starter when he was suspended.

As for Nnaji at the 5, that seems to be the best spot for him, especially with the way Chase Jeter and Ira Lee have struggled offensively to start the year.

SDSU player to watch: Douglas Wilson

The Jackrabbits’ leading scorer is junior college transfer Douglas Wilson, a 6-foot-7 forward from Des Moines, Iowa.

Wilson is averaging 18.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on 56.3 percent shooting, doing all of his damage inside the arc. He had 15 points apiece against Nebraska and USC.

Before joining the Jackrabbits this offseason, Wilson was a two-time NJCAA All-American and the 2018-19 NJCAA Player of the Year at Kirkwood Community College, which won the national championship last season.

Wilson averaged 21.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore, shooting 67 percent with 11 double-doubles.