It will be another week or so before the Arizona Wildcats return to the hardwood and begin Pac-12 play, so what a better time to reflect on the non-conference season?
Our staff shares its biggest takeaways from the first 13 games.
Brian J. Pedersen
The most notable takeaway from Arizona’s non-conference season was just how important every player on the roster is to the team’s success, and how even missing just one of those guys throws off the careful balance of everything.
Unless you think it’s merely a coincidence, the loss of Stone Gettings to a facial fracture and concussion midway through the Wooden Legacy has completely changed this team. While Gettings wasn’t putting up great numbers, his skill set was very important to helping balance things out between the prolific scorers in the backcourt and the physical presences in the frontcourt.
Arizona went 8-0 with Gettings on the court, including the game that he got injured in. With him unavailable the Wildcats are 2-3, and in all three of those losses Gettings’ presence could have been the difference.
If he is able to return for the Pac-12 opener on Jan. 4, and in good condition, we’ll get to see the real Arizona team once again. Back in mid-November I called this Sean Miller’s most well-constructed team, and Gettings is a big reason why.
Arizona finished non-conference play still ranked in the AP Top 25 and won 10 of its 13 games. You should never complain about a 10-3 start to the season. However, you can nitpick.
I learned that the post players minus Zeke Nnaji will likely be an issue for the rest of the season. I also know that despite winning 10 games they lost three games to the three best teams they faced.
The counter to this would be that collectively the team is still young and figuring it out. There is enough talent to make a push for a high seed in the big dance. Also, the resiliency of the team was on full display for all three losses. They should have been blown out in all three games but were able to claw back for a respectable final scores.
So what was my biggest take away from non-conference play? The talent is there to put together a nice run when it matters most, it just needs to be harvested.
Things were a lot more fun when Arizona was winning, right? Arizona blowing out lesser competition was nice to see, but our excitement over seeing them face off with better competition was tempered by the fact that Arizona lost to the better teams — and St. John’s.
So, where does that leave them? Honestly, probably fine, as long as they get better.
Arizona is not without flaws, yet there really isn’t a team in the country who can claim to be perfect. The Wildcats’ ability to come back in the games they lost is encouraging, though it would be nice if they didn’t fall down double digits in the first place. However, even while losing three of their final four non-conference games you can tell they are talented, and that counts for something.
As I see it, this year’s Wildcats have as much raw talent as any we’ve seen in recent memory, but they still need time to put it all together. They must rebound the ball better, be more consistent on defense and rediscover the electric offense they began the season with.
The Wildcats may never reach the level necessary to make a run to the Final Four, but until the clock reaches 0:00 on the season I will remain optimistic that the 2019-20 Wildcats can be special.
My biggest takeaway is that Arizona will go as its freshmen go. I thought all those fifth-year seniors on the roster would provide some steady contributions around them, but it turns out those guys are just too hot and cold, and/or have an obvious shortcoming, to rely on.
Obviously the trio of Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji is as good as any in the country, but they are still freshmen, prone to mental mistakes and off games. I think what you are going to see during the Pac-12 season is that Arizona can beat anybody but will also suffer some mind-boggling losses, with the defeat vs. St. John’s being the perfect example. Aside from maybe Cal, there will be no gimmes for the Wildcats during conference play.
It would be different if Arizona had a good defense and rebounding presence to fall back on when the offense, whose top three scorers are freshmen, stalls. Unfortunately, that is just not the case at the moment.