Before the Arizona Wildcats open the Pac-12 season vs. Arizona State on Jan. 4, here’s a look at one thing UA fans should watch for from each scholarship player in the Pac-12 season.
Nico Mannion — His jumper
Arizona has gotten two versions of Mannion this season. In losses, he is shooting 24.5 percent from the field and 3 for 20 from 3. In wins, he is shooting 52 percent and 44 percent, respectively.
It’s not fair to pin games on one player, but if Mannion plays anywhere close to his potential against Gonzaga, Baylor and St. John’s, Arizona probably wins those games. He shot 12 for 49 from the field and Arizona lost by a combined 12 points.
Mannion suffered ankle and back injuries leading up to those losses, so perhaps all this time off will allow him to come back and recapture that early-season groove for the Pac-12 season.
Chase Jeter — His physicality
Rebounding is Arizona’s biggest weakness and the Wildcats need more from Jeter on the glass. His total rebounding percentage (14.6) is pretty pedestrian and lower than it was last year. Things will only get more difficult from here because the Pac-12 is loaded with fearsome frontcourt players.
ASU’s Romello White will be a challenge right off the bat. He has posted six straight double-digit rebound games.
Zeke Nnaji — His touches
Not much to complain about when it comes to Nnaji’s performance. He leads Arizona in scoring (16.5 ppg), rebounding (7.1 rpg) and blocks (1.2 bpg) while shooting a ridiculous 69.6 percent from the field. He’s also shown up in big games, including monster double-doubles in the losses to Gonzaga and St. John’s.
But he is averaging almost two field goal attempts less than Josh Green and almost three less than Mannion. That pecking order needs to change. The Wildcats have to do a better job getting Nnaji the ball in more favorable spots where he cannot be double teamed so easily. If they can, their offense will be less prone to those cold streaks that have doomed them in their three losses.
Josh Green — His field-goal percentage
If Green is going to take the second-most shots on the team, he has to be more efficient. He is shooting 43.5 percent from the field and his 53.3 true-shooting percentage, which takes free throws and 3-pointers into account, is only ahead of Ira Lee and Christian Koloko.
Green has been a very streaky 3-point shooter. He has made 13 3-pointers this season, but eight have come in two games. He shot 4 for 7 against Illinois and 4 for 5 against Pepperdine. Take those games out and he is shooting just 5 for 28 (18 percent) from behind the arc.
Meanwhile, Green is shooting 73.2 percent at the rim, per hoop-math.com, so getting him going toward the basket is a must. It’s a win for the defense if he is settling for jumpers.
Max Hazzard — His 3-point percentage
Hazzard has pretty much been what he was expected to be when he transferred in from UC Irvine—an off-guard who is dangerous in spot-up situations and able to hit clutch shots.
But Hazzard’s 3-point percentage (.350) with the Wildcats is a few ticks below what he shot with UC Irvine. He also went 1 for 7 against St. John’s and Baylor, missing some key looks that could have turned those games in a different direction.
Hazzard’s 5.1 ppg is almost half of what he averaged at UC Irvine, but that makes sense since he is only taking 4.3 shots per game, roughly six fewer than last season.
Dylan Smith — His consistency
Smith’s numbers have dipped considerably since he tore up the Wooden Legacy. Since leaving Anaheim, he is shooting just 36 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3.
Smith got benched after taking a questionable shot against St. John’s, and it will be interesting to see if he is still in the starting lineup against ASU and/or if his minutes are reduced. All Arizona needs from Smith is solid defense and spot-up 3-point shooting, but he’s often the victim of trying to do too much.
Jemarl Baker Jr. — His minutes
The guy who would take Smith’s minutes is Baker, who is the team’s best 3-point shooter and second-best distributor. Baker is only averaging 18.0 minutes per game, and it would be interesting to see how he fares in a more expansive role. Would he be able to sustain his 3-point percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio at a higher volume? Is he physically capable of taking on a larger role, knowing his injury history?
Stone Gettings — His health
Gettings is expected to return from a five-game absence on Jan. 4 vs. ASU. The Wildcats went 2-3 in his absence and sorely missed his 3-point shooting, as he’s the only big that can consistently space the floor.
Arizona needs him to stay healthy the rest of the season for that reason—and because it’s his last year of college basketball and it would be a shame to see it go to waste because of injuries.
Christian Koloko — His minutes
If Jeter can’t be more of a threat on the glass, it’s time to seriously consider divvying some of his minutes to Koloko, who has been productive in the small amount of minutes he’s played, ranking first on the team (by a mile) in block percentage and second in total rebounding percentage.
Yes, he is not as polished offensively as Jeter, but the way this team is constructed, it can sacrifice some offense if it means more rebounding and shot-blocking.
Ira Lee — His minutes
Statistically, Lee is the Wildcats’ best rebounder so you would think they could find a use for him. The problem is he doesn’t do enough in other areas to justify playing him over the other frontcourt players. Lee is second-to-last in true-shooting percentage and has seen his block rate drop since last season.
He, like Smith, is also prone to mental mistakes such as when he did not box out in transition against St. John’s and it led to a putback dunk. Lee was benched for the second half of that game in favor of Koloko, so it could be a sign of things to come as we head into the Pac-12 season.