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Roundtable: How does Arizona losing Brandon Williams change the outlook for 2019-20?

Arizona v USC Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats got some “beyond disheartening” news, as Sean Miller put it, when they learned that sophomore guard Brandon Williams underwent season-ending knee surgery.

Averaging 11.4 points and 3.4 assists per game, Williams was one of Arizona’s top players last season, and would have been a key cog for the 2019-20 squad.

Now that he is out, our staff discusses how that changes the team’s outlook.

Adam Green

The news that Brandon Williams would miss the season was unfortunate, even if it wasn’t totally unexpected. That it was a known possibility for some time is why I am confident in saying that while Arizona is not going to be better without Williams, not having him won’t dampen my expectations of the team. There’s a caveat to that, and I’ll get to that in a bit.

One of the greatest disappointments in Williams being unable to play is this upcoming season would have had him on a roster that could really take advantage of his talents. He was often a one-man show as a freshman, with few guys who could take the load off his back and even fewer who could hit an open three off of one of his drives. That was not going to be the case this season, and it would have been nice to see him play with a roster that could better fit his game.

Overall, though, Arizona still has plenty of talent to work with. The freshmen — specifically Nico Mannion but also Josh Green — could be good enough to mitigate the loss of Williams. Alex Barcello transferring hurts a bit, but the addition of grad transfer Max Hazzard, a veteran who can play both guard spots, seems prescient. That goes back to the coaching staff probably not being surprised with Wednesday’s news.

And that’s just it. When it came to Williams, Sean Miller and Arizona probably hoped for the best but planned for the worst. Health permitting (that’s the caveat I mentioned earlier), they should have enough in the backcourt to be plenty fine, with a frontcourt that can more than hold its own.

But should there be an injury to one of the guards or the freshmen aren’t as ready to play as we think, Williams’ absence will be quite noticeable and the team’s ceiling gets that much lower.

Christian Mortensen

Obviously, losing Brandon Williams for the entire season isn’t a good thing for Arizona basketball. However, not having him doesn’t really change my outlook on the Cats’ prospects for the upcoming year.

My reasoning is simple. Unlike last season, when Williams was surrounded by a supporting cast we can all agree was lackluster—and when he missed time they really struggled—this year’s squad is stacked.

We all know about the star freshmen who should have big impacts right away, Nico Mannion and Josh Green, but even returning guards like Dylan Smith and Devonaire Doutrive should contribute more to the team than they did last season, providing more cover for Williams’ absence.

In my opinion though, the true X-factor without Williams will be the play of Max Hazzard. The grad transfer from UC Irvine (and the little brother of UA walk-on legend Jacob Hazzard) showed out on the biggest possible stage last season at the NCAA Tournament and if he can make a smooth adjustment to playing at the Pac-12 level, the Wildcats should be just fine without Williams. If Hazzard struggles to adapt, though, the weight on Mannion’s and Green’s shoulders will be even more substantial.

At the end of the day, losing B-Will does hurt and I fully expect some growing pains for the young stars at the beginning of the season, but I still think that Arizona’s depth is enough to make up for his injury.

I’m still expecting at least a Pac-12 title (tournament or regular season would be fine) and a Sweet 16 appearance. Anything more than would be gravy.

David Skinner

Hearing the news about Brandon Williams and his knee was a blow to the system as an Arizona student and fan. For all of this to happen to a young man who chose to come to Arizona when no other recruit would even look Tucson’s way makes it hurt that much more.

Williams gave everything he could possibly give last season, and even then it wasn’t enough, and understandably. The team around him just wasn’t good enough, and Williams’ freshman year was supposed to just be a buffer year until Nico and the gang came into town.

Well, Nico and the gang are all here, and now Williams has to sit out. The entire year.

Ronnie Stoffle

I actually think losing Brandon Williams has serious implications on the season. The argument that UA’s 2019-20 team will be stacked with backcourt players is a legitimate one. However, anytime a combo guard like Williams is lost, it is going to have an effect.

Let’s start with he was the best player on last year’s team. That may not feel like much but he was clearly the one with the most upside and NBA potential. He also earned the respect of the Pac-12 as he was the only Wildcat to receive any form of all-conference honors.

Yes, Nico Mannion and Max Hazzard will do wonders at point guard. There will likely even be a good amount of sets that incorporate both of them. There definitely would have been sets that incorporated Mannion and Williams or Hazzard and Williams as well.

Simply put: losing Williams means losing depth at a position that is crucial to the college game. Moreover, losing Williams also means losing your most talented and valuable returning player in a rebound season with Final Four aspirations.

Is everything derailed? Absolutely not. How concerned should we be? Time will tell.

Ezra Amacher

When news of Brandon Williams missing the upcoming season came out Wednesday afternoon, it sent waves of anguish across the college basketball community. Williams has dealt with right knee issues since high school, and this surgery could well be a result of the constant wear-and-tear that young athletes like Williams increasingly go through. However, word of Williams potentially missing the 2020-21 season had been swirling for some time now, and you can bet Sean Miller was well aware of the possibility that he’d be without his best returning guard.

Max Hazzard will get the lion’s share of minutes supposed to be designated to Williams. Hazzard is a capable guard with a proven track record playing well against high major opponents. However, there will inevitably be a learning curve jumping from the Big West to the Pac-12.

Josh Green will need to contribute immediately, perhaps in more ways than he’d have been asked if Williams was healthy. There will be no shortage of pressure on he and Nico Mannion to commandeer Arizona’s offense. Again, it will take the freshmen some time to adjust to these expectations.

By the time February or March comes around, I think Arizona’s talent pool will put the Wildcats in contention for a conference title and a run at the Final Four. But in the early months of the season, I expect to see plenty of experimentation as Miller works around the presence of Williams. There’s no sugarcoating that Williams’ absence is going to slow down this team. Fortunately for Arizona, there are options.

Scott Moran

I think the loss of Williams is probably gonna cost Arizona 3-5 wins. That’s enough to cost Arizona a couple of spots in the Pac-12 standings, probably two seed-lines in the NCAA Tournament, and that kind of difference can bring serious implications.

Nico Mannion is a great recruit and I’m so excited to see him make his impact this season. However, I just can’t trust him as the primary man in the backcourt, at least not yet. Miller has never been one to use his bench extensively, but 40 minutes/game is not what the doctor ordered for a true freshman, even one with the talent of Mannion.

The good news is, there will be at least some learning curve. The first game is a buy game against NAU, followed by Illinois, San Jose State, New Mexico State, South Dakota State, and Long Beach State all in McKale. NMSU and SDSU are strong enough mid-majors to mildly worry me, and Illinois is still a power-conference team despite their flaws, but overall Arizona will have time to learn their way around the roster without Williams.

Williams was going to be an integral part of a talented roster, and losing him hurts. That said, it’s not a death knell. The Wildcats have the talent to survive, but there’s no doubt UA would have more wins come April if Williams hadn’t got hurt. Here’s to both Williams and the team getting better throughout the season.

Brian J. Pedersen

Based on how the Sean Miller era has gone, it’s been better to have lower expectations and be pleasantly surprised (see 2010-11) than be dreaming of Final Fours and beyond only to be let down. So in that respect, Brandon Williams’ injury may be a blessing for the fanbase; at least, for the ones who are realistic.

With Williams gone, there are now just three returning players from last year’s team. And while the 2018-19 squad struggled mightily, there is something to be said about continuity, yet this team is almost entirely brand new. And while many of the new arrivals come with great hype, that’s all it is to this point.

With only 10 scholarship players, Arizona is one injury away from being in serious trouble. The Wildcats may still be more talented than most of their opponents this season, but now there’s almost no room for error.

Ryan Kelapire

I compiled my thoughts here, but basically I think Arizona is a lot more volatile now. It can realistically finish anywhere from first to fourth (maybe fifth) in what should be a much-improved Pac-12. Previously, I would have pegged the Wildcats as the Pac-12 favorites, with a third-place finish being the worst-case scenario.

It is a lot to ask of Nico Mannion to come in and be the only lead guard, but if there is anyone capable of handling that it’s him. Josh Green also has to have a big season, and I do think Max Hazzard will do a nice job as the starting shooting guard. It’s when Mannion sits when Arizona’s offense will have to scratch and claw for points.

Other X-factors include staying healthy and how much production the Wildcats get from guys like Stone Gettings and Zeke Nnaji.

If Nnaji emerges as a third star alongside Mannion and Green, then Arizona still has Final Four potential. If he and the other newcomers have some growing pains, I could see this team losing in the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Simply put, the less talent you have, the less room there is for error.