The Arizona Wildcats never got to complete their 2019-20 season, one that began with so much promise, hope and hype before ending abruptly when the coronavirus pandemic shut down college basketball (and all other sports) in March.
While we’ll never know what this team could have accomplished in the NCAA Tournament, 32 games worth of competition is more than enough to assess each individual player’s performance.
Jemarl Baker Jr.
- Year: Redshirt sophomore
- Height: 6-foot-4
- Position: Guard
- 2019-20 statistics: 5.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 36.2% FG, 34.3% 3-pt FG, 82.6% FT
Baker was not supposed to be part of this past season’s plans after transferring from Kentucky, the expectation being he’d have to sit out a year per NCAA rules. But during the preseason his waiver for immediate eligibility was granted, giving Arizona a much-needed extra guard to back up Nico Mannion at the point as well as spell both Josh Green and Dylan Smith.
Despite not starting any games, Baker finished with the fifth-most minutes including 13 games when he was on the court for 20 or more minutes. He was a steadying force with his adept ball handling and nifty transition passing, only turning it over 23 times (compared to 73 assists) including a stretch of 151 minutes over eight games in which he didn’t give it away once.
Yet for all that he could do with the ball in his hands, when it came to launching it toward the basket Baker was as streaky as they come. His overall field goal rate was the worst of any UA rotation player, while in Pac-12 play he shot only 32.2 percent overall and 26.3 percent from 3-point range.
Baker’s defense was also hit and miss, as he had four games with at least two steals but also struggled to keep from getting beat off the dribble.
Best stretch of play
Outside of the win at Washington, in which Baker scored a UA-best 17 points and hit four 3s, including the game-winning shot, he only scored in double figures one other time in Pac-12 play. That Washington game, though, was during his amazing turnover-less stretch from Jan. 16 vs. Utah until Feb. 13 at Cal in which he had 21 assists and no giveaways.
Worst stretch of play
Baker made 4 of 7 3s against the Huskies on Jan. 30, raising his percentage to 42.4 percent. He would finish at 34.3 percent after going 8 of 39 over the final 12 games, failing to make a triple in eight of those contests. From Feb. 13-29 he was 1 of 12 from 3, including a 1-of-8 performance in the loss at USC.
Chase Jeter on Baker: “He can play point guard, shooting guard, knock down the 3. He can take you off the dribble, drive, mid-range, Jamal’s got a little bit of everything. Defensively too. So we’re going to be counting on him a lot this year. We’re really excited to have him.”
With Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Dylan Smith and Max Hazzard all departing, Arizona’s backcourt is will once again be going through a major overhaul. Baker stands to benefit from having been with the program for a year. The additions of James Akinjo from Georgetown and Terrell Brown from Seattle likely keeps Baker at the 2, where he and Brandon Williams should battle for the starting job (assuming Williams is able to come back from his latest knee surgery).