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Arizona basketball season player review: Nico Mannion

arizona-wildcats-nico-mannion-analysis-breakdown-season-2020-freshman-stats-miller-nba-draft Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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.

Nico Mannion

  • Year: Freshman
  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Position: Point guard
  • 2019-20 statistics: 14.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 39.2% FG, 32.7% 3-pt FG, 79.7% FT

Season breakdown

Arguably the most-hyped incoming freshman of the Sean Miller era, if not program history, Mannion arrived in Tucson last summer with expectations that were so high they were going to be nearly impossible to meet. And that’s if he ended up having a masterful season, which he didn’t.

While Mannion gave Arizona the kind of scoring punch and decisiveness it hadn’t had at the point in some time, that didn’t always translate into the best results. Mannion’s 11.5 shots per game were tops on the team, that number jumping to 11.7 in Pac-12 play, and while he did produce six 20-point games he also had that many occasions where he had more shots than points.

The combination of volume and inaccuracy—Mannion’s shooting percentage was third-worst among Arizona’s regulars, and only Zeke Nnaji shot worse from 3-point range—made it so he had some very ugly nights from an efficiency standpoint.

But by no means did Mannion have a bad season in his one and only with the UA. He dished out the third-most assists by a freshman in school history, and had the Wildcats been able to keep playing he would have no doubt passed Mike Bibby for second, while his 2.06-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is nothing to complain about.

Sure, he could have turned the ball over less, but his 16.0 turnover percentage was actually better than all but one power-conference freshman (Syracuse’s Joseph Girard III).

Best stretch of play

Mannion was named MVP of the Wooden Legacy after averaging 16.3 points and 7.3 assists, while also hitting the game-winning shot in the first game against Pepperdine. But it was actually the tail end of his season where he was standing out the most since that came after a rather lengthy shooting drought.

Though he only shot 42 percent over the final four games he averaged 16.8 points, 5.0 assists and 2.5 steals while hitting 39.1 percent of his 3s. It’s hard not to think that wouldn’t have continued on in the Pac-12 Tournament and then into March Madness.

Worst stretch of play

About that slump, a word Mannion didn’t particularly like, it wasn’t pretty. Between Feb. 1-20, a span of six games, he shot just 28.6 percent and was 6 of 28 from deep, including a combined 0 for 7 from the perimeter in a road sweep of the Bay Area schools.

The bottom came right before that in the home loss to UCLA when Mannion was 2 of 14 from the field, 1 of 5 from 3 and failed to either get to the foul line or record an assist in scoring a career-low five points.

Quotable

Miller on Mannion: “In fairness to him, it’s a world of expectations that are almost impossible to meet. If you look at the role that he has as a freshman, the amount of minutes that he’s played, the games that he’s played really well in, he’s had a dynamic first year. It’s just we’re all holding him to this standard of excellence of today’s world college basketball and it just takes time.”

What’s next?

Though his overall stock had slipped by the time Mannion officially declared for the 2020 NBA Draft on April 6 he’s still almost certainly a first-round pick, and very likely a lottery selection. And the reason he’ll go as high as he does is that his game is much better suited for the wide-open nature of the pros, a spread out format where he can run the floor more and use the vast amounts of space to create for himself and teammates.