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Roundtable: How will Nico Mannion’s time at Arizona be remembered?

nico-mannion-nba-draft-one-and-done-arizona-wildcats-freshman-sean-miller-mock-projections-2020 Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Nico Mannion’s time with the Arizona Wildcats is already over as he announced Tuesday that he is declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft and forgoing his final three years of eligibility.

The McDonald’s All-American averaged 14.0 points, 5.3 assists, and 2.6 turnovers per game in his coronavirus-shortened freshman season, while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from 3.

Every major media outlet projects he will be a first-round pick in June. But before we get there, we asked our staff members: how will you remember Mannion’s freshman season? (Feel free to leave your responses in the comment section below.)

Brian J. Pedersen: Nico Mannion’s best days are ahead of him, and by that I mean his time in the NBA will be far more successful than his short tenure with Arizona. This was almost a given before he ever arrived in Tucson, thanks to a ridiculous amount of hype placed on an 18-year-old ginger as well as the fact that almost every UA one-and-done—at least the ones who were destined to leave no matter how that lone season went—tends to have a playing style that is better suited for the NBA.

Mannion works best in the open court, in transition and with space. Those things are all rare in college basketball, while in the NBA that’s the norm, so when we got to see that this season it produced wow moments. Consequently, when Arizona was in the halfcourt Mannion’s skills were minimized, as were those of most NBA-bound college players.

I’ll remember those highlight-reel passes on the break, the drives to the basket that produced and that sweet running floater to beat Pepperdine on Thanksgiving. And I’ll remember them each time I see Mannion do similar things while getting paid handsomely for his trouble.

Christian Mortensen: I’ll remember Nico Mannion’s lone season at Arizona as a solid one. Not necessarily good or great, but definitely not bad either.

It’s fair to say that as a whole the Wildcats’ didn’t play up to expectations, and there was no doubt a disappointing and unexpected ending to the campaign (thanks COVID-19). But on an individual level Nico certainly showed flashes of the brilliance that NBA scouts all seem to see in him.

He showed off a good handle — he made numerous opponents look silly this year — and a quick release on his jump-shot, and after averaging 14 points per game, Mannion ultimately was named to both the Pac-12 All-Second Team and the Pac-12 All-Freshmen Team. He finished second in the Pac-12 in assists as well, falling behind only Oregon’s Payton Pritchard with 5.3 assists per game.

When you look at those things, it’s hard to say that he had a bad year.

But, more than anything else, it was his jump shot that was disappointingly inconsistent. Mannion shot just 39.2% from the field and 32.7% from three this year, and his low percentage meant that there were stretches this year where he really struggled to score the ball.

With the hype he was generating coming in, his inconsistent shooting will give fuel to his critics, but if Nico had been able to shoot it a higher clip his season would have been even more impressive.

And, who knows how we all would be judging him right now if the coronavirus hadn’t forced the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in decades.

Ryan Kelapire: Because of the way Mannion struggled to make shots despite that being touted as one of the strengths of his game, I’m not sure anyone would say he (or the team) lived up to expectations. He certainly had his moments where his ability to score and distribute at a high level was obvious—like the Illinois game—and he made some memorable plays like the buzzer beater vs. Pepperdine, making him a fun player to watch.

But for the most part Mannion was an above-average starter with high peaks and low floors. One thing you have to give him credit for is playing hard—and through injury.

Arizona fans tend to judge a season on how the Wildcats do in the NCAA Tournament, so I am not willing to go as far to say Mannion’s season was a failure. Had the Wildcats done some damage in March—very possible considering the parity in college basketball—the narrative around his career easily could have flipped, especially if he was the one leading the charge.

Let’s put it this way: if Arizona makes a run to the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight, those rough outings against Gonzaga and Baylor or those missed buzzer-beaters vs. Oregon and St. John’s would have become a distant memory. Instead, he would have been remembered as the guy who elevated his game when it mattered most.

So, to me, the best way to describe Mannion’s time with the Wildcats is inconsistent but incomplete.

Ezra Amacher: I saw Mannion play in person twice during the regular season, when Arizona traveled to the Oregon schools in January. Mannion’s performance in Eugene was one of his best of the season; defensively he contained Payton Pritchard all night and on the offensive side he delivered some clutch shots and kept Arizona humming. Yet it’s the way the game ended that encapsulates Mannion’s brief career as a Wildcat. With seconds remaining in overtime and Arizona in need of a bucket to win the game, Mannion threw an errant inbounds pass intercepted by Pritchard. Before Mannion could realize his mistake, the game was over.

It’s fair to say Mannion’s confidence never recovered from that outing. Mannion took at least eight shot attempts in each of Arizona’s final 17 games. Not once did he shoot above 50%. By the time March rolled around, no one was calling for Mannion to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

Perhaps Arizona fans were overly optimistic in thinking Mannion would be the program’s next home-state hero and lead the Wildcats to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. We’ll never know if the latter would have come true, but this much is clear: Mannion didn’t live up to the hype he and others set for himself.

Ronnie Stoffle: Unfortunately for Nico Mannion, his lone season at Arizona will be forgotten. It’ll largely be forgotten because it’ll be overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic which caused the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament. But it will also be forgotten because the season didn’t live up to expectations.

Fair or not, a record of 21-11 will be lost in the program record books. Mannion had a strong season (averaging 14 points and 5.3 assists per game) and played in all games which speaks to his durability. However, the teams lack of success will make it easy to forget Mannion’s contributions.

I wish him well.