The Huskies host the Arizona Wildcats at HecEd on Thursday night. Ahead of the game, we exchanged some questions and answers with our SB Nation brethren Brian Petersen. For the Husky side of the coin, check out Arizona Desert Swarm.
UWDP: The Wildcats have three top-rated freshmen playing well and a deep veteran class. They’re the top rated Pac-12 team in the KenPom rankings. Yet they’ve lost six out of nine and sit only 3-3 in conference play. What has caused the disconnect between the individual talent and the on-court outcomes lately?
AZDS: It’s been twofold for Arizona when it comes to the difference between talent/expectations and results. First and foremost, the Wildcats have been abysmal on the road, losing five straight true road games dating back to last March. And in three of the last four away from home, including a neutral-site loss to St. John’s just before Christmas, horrible late-game offense has popped up over and over. It doesn’t help that Sean Miller tends to use up his timeouts too quickly in the second half, often making the last possession one that has to be executed without consultation.
UWDP: Nico Mannion has been a personal favorite of mine to watch this year. He’s a classic play-making point guard who can make his teammates better. For readers who haven’t followed Arizona closely, can you give a scouting report of the star freshman?
AZDS: Nico Mannion is the best point guard Sean Miller has had at Arizona, and it’s not even close. He has the ability to score 20-plus or dish out 10 assists and sometimes do both in the same game. Against ASU he was on pace for a tremendous game, hitting his first four 3-pointers, but foul trouble hampered him for the last 25 minutes. The key for him is figuring out early in a game which version of him he needs to be and making sure to take care of the ball no matter if he’s shooting or passing.
UWDP: Isaiah Stewart and Zeke Nnaji have been two of the best big men in the conference as true freshmen. It seems like Nnaji never misses a shot. What makes him such an efficient offensive player?
AZDS: Zeke Nnaji was the lowest-rated of Arizona’s big three freshmen but he’s had the most impact because he never slows down. He’s incredibly mobile for a 6-foot-11 guy, one who can cover a lot of ground on defense and guard without fouling, and when he gets the ball on the block he is quick to figure out whether he can score or pass it back outside to an open shooter. His rebounding has been solid all year long, too. The only thing that seems to get in his way are the games when Arizona inexplicably forgets about him inside.
UWDP: It has been almost two years since Sean Miller came under investigation for alleged player payment. He has won only two tournament games in the last three seasons. Are most UA fans satisfied with Miller right now, or is there a chance the school school could look elsewhere if he doesn’t get the team turned around this season?
AZDS: This is no doubt a make-or-break year for Miller, in my opinion. The school has been completely behind him amid all the allegations, never wavering, but with such a talented team and another set of high expectations you could see that support start to fade with another early NCAA tournament exit. The fans will never be happy as long as he doesn’t make a Final Four and his name isn’t Lute Olson, but that’s how unrealistic fan bases tend to operate.