Upon reflection, maybe Arizona’s dreary 2018-19 season was just a one-off, a bad dream, or a fleeting illness induced by the federal investigation into college basketball.
That’s pretty much how the wave of 2019-20 college basketball predictions are describing it, at least.
“Wildcats no longer have the sniffles,” Lindy’s basketball preview said. “The effects of the FBI snooping about Sean Miller’s business produced a one-season flu of sorts.”
In a story on 10 things to watch in college basketball this season, Athlon noted that “Arizona should be back to looking like Arizona.”
“Last season was a rare bad season for Sean Miller and Arizona … All credit, or blame, goes to the FBI,” Athlon said. “Miller survived the scandal but got stuck with an unusually average roster — and it showed on the court. But, somewhat surprisingly, Miller sure did bounce back nicely.”
The Wildcats’ off-court struggles and resulting on-court dip has been pretty well-documented. Miller’s 2018 recruiting efforts were blown to bits when the federal investigation became public in September 2017 and when ESPN reported in February 2018 that Miller discussed a pay-for-play scheme with aspiring agent Christian Dawkins, an allegation Miller has flatly denied.
The Wildcats were left with just six players heading into April 2018. Miller was able to return decommitted guard Brandon Williams to his 2018 class, but a late-season knee injury to Williams factored into UA’s seven-game losing streak and postseason-less finish last season.
But in the middle of all that, Miller went out and landed a Top 5 recruiting class for 2019 that includes five-star guards Nico Mannion and Josh Green, four-star forward Zeke Nnaji, four-star center Christian Koloko and 3-point artist Max Hazzard, a grad transfer from UC Irvine.
Those players have elevated the Wildcats’ stature considerably.
“The toxins seem to have subsided and last season — depressing as it was — does not appear to be a harbinger of the future,” Lindy’s wrote of Arizona. “There is an overwhelming amount of talent, from elite freshman point guard Nico Mannion, scorer Chase Jeter and arriving grad transfer Max Hazzard, whose name is our favorite.”
Arizona’s returning core also includes high-motor forward Ira Lee, bouncy sophomore wing Devonaire Doutrive and Ivy League grad Stone Gettings, giving the Wildcats enough to be relevant again, even with the loss of Williams for this season because of continued knee issues and the looming behind-the-scenes presence of NCAA investigators.
“Well, it looks like Sean Miller is sticking around,” Sports Illustrated wrote, “and a stacked recruiting class certainly makes his life easier as the Wildcats angle for a bounce-back season, with the Pac-12 very wide open.”
Sports Illustrated ranked Arizona the highest (15th) among Pac-12 teams, with Washington at No. 20 and Oregon at 22. SI’s rankings were posted in June, before Oregon acquired five-star center N’Faly Dante and four-star forward Addison Patterson.
Lindy’s and Street & Smith’s both ranked UA 25th. Lindy’s had Colorado at 16th, while Street & Smith’s put Washington at 17th and Colorado 23rd. Athlon has only one Pac-12 team in its Top 25 — Colorado, at 16th — while Blue Ribbon Yearbook, published this month, has the Ducks at No. 14 and the Buffaloes at No. 16.
Here’s what the national forecasts are saying about the UA:
Where Arizona ranks in the top-25 nationally:
15th (Sports Illustrated), 16th (NBC), 18th (ESPN), 22nd (CBS), 25th (Street & Smith’s, Lindy’s), not ranked (Athlon, Blue Ribbon, NCAA.com)
Where Arizona’s 2019-20 opponents are ranked:
Athlon (released in August): Gonzaga (9), Colorado (16), Baylor (17), Illinois (23).
Lindy’s (released in August): Gonzaga (8), Baylor (12), Colorado (16), Washington (20).
Street & Smith’s (released in August): Gonzaga (10), Baylor (15), Washington (17), Colorado (23).
Blue Ribbon Yearbook (released in September): Gonzaga (10), Oregon (14), Colorado (16).
ESPN (released in August): Gonzaga (7), Baylor (16), Oregon (17), Washington (23), Colorado (24).
NBC (released in September): Gonzaga (11), Oregon (15), Baylor (20).
NCAA.com (released in September): Gonzaga (11), Baylor (17), Washington (21), Oregon (22).
CBS (released in August): Gonzaga (11), Oregon (15), Baylor (20).
SI (released in June): Gonzaga (8), Washington (20), Baylor (21), Oregon (22)
Arizona has the best recruiting class in the Pac-12, per Athlon.
Arizona has the No. 8 backcourt nationally, per Lindy’s.
Where Arizona’s players are ranked:
Nico Mannion is the No. 6 player nationally, according to Lindy’s; a second-team all-American, per Lindy’s; the nation’s No. 21 player, per Athlon; and the No. 5 impact freshman, per Athlon.
Josh Green is the No. 14 impact freshman, per Athlon.
Chase Jeter is the nation’s No. 58 player, per Lindy’s.
Stone Gettings is one of 17 regular transfers to watch, per Athlon*
Max Hazzard is one of 18 grad transfers to watch, per Athlon, and the No. 22 immediate transfer, per ESPN.
Jordan Brown is the No. 7 sit-out transfer, per ESPN.
Jemarl Baker is the No. 45 sit-out transfer, per ESPN.
— NOTE: Gettings is technically a grad transfer who opted not to play immediately upon arriving at the UA in December.