Nico Mannion Looks Poised to Be the Answer Arizona Needs at Point Guard
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 6 overall recruit, Arizona's Nico Mannion. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What He Means for Arizona’s Recruiting Class
The crown jewel of Sean Miller’s 2019 class is five-star point guard Nico Mannion. The 6’3”, 190-pound newcomer is the nation’s top-ranked recruit at his position and joins another five-star freshman, wing Josh Green (No. 13), in Tucson. Four-star power forward Zeke Nnaji (No. 38) and three-star center Christian Koloko complete the class. Four-star recruit Terry Armstrong, another wing, was also committed to the Wildcats’ incoming class but opted instead to play overseas in Australia’s National Basketball League. Mannion means Arizona has a talented facilitator and capable scorer to run what’s expected to be a potent offense this season. Expectations are high already for the Mannion–Green duo, and their continued commitment to the program despite additional allegations of possible recruiting violations against Arizona bodes well for the program’s future.
How He Fits
The top-ranked player in the state of Arizona and a McDonald's All-American who was previously profiled in Sports Illustrated as a 15-year-old, Mannion fills the floor general void that Arizona has been trying to fill since Jahvon Quinerly decommitted in 2017 in the wake of the FBI scandal. Miller’s team was without a pure point guard last season and clearly struggled as a result, despite senior Justin Coleman’s best efforts to run the one. An extremely skilled point guard with a high basketball IQ, Mannion is exactly the puzzle piece the Wildcats have needed for a while. The playmaker averaged a monster 30.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists as a senior at Pinnacle (Ariz.) High School and demonstrated a well-balanced blend of scoring and creating throughout his high school career. He has good size for a college point guard—although a weak spot would be his strength, as he could benefit from putting on some muscle to hold his own defensively—and a continuously improving athleticism, which bodes well from a developmental standpoint. He has a high-level handle and quick feet which help him create space and get in the lane. He can score from multiple levels, with a consistent three-point shot and a good midrange jumper and floater. He's also shown that he’ll attack the basket without hesitation and can finish creatively around the rim.
Mannion's abilities at the arc are especially promising given that team’s top two perimeter shooters, Coleman and Ryan Luther, graduated and guard Brandon Williams (who also relieved Justin Coleman at point as needed and doubled as the team’s second-best scorer) was ruled out for the season earlier this summer due to a knee injury. Williams’s unavailability means that Mannion may be running the floor on his own, as the sophomore was expected to help the backcourt at both slots. Shooting guard Dylan Smith is still available on the wing and is a talented sharpshooter who can help Mannion score from deep.
Mannion brings a good feel for the game and good vision to the floor for this year’s Arizona squad. He’s got plenty of upside and plenty of weapons at his disposal, including fellow incoming five-star Green. Green is a well-rounded asset on the wing who brings tremendous athleticism, his own basketball IQ and underrated passing abilities to the team along with plenty of defensive potential, which is why he will likely step in immediately at the two or three. Shooting guard Dylan Smith could slide into the two slot and sit well alongside Mannion. UC Irvine graduate transfer guard Max Hazzard also should play a bigger role in the backcourt light of the loss of Williams, but still expect more immediate pressure to be put on the team’s highly-touted youngsters.
The frontcourt should be pretty fluid, with Miller being able to mix the likes of Green (who can help in the back and the front), Smith and Devonaire Doutrive on the wing. Cornell grad transfer Stone Gettings, junior Ira Lee and four-star freshman Nnaji should fill the void at the four, while Chase Jeter returns for his senior season to anchor the frontcourt at the five with three-star big man Christian Koloko backing him up and providing some comparable size at center.
Importance to Arizona's Success/Team Outlook
Sean Miller is sticking around and brings in a stacked recruiting class which sets the Wildcats up for a solid season to rebound in the wide-open Pac-12. Mannion is one of the best incoming recruits in the country and has a well-rounded weapon at his disposal in Green. He brings both scoring and playmaking to Tuscon and should be an immediate impact asset for Arizona. Hazzard and Gettings give the Wildcats some additional minutes and scoring, which they need, and Green should as well given that he adapts to the college level quickly. With four incoming freshman, two available grad transfers and a decent amount of returning talent, there are a lot of new pieces for Arizona to incorporate, but they should have enough talent to bring them back to prominence.