The new look Wildcats take on Grambling State in their season opener


Amy Bailey

Jemarl Baker (10) Jr. keeps his eye on the ball, while Nico Mannion checks it in.

Ryan Wohl

College basketball made its return on Wednesday, Nov. 25, but there were a ton of games that were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Arizona Wildcats were supposed to start their season at home on Wednesday against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, but after NAU found a positive test within its team, the game was cancelled.

Wednesday, March 11, was the last time the Wildcats stepped off the floor after their win against the Washington Huskies in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. The following day was when sports started to get cancelled and later, all-conference tournaments and the annual March Madness tournament was officially cancelled.

As of right now, Arizona is still scheduled to play against the Grambling State Tigers in their season opener in Tucson, Arizona at 3 p.m. MST.

Some things are the same, but there are some major changes in this year’s team from the 2019-20 team from a year ago.

Head coach Sean Miller’s focus when creating not only this season’s team but the future of the program has changed from past years. This year’s recruiting class doesn’t have any five-star star players like it did last season with Nico Mannion and Josh Green.

In fact, five out of the seven new freshmen this season have little to no basketball experience in the United States, which could see some of them struggling early on as they are still getting used to a new style of basketball. Unless a player has an expected breakout year, none of these seven freshmen are expected to be one-and-done players which is good news for the Wildcat fans as they can get familiar with all of their new players.

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Freshmen Kerr Kriisa and Daniel Batcho will not start the season on the court because Batcho underwent surgery to repair his knee early this month and Kerr is returning to his home country of Estonia to compete with their senior national team as he is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA to be eligible to play in 2020.

Kerr was expected to get much more playing time out of those two players but Arizona has a ton of guards this season so they shouldn’t struggle to fill his minutes for the first few games without him. James Akinjo and Jemarl Baker Jr. are expected to start in the backcourt alongside another wing/guard with either Terrell Brown or Dalen Terry.

Christian Koloko is in for a breakout season as he will be getting the majority of the minutes at the center position this season after Zeke Nnaji, Stone Gettings and Chase Jeter played a ton of minutes in 2019 — none of which are returning this year.

A guy from the frontcourt group to watch for is Jordan Brown. He is a former five-star recruit that transferred to Arizona from Nevada last year but had to sit out because of the NCAA transfer rules.

After hearing him talk this year, Jordan Brown seems motivated and believes that the extra year in Tucson helped him grow and learn coach Miller’s system before stepping on the court. If he lives up to his potential, he will be a perfect fit next to Koloko in the frontcourt this season and beyond.

Grambling State lost their season opener to Grand Canyon University by 16 points as they are playing without their top two scorers from a season ago. They only have six players returning to their team from last year and are out to prove people wrong about their new group in 2020.

I expect this team to play with a fast-paced offense, focusing on three-point shooting and feeding their big men in the paint. They have to get back to the basics after last season, where they shot 35% from three-point range.

This team is going to rely on Akinjo and Baker Jr. to distribute the ball to their shooters in Terry, Terrell Brown and Bennedict Mathurin while finding creative ways in the half-court to get them open. The line hasn’t come out for this game yet but expect a huge win for the Arizona Wildcats because even though they have a young and inexperienced team, they are just flat out more talented than Grambling State and much better coached.

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