Analyzing Arizona’s Three Consecutive Losses

Posted by Adam Butler on November 29th, 2017

The approach to analyzing Arizona’s unprecedented fall from the Top 25 to unranked over the last week can take many approaches. There’s the physical — diving deep into lapses on the defensive end that yielded 90 points to NC State, the first 90-point effort by a Wildcats’ opponent since 2010. It was a point total Oregon didn’t achieve last year when the Ducks made 16 threes and shot 67 percent from the field. It’s a physical analysis that would also recognize offensive woes — everything from point guard play to offensive flow and scheme. There’s the emotional — dissecting an element of the game that’s difficult to view on tape or quantify, making note of the ongoing investigations or team dynamics. This would lead us down a path of deep hypothesizing and creating narratives about chemistry, priority and focus. We could also be self-reflective, recognizing the team’s performance but questioning our own ability to forecast or evaluate. Was the incoming freshman class just not that good? Have we undervalued Kadeem Allen? Is Allonzo Trier individually skilled but lacking in a team environment? Of course each of these analyses would be valid. Each would address legitimate concerns and each has been discussed, in depth, across the internets (read Rob Dauster’s breakdown). A dive into Arizona message boards or Arizona Twitter to find allusions to Sean Miller’s dismissal and misinformed rumors. Unprecedented events often yield ridiculous reactions (as does the internet, but you knew that).

Yep, it’s been that kind of start for Sean Miller’s Wildcats. (Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

I’d focus any analysis on the word TRUST. Arizona entered the season as a favorite with known limitations and hopeful improvements. Parker Jackson-Cartwright is a skilled guard. He can hit an open shot, handle and pass the ball effectively and understands the complex pack-line defense. His size and athleticism, a known deficiency, can be a detriment to what Arizona is trying to accomplish on the defensive end (stopping dribble penetration) and the offensive end (threatening in transition). What’s worse, PJC can disappear, a significant issue for a senior point guard. For him, it’s a matter of consistently TRUSTING his ability. Conversely, Trier seems to have no issue in trusting his abilities. Touting a top 100 usage rate (29%), Trier is of the belief he’ll lead this team by carrying it on his back. Sometimes, that’s OK. More specifically, however,  when that’s not working, it’s not OK. For Trier there would seem to be an issue of TRUSTING his teammates, a skilled lot that will help him achieve his, and more critically the team’s, goals. And speaking of the collective, to borrow Miller’s terminology, they’ll need to TRUST the process, a tagline that has been central to this program. A tagline that has yielded 223 wins in Miller’s time in Tucson (averaging 28 wins per season). Three consecutive losses are a drop in the procedural bucket, an opportunity to teach, learn, coach, galvanize. Arizona’s team and program is far bigger than a Bahamian disaster. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 100, #15 North Dakota 82

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 17th, 2017

Arizona overcame its own second half boredom and a number of mental breakdowns by posting an Offensive Rating of 133.3 in blowing out North Dakota, 100-82.

Arizona’s Allonzo Trier (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Kadeem Allen prove the Wildcats still need some upperclassman leadership. After a sluggish start to the game, Arizona head coach Sean Miller inserted Jackson-Cartwright, who sparked an immediate 15-3 Wildcats run. It happened again after he was out for a brief 30-second stretch, whereupon Miller inserted him and he created an and-1 opportunity for Lauri Markannen.  Allen, as a senior the “graybeard” of the Wildcats, watched a comfortable lead drop to only seven points at the 13:30 mark of the second half. The Wildcats went on an order-restoring 12-4 run over the next four minutes, with Allen scoring seven points to lead the surge.
  2. Lauri Markannen is evolving, and that’s scary. The freshman big man took eight shots in the first half, only one of which was a three-pointer. The rest of the half involved Markannen doing his work in the paint, absorbing contact and finishing. He finished the game with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting with zero three-pointers as part of the mixture. That’s considerable restraint from a player who is shooting 43 percent from long distance on the season.
  3.  Arizona needs to play a full game on defense. The Wildcats allowed a 50-point half to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game followed by a 45-point half to North Dakota tonight. That’s not the kind of sustained defensive effort that carries a team into the third (or even the second) weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Sean Miller zeroed in on transition as an issue for the Wildcats, and although early offense is not a hallmark of Arizona’s next opponent, shooting the three-pointer certainly is. Playing only one good half of defense is not likely to work for Arizona moving forward. 

Star of the Game. Rawle Alkins is quietly reliable. This may seem like an innocuous statement, but it is important to Arizona given that he is a freshman who literally moves his teammates around on the court and virtually never suffers a freshman lapse. All he did on Thursday was score 18 points, grab five rebounds and dish out four assists without missing a shot or committing a turnover.

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Rushed Reactions: Arizona 86, UCLA 75

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 11th, 2017

Arizona took all the suspense out of the most anticipated game of the Pac-12 Tournament by dominating UCLA as well as any team has this year. This is the Wildcats’ team that can absolutely play in the Final Four (and with all the talk of UCLA playing in Sacramento followed by San Jose, why has nobody talked about Arizona playing for a National Championship just up the road in Glendale? Such dreams are no longer as far-fetched as they may have seemed before the Pac-12 Tournament started.

Key Takeaways.

Arizona Torched the Bruins (USA Today Images)

  1. Arizona’s defense. There are poor shooting nights and there are nights when a team forces poor shots all night. Friday night’s game was the latter. Yes, the Bruins shot miserably from the floor. UCLA’s 4-of-25 performance from three-point range was every bit as ugly as it seemed, but the vast majority of those misses were contested threes. Arizona was willing to allow penetration off the bounce occasionally, but they closed out on shooters, contested passes and fought through screens all night long. They were also willing to put the Bruins on the line in exchange for banging and shoving them all over the court. UCLA made 23-of-26 from the foul line, but they shot only 41 percent from the field with an offensive efficiency rating of 96.2. No Pac-12 opponent had to date held the Bruins below 101.0 in that category this season.
  2. Lauri Markannen has smashed through the freshman wall. Arizona was forced to send Markannen into the post on its Washington road trip, and that move has really triggered the growth of the rest of his game. Despite a prolonged shooting slump from beyond the arc, Markannen found a physicality that has only made him more lethal now that his shot has returned. Against UCLA, Markannen was the best player on the floor for much of the game. He had 29 points on 10-of-22 shooting to go along with six rebounds in 32 turnover-free minutes. He can hurt teams all over the floor, and he’s becoming a physical and effective defender all as well. It’s somewhat scary to think that we may not have seen his best game yet.
  3. UCLA is Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf.  The Bruins as a team have undoubtedly improved from the last year’s group that went 15-17, but they have no answer when both of their talented freshmen struggle against elite competition. Leaf still looked a step slow in dealing with his injured left ankle, shooting 3-of-9 from the field and struggling to find his range in the post. Ball didn’t look like himself for much of the night either, in large part because of the ferocious defense of Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Kadeem Allen. The superstar freshman logged eight points, six assists and four turnovers, but he did not at any point have control of this game in the same way that he’s controlled so many others. The bottom line is that UCLA is only going as far as its two freshmen take them, and that could be an unsettling thought for Bruins’ fans worried about the NCAA Tournament draw.

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Arizona’s Offense Has Saved Its Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 13th, 2017

When Parker Jackson-Cartwright sprained his ankle in a game against Texas Southern on November 30, Arizona head coach Sean Miller must have been worried. His team’s offense, already a concern because of the retirement of Ray Smith and the continued absence of Allonzo Trier, was about to lose its only true point guard. To that point, Jackson-Cartwright had amassed a healthy 37 assists to just 11 turnovers and it stood to reason that, with the Wildcats’ best playmaker hurt and the schedule only getting tougher, an inexperienced offense would struggle to score. Instead, Arizona lost just once in the six games Jackson-Cartwright missed (to unbeaten Gonzaga) and have yet to suffer a defeat since his return. A team that ranks 325th nationally in experience is now quietly 15-2 overall and keeping pace with Oregon and UCLA at the top of the Pac-12. Miller’s defense, of course, deserves a lot of credit. His pack line scheme is one of the stingiest in the country, but that’s true most every year — the man can teach defense. Rather, that Arizona’s offense ranks among the best 30 in the country is the story in Tucson.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s ankle injury spelled doom for Arizona, but the ‘Cats never really missed a beat. (Tucson.com)

Arizona’s rotation effectively has one above-average three-point shooter and one above-average passer. It ranks 278th in adjusted tempo and 330th in its share of three-pointers taken within the offense. Yet the Wildcats average roughly 1.14 points per possession to this point (1.11 PPP in conference play), and if Trier can return at nearly 100 percent, they look like the third horse in what appeared to be a two-way battle for conference supremacy. It should be noted that Arizona’s offense has been more mediocre against top 100 opponents, but there are three key reasons why the team has been able to stay afloat offensively. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who Will Play Point Guard for Arizona?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 25th, 2016

Even after graduating the team’s two leading scorers, Arizona has everything it needs on paper to dethrone Oregon and reassert itself as the best team in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have a redshirt senior who is likely one of the best on-ball defenders in the conference. They have a reigning member of the Pac-12 All-Freshmen Team who averaged nearly 15 points per game last season. They have a freshman wing with enough athleticism to put his own coach on a poster. They have a freshman stretch forward from Finland who can bang three-pointers and take awkward photos with local political figures. They also have a cache of athletic big men, led by a Serbian with enough offensive game to make the program’s official Twitter account think it is okay to rip off the nickname of one of the NBA’s greatest players ever. However, there is one position that isn’t represented on this list and that is because there are still very serious concerns about it. That position is point guard.

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona. (Rivals.com)

Sean Miller may be the best recruiter in the entire country outside of Lexington, but if one were to start picking at nits, one could easily make the argument that he has struggled to recruit and develop worthwhile point guards in Tucson. In fact, Josiah Turner and MoMo Jones are the only true point guards Miller has recruited in his tenure at Arizona and neither spent more than two seasons in the desert. The best point guards of the Miller era – T.J. McConnell and Mark Lyons – were transfers, and filling McConnell’s sizable shoes last season proved to be a more difficult task than anyone imagined. The Wildcats went from 40th in turnover percentage in 2014-15 to 191st in the category last year, as neither Kadeem Allen nor Parker Jackson-Cartwright were consistent enough to wrestle the job away from the other player. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the position appears to be just as unsettled heading into this season. Miller smartly moved Allen off the ball, which leaves Jackson-Cartwright to fend off five-star freshman Kobi Simmons for the keys to what should be an explosive offense. Pairing a proven player with one of the best freshmen point guard prospects in the country is a luxury most coaches would love to have, but that argument doesn’t work for Miller when his fan base expect to compete for a national championship. Read the rest of this entry »

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Arizona Adjusting to Life Without Lottery Picks

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 3rd, 2015

Arizona went to the Wooden Legacy tournament last weekend as one of two ranked teams, seemingly on a collision course with Michigan State for a meeting in the title game on Sunday. Instead, they looked only slightly less awake than your average relative post-Thanksgiving dinner in their opening round overtime win over then-winless Santa Clara, then looked exceedingly average in a loss to a Providence team that played almost half the game without star Kris Dunn due to foul trouble. A Sunday bounce-back against Boise State did little to mask the fact that this is not your typical Arizona team, as these Wildcats lack the star power, athleticism and overall upside we’ve come to expect in Tucson.

Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen Form The Core Of An Atypical Arizona Team (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen Form The Core Of An Atypical Arizona Team. (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

When we previewed Arizona in the preseason, we detailed that for once, this is an Arizona team that is without not only an NBA lottery prospect, but also a surefire NBA draft pick. Stanley Johnson, Aaron Gordon, Derrick Williams? Nope, not a guy like that to be found here. Still, this is Point Guard U, right? They’ll at least have a savvy floor general to calm everything down? Not yet. Instead, Sean Miller has been forced to choose between a 5’8” facilitator in Parker Jackson-Cartwright and a JuCo transfer off-guard making the transition to the point in Kadeem Allen. And the elite lock-down defense of the past three seasons in the desert? Miller will certainly get plenty out of this team on that end, but there are no obviously great individual defenders at this juncture, both on the perimeter and in the paint. This isn’t a team that can win by overpowering opponents in any singular way, and the Arizona coaching staff has already accepted it. “One of the things we’ve learned is that room for error and that margin, that gap we experienced the last couple of years isn’t there right now,” said Miller on Friday night after the loss to Providence.

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Plugging the Hole: Kadeem Allen Doing Best T.J. McConnell Impression

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 26th, 2015

Everyone talking about Arizona during the offsesaon (even Jay Bilas) seemed to agree that the biggest question facing head coach Sean Miller was how he would replace do-it-all point guard T.J. McConnell; but no one could have expected how quickly transfer junior Kadeem Allen would be able to answer that question.

Kadeem Allen Has Emerged As An Answer at Point Guard for Arizona

Kadeem Allen Has Emerged As An Answer at Point Guard for Arizona. (Arizona Athletics)

The statistical comparison between the two players comes with a rather large disclaimer that Arizona hasn’t played anyone of note this season in its four games; but so far, at least, Allen looks like a competent replacement for McConnell. Without trying to pretend this is an apples to apples review, it is worth noting that Allen has been the more efficient offensive player (125.3 to 118.3 in ORtg; 60.5%  to 53.8% eFG), a better passer (45.0% to 39.0% in ARate) and a more opportunistic defender (4.9% to 4.3% in Stl%). It’s certainly likely that his efficiency and assist rate will fall back to Earth as he faces better competition, but Arizona’s ability to reload instead of rebuild this season depended heavily on the team’s point guard play. Early indications show that Allen and sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright are absolutely ready to fill that role. Read the rest of this entry »

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Arizona Preview: Can These ‘Cats Be Elite?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2015

Leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite has been evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we take one step closer to wrapping up our trip around the league with a visit to Tucson, the home of the repeat champion Wildcats.

Arizona Wildcats

Over the past two season, Sean Miller’s club has dominated the Pac-12 on the way to consecutive regular season conference championships and a pair of Elite Eight appearances. (Damn you, Wisconsin!) But, the past two offseasons, this program has put the likes of Brandon Ashley, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Nick Johnson, Stanley Johnson and T.J. McConnell into the NBA pipeline. Outside of another group of Wildcats out east a ways, there are very few programs in America that can sustain those kinds of losses and yet retain the ability to make deep runs into the NCAA Tournament. Sean Miller hopes to prove this season that they’re among those programs on that very short list.

Sean Miller Is Keeping His Program Stocked With Talent

Sean Miller Is Keeping His Program Stocked With Talent. (Getty)

Strengths. Let’s just get right to the point: talent. They return center Kaleb Tarczewski, the team’s sole returning starter, but bring back contributors from last year’s team like Gabe York, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic. They add in a couple of newly-eligible Division I transfers in Ryan Anderson (Boston College) and Mark Tollefsen (San Francisco), plus a former JuCo Player of the Year in Kadeem Allen, who redshirted last season in Tucson. Throw in another strong Miller recruiting class, highlighted by five-star guard Allonzo Trier, and there is plenty of talent up and down the Arizona roster. Read the rest of this entry »

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Building a Football Team From Pac-12 Basketball Players

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 2015

Yesterday was the day that college basketball paused one last time to make way for its college football friends. From here on out, college hoops has the right of way on the amateur level. With Oregon representing our proud conference despite the loss, we figured today would be a good time to tie college football and basketball together in a fun way by piecing together an imaginary football team made up entirely of current Pac-12 basketball players. This team would probably be pretty good, so let’s get right to it.

Offense

  • QB: Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington – If there was such a thing as a pocket passer in basketball, Williams-Goss would be it. We’ll get him out on the edge every now and then to make some plays, but we want our quarterback to hang tight and deliver the ball to our play-makers.
Let's Trade In Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on The Floor For Just A Plain, Old QB (Getty Images)

Let’s Trade in Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on the Floor For Just a Plain Old QB (Getty Images)

  • RB: Chasson Randle, Stanford – He’s got speed, quickness and power. We can dump the ball to him out of the backfield or let him pound ahead into the line.
  • RB: Malcolm Duviver, Oregon State – The first time I saw this guy I thought he looked more like a tailback than a point guard. At 6’2”, 205, he can be our workhorse back.
  • WR: Stanley Johnson, Arizona – Man, there are so many places we could play Johnson but we’re envisioning him as our Megatron. He’s got speed and great hands, and once he makes the catch, good luck bringing him down.

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Three Opinions on Arizona’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Tracy McDannald & Adam Butler on November 17th, 2014

With no single must-watch game in the conference this weekend, we tasked our guys with getting a good look at Arizona’s pair of games and coming away with some first impressions on the conference’s heavy favorite. In a pair of wins over lesser opponents, here’s what caught our eyes.

Adam Butler: I don’t doubt that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tweaked his shoulder. But I also don’t know how a tweaked shoulder would keep him out of the starting lineup and off the court for just the first few minutes. For both games the lengthy defender came off the bench just like he did last year. Is this the route Sean Miller is going to take for the whole season? There are a ton of weapons at Miller’s disposal and he seems to be using these lesser opponents as a testing ground for different lineups. Rondae certainly gets starter minutes and is/will play in all crunch situations, but his starting on the bench is an interesting twist following the benching of Stanley Johnson for Arizona’s exhibition game. RHJ certainly is comfortable coming off the bench, but I’m curious if this helps Gabe York feel more comfortable as a starter.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Started The Season as A Reserve Due To A "Tweaked" Shoulder (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Started The Season as A Reserve Due To A “Tweaked” Shoulder (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

One other thing that I noticed was the play of Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Much has been made of Miller’s point guards since becoming the coach at Arizona. Now it seems he has both a true point guard and a quality backup as well. PJC scored 15 points and dished five assists over the weekend and — perhaps most importantly — looked the part. He was cool and confident on the floor. I don’t imagine he’s going to play a ton this season, but these early successes will bode well in the limited role he’ll see as this season gets into more significant games.

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