There’s no argument that Arizona is the most talented team in the conference, and there are probably at least four players with NBA futures on this squad. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson is already projected as a lottery pick in next June’s NBA Draft and could step right in as the leading scorer for a national championship contender this season. In all likelihood, if it isn’t Johnson who leads the Wildcats in scoring, it will be sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whom DraftExpress also sees as a first round pick after the season. Beyond those two stud wings, perhaps the biggest strength that Arizona has is in its power and size up front, as junior center Kaleb Tarczewski and power forward Brandon Ashley also seem to have the NBA in their sights sooner rather than later (both are projected as second round picks). And yet, while cases could easily be made for any of those four guys as Arizona’s most important player, the pick here is a senior whose chances to earn an NBA paycheck are considerably less clear.
The fact is that there are few phrases more magical in college basketball than “senior point guard.” It’s even better when you can modify that with other phrases, like “four-year starter” or “experienced veteran” or “rock-solid decision-maker.” On this embarrassment of riches that Sean Miller calls a basketball team, rock-solid decision-maker T.J. McConnell is in his fourth year starting at point at a major Division I college (his first two years of eligibility were spent at Duquesne). On last year’s Elite Eight squad, McConnell played the role of level-headed distributor, finding ways to get the ball to explosive talents like Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and some of the returnees mentioned in the first paragraph above. On an elite defensive team, McConnell didn’t always have the onus of checking the other team’s best backcourt player, but he still held his own among more naturally athletic talents.