With two games left in the regular season, Arizona’s victory in the Pac-12 looks all but assured. Sean Miller’s team has been solid this season, with a two-game lead on the closest conference competitor, Utah. With a stout defense, their goal is nothing short of a Final Four appearance, so let’s take a look at the Arizona Wildcats.
This team starts with its defense, an adjusted version of the pack-line defense similar to the one that Virginia runs. This defense relies on allowing outside passes and preventing inside penetration, which is assisted by the versatility of Arizona’s defenders. The Wildcats rank third in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, following Virginia and Kentucky. This attests to how great they are, truly dominating the Pac-12 on the opponent’s half of the court. With 37.0 rebounds per game, Arizona lands at 53rd in the country, just one back from Virginia again. With this great combination of rim protection and rebounding, Arizona has helped carry a far less efficient offense.
For a team so calm of defense, the Wildcats’ offensive strategy is odd at first. They make great use of the transition game, but get bogged down in the half court setting. With an average shot time of 16.6 seconds, they quickly move to the hoop, whereas their opponents average a high 22.2 seconds per possession. This means that Arizona effectively surrenders the time of possession, staying on their half of the court for most of the game. This disconnect between offensive and defensive philosophies has been pointed out as a flaw by many, and seen as a possible reason for their reduced offensive prowess.
This aggression on the opponent’s half of the court is shown by some advanced stats. The Wildcats’ average 66.2 percent at the rim, which is good for 19th in the country. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson averages 14.1 points per game, top on the team, and 14th in the Pac-12. Nearly all of this points come from inside the paint. Johnson is projected to go in the top 15 of this year’s NBA draft, but Arizona will have him for this year’s tourney barring injury, which should be a large help.
It’s been 15 years since Arizona was in the Final Four, and they’ve never brought home a championship. Sean Miller’s team looks strong, but they need to get through that Elite Eight hump to leave a lasting legacy in Tucson. With an elite defense and a solid attacking offense, helped by a young NBA-bound star, this year looks better than any to make their move.