Arizona Basketball

Debunking Kevin O’Neill’s claim: Arizona Wildcats better without Brandon Ashley

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WHAT IS PRODUCTIVITY RATING?:
PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)

ARIZONA 71, UTAH 39
PRODUCTIVITY RATING

* — STARTERS
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Kevin O’Neill, the former Arizona assistant and interim coach and ex-USC head coach, said on the Pac-12 Networks last night: “I think (Arizona is) better without Brandon Ashley. His family will not want to hear that, but that’s a fact.”

Kevin O'Neill believes Arizona is a better team without Brandon Ashley

Kevin O’Neill believes Arizona is a better team without Brandon Ashley

I have no qualms with O’Neill as a person and analyst. He provides a tell-it-like-it-is personality that makes it worthwhile to view a studio show, such as the Pac-12 Networks’ wrap-up production with the talented Michael Yam as host.

What other analyst would say that Arizona’s players play defense “like they have rabies”?

I agree with O’Neill that Ashley’s absence since his season-ending foot injury at Cal on Feb. 1 has allowed opportunities for perimeter players such as T.J. McConnell to become more of a scorer and Gabe York to play additional minutes. I don’t agree that Arizona is better off as a team without the sophomore power forward.

Arizona’s record in the last 11 games without Ashley is 8-3. The Wildcats were 21-0 with him in the starting lineup (not counting the Cal game since he played only two minutes).

The Wildcats’ productivity rating (as published by this site) has decreased from .575 with Ashley to .538 without him.

Schematically, Ashley’s ability to extend the defense made it possible to loosen the paint for Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski to crash the offensive rebounds more effectively. Ashley’s size (6’8″ and 230) also provided another capable rebounder. As everybody knows (and can’t seem to stop), Arizona’s offense relies heavily on second chances.

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TOP FIVE ARIZONA REBOUNDING TEAMS
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Arizona outrebounded opponents by a margin of 9.6 with Ashley in the lineup. That margin has dipped to 8.5 without him.

The Wildcats average 11.4 points on second-chance opportunities without Ashley. Their average was 13.5 with him.

Brandon Ashley's presence enhanced Arizona's strength as an offensive rebounding team

Brandon Ashley’s presence enhanced Arizona’s strength as an offensive rebounding team

If anything, Ashley’s injury provided Arizona coach Sean Miller an opportunity to utilize players more who could impact the Wildcats next season. York has seized the moment, especially with his defense, as a starter. Freshman guard Elliott Pitts averaged 5.4 minutes before Ashley went down. He has averaged 11.5 minutes since.

The Wildcats also have more of sense of urgency or reliance on their top three players — Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and McConnell — and they have responded.

In the last six games, starting with Arizona’s 88-61 win at Colorado on Feb. 22, Gordon and Johnson have taken turns leading the Wildcats in productivity (see chart below). Gordon did not lead Arizona in productivity for more than two months before that (Dec. 19 against Southern).

McConnell has attempted 108 field goals since Ashley’s injury, an average of 9.8 in 11 games.. He attempted 128 in the previous 21 games with Ashley in the lineup (average of only 6.1 attempts).

“It’s tough to lose a guy like Brandon production‑wise,” McConnell told the media after yesterday’s 71-39 win over Utah. “Nick, as the leader, came up to me and said, ‘Now that Brandon’s down, you’re going to have to pick up the slack a little bit on offense,’ and the coaches have said that as well.

“So I’m kind of just letting the game come to me. If I’m open, I’m obviously going to shoot, but I’m trying to get the team the offense, get people the ball, and my teammates have done a good job of making shots and getting me the ball as well.”

PAC-12 RPI (ESPN.com)
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ARIZONA OVERALL PRODUCTIVITY RATING
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ARIZONA PAC-10/12
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR:
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NICK JOHNSON CAREER POINTS RANKING
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ARIZONA SCHEDULE/PRODUCTIVITY RESULTS
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WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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