Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats Productivity Report: ESPN analyst believes No. 2 UA “over-ranked”



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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)


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Heard on the ESPN set with Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams during Arizona’s 72-53 win over Missouri in the opening round of the Maui Invitational today:

“Arizona can’t shoot from the outside. … The Wildcats do not have depth. … They need somebody to push the pace because they are not a halfcourt team. …”

“I do think they are over-ranked,” said Williams, who Arizona fans can still envision charging into Jason Gardner in the 2001 title game without a foul called.

“If we’re talking about the No. 2 team in the nation struggling to beat teams. … We’re talking about a Missouri team that lost 75 percent of its scoring. … I still think Arizona is one of the most talented teams in the country but if they do not have the ability to knock you out, that’s going to be tough for them in the Pac-12.”

Williams made that comment at halftime when Arizona led 32-25 after trailing 7-2 in the first four minutes of the game.

Analysts and critics of Arizona’s execution to this point have a point about the Wildcats’ perimeter game. Greenberg, who questioned Arizona’s halfcourt execution, has a worthy argument.

Let’s think this through:

— Arizona is 4-0 with an average winning margin of 19.3 points.

— The Wildcats lost the Pac-12 player of the year (Nick Johnson) and freshman of the year (Aaron Gordon) from a year ago. Leaders like Johnson and players with the athleticism on both sides of the court such as Gordon are not easily replaceable, especially with the calendar still showing November.

Sean Miller is infusing four newcomers in his nine-player rotation — Stanley Johnson, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic and Craig Victor.

Does Arizona have flaws? Of course. Which team doesn’t on Nov. 24?


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I agree with Greenberg’s assessment that Arizona is at its best in the open court and not in its halfcourt execution because of its questionable perimeter shooting. Defenses will pack it in against Arizona’s interior strength with Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski.

This is where Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is so valuable. He can break down defenses in the open court and half court.

Here’s an uncommon stat: Hollis-Jefferson has attempted as many field goals (29) as free throws through the first four games. He has made 75.9 percent of his free throws, making him more dangerous. From the field, he leads the Wildcats by shooting 69 percent.

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Hollis-Jefferson is putting up Derrick Williams and Sean Elliott kind of numbers in this site’s productivity report. He is the only Arizona player to post more productivity points than minutes played in each game so far.

Arizona relied so heavily on Elliott as a senior and Williams in his sophomore season. That was indicative in their productivity numbers. How they went, Arizona went, and they went strong.

The inevitable question will be raised by national media types (as they did with Williams four years ago): Might Arizona rely too much on Hollis-Jefferson? What happens when he has a bad game or gets in foul trouble, especially on the road? Who will step up?

Miller can answer that with senior point guard T.J. McConnell and junior standouts Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski.

Hollis-Jefferson mentioned them as leaders in the postgame press conference today.

“I see as the season goes along, teams build more chemistry, and would say as the year goes on we have great leadership with T.J., Brandon and Kaleb,” he said. “They bring a lot out of us. We work hard in practice and that’s where it starts, in practice.

“We’ve got a great coach who practices what he preaches, and it just follows in the game and transitions. You’ll see it more and more as we go along.”

Johnson figures to get better as his first season in college basketball progresses. Arizona’s depth should get better with youngsters Jackson-Cartwright, Ristic and Victor working their way into the rotation.

That leaves Gabe York and Elliott Pitts, two very important shooting guards who have struggled to this point.

They combined for only six productivity points in 40 minutes against Missouri. They have only 51 productivity points in a combined 161 minutes in the first four games. The 51 productivity points by York and Pitts are less than what Hollis-Jefferson, Ashley, Johnson, McConnell and Tarczewski have produced individually.

Miller became perturbed by a question about potentially starting Hollis-Jefferson because he started him at the beginning of the second half against Missouri.

Should Hollis-Jefferson start and shift Johnson to the starting backcourt with McConnell and have York be the sixth man?

What happens to York’s psyche then and Arizona’s spark when Hollis-Jefferson changes the tone of the game off the bench?

“You can ask me the same question every game and you can ask me at halftime and after the game, tomorrow you can ask me it again, I’m going to give you the same answer,” Miller said. “If you want to make a huge deal of who starts, you can keep doing it. But it’s more about who plays well.

“I’ve already gone on record once, five, ten, fifteen times that the reason we’re not starting Rondae Hollis‑Jefferson has nothing to do with anything he does. He’s clearly a very, very talented player. We just feel that him entering the game at the 17‑minute mark helps us be the best team we can be. Now having answered that, I’ll answer it again tomorrow, if you want. But I would say that we’ll probably start the same lineup tomorrow that we started today.”

Arizona plays Kansas State at 5:30 p.m. Tucson time Tuesday in the Maui Invitational semifinals. K-State is coached by Bruce Weber, who lost consecutive games to Arizona in two straight years after his Illinois team rallied to beat the Wildcats in the 2005 Elite Eight as the Illini coach.


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[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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