Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats Productivity Report: McConnell emerging as one of Pac-12’s best



T.J. McConnell's all-around game from his perimeter shooting to penetration ability has ignited Arizona as of late (Pac-12 Networks video screen shot)

T.J. McConnell’s all-around game from his perimeter shooting to penetration ability has ignited Arizona as of late (Pac-12 Networks video screen shot)

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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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Present RPI ranking of the Pac-12.
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Former Arizona interim head coach and assistant coach Kevin O’Neill, with his appealing dry wit as a Pac-12 Networks and Fox Sports 1 analyst, had this to say about Arizona senior point guard T.J. McConnell in the last couple of weeks:

“I’m not sure T.J. McConnell is anything other than an average defender at the point.”

“Next thing you know you’ll be telling me T.J. McConnell will be playing in the NBA.”

O’Neill’s frank commentary is what landed him a job as an analyst. Does he dislike McConnell? No. He is reeling in the praise of McConnell, who until the last two weeks was not of the ilk of an all-conference player.

Although the captain and always important to the outcome for Arizona, McConnell’s productivity was indeed that of an average player in the grand scheme before the Oregon trip last week.

McConnell has emerged as one of the Pac-12’s best after producing only seven points and three assists with an uncharacteristic three turnovers in 28 minutes against ASU on Jan. 4. His productivity rating after that game was .540, a respectable number, but not one of an elite college player.

In the last four games against Oregon, Oregon State, Colorado and Utah, McConnell has produced a productivity rating of .731, his best stretch since becoming eligible last year after his transfer from Duquesne. His season productivity rating is now at .588.

After the win over Gonzaga on Dec. 6, McConnell was at only .506, barely at the level of winning basketball.

If he continues to progress at this rate, Arizona will be more dangerous come March with a seasoned, effective point guard, an important element in the NCAA tournament.

Bill Walton compared him to Steve Nash yesterday. For once, a Walton comment did not raise an eyebrow.

McConnell showed resourcefulness against Utah in the first half when freshman standout Stanley Johnson had no points or rebounds in 10 minutes of play due to two fouls. McConnell picked up that slack by scoring 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. His surge — scoring 10 of Arizona’s 22 points in one first-half stretch — changed the complexion of the game to Arizona’s favor.


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Present RPI ranking of Arizona’s non-conference opponents.
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“Coach uses the analogy that he sometimes drives the car of the team, he’s the heart and soul and when his face gets red and he’s pumping his veins, that’s every day for him,” Johnson said in the postgame press conference. “He wants to win every competition. He wants to win every game and he hates making mistakes and he does it because he loves all of us.”

One of the snapshots of the game was McConnell playfully pushing hard on Johnson and and then tugging on the youngster after Johnson made baskets on two consecutive possessions to start the second half.

It was McConnell’s way of saying: “That’s how you do it, so get it done.”

Johnson will likely be named the Pac-12 Player of the Week tomorrow because of his highly-productive games against Colorado and Utah. He led the Wildcats in productivity in both games — 1.250 against the Buffaloes and 1.071 against the Utes. All of that production was in the second half yesterday because Johnson was at minus-.100 at intermission.

Whereas Johnson is a five-star talent, McConnell was not highly recruited out of Pittsburgh before attending Duquesne.

“T.J. came here with very little fanfare, but I can make the argument that no player that we’ve brought here, during my time, has been more instrumental toward winning than him,” Miller said. “I don’t care where he’s ranked, where he’s from, he’s been here for three years and the year that he didn’t play, he made our team so much better by his practice habits and then obviously the last two years speak for themselves.”

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak called McConnell “the head of the snake” for Arizona. McConnell’s production was enough to help Arizona win against Colorado and Utah despite Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s struggles. Hollis-Jefferson, second on the team now behind Johnson with a .744 productivity rating, posted only a .268 in the games against the Buffaloes and Utes.

With the way Brandon Ashley and McConnell have emerged as of late, expect Hollis-Jefferson to not be down for long.

As long as McConnell is around, Hollis-Jefferson will be pushed in the right direction.

McConnell’s leadership skills rival those of the best “captain” point guards in the Lute Olson era — Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Reggie Geary, Jason Terry and Jason Gardner.

Even Kevin O’Neill would have to agree with that.


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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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