Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats Productivity Report: McConnell historically UA’s most unlikely Pac-12 player of year candidate



Can T.J. McConnell follow Nick Johnson into becoming a Pac-12 Player of the Year? (ESPN screen shot)

Can T.J. McConnell follow Nick Johnson into becoming a Pac-12 Player of the Year? (ESPN 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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T.J. McConnell

T.J. McConnell

T.J. McConnell’s evolution as an All-Pac-12 performer is not surprising as he was a second-team choice last season.

What is unprecedented is an Arizona player becoming the conference’s player of the year when he was not hyped for such an honor at the outset of the season.

Back in November, McConnell was fourth in the pecking order for potential player of the year honors behind Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson (despite Johnson’s freshman status). Nothing was written or said three months ago that McConnell deserved such recognition.

Not even Bill Walton mentioned it.

McConnell’s rise is rivaled only by Derrick Williams, who was selected the player of the year as a sophomore in 2010-11. But that’s a stretch. Williams was an All-Pac-12 selection the season before.

Other returning all-conference players in 2010-11 included juniors Isaiah Thomas of Washington and Klay Thompson of Washington State and senior Ty Abbott of ASU.

Arizona’s regular-season championship ultimately gave Williams the decision over Thomas, the preseason choice by many. The Huskies beat Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament title game but the all-conference selections were announced before that.

UCLA, which finished a game behind Arizona, had three all-conference selections with Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson and Malcolm Lee. It was not easy for coaches to decide a player of the year from that group.

Williams, one of the top contenders going into the season, followed through and won the distinction as the Pac-12’s best.


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Present RPI ranking of Arizona’s non-conference opponents.
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Mike Bibby (1997-98), Jason Terry (1998-99) and Nick Johnson (2013-14) were not all-conference selections the year before their player of the year honors.

The trio, however, was each a top candidate for the honor entering the season in which they emerged on top.

Bibby was coming off Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors. He engineered the Wildcats to the NCAA title at the point guard position. Topping teammate Miles Simon, the reigning Final Four MVP, for the conference player of the year in 1997-98 was a mild upset.

Terry was the top sixth man in the league before he was finally given a starting role as a senior in 1998-99 after Bibby departed. Terry’s player of the year honor — in the Pac-12 and nationally — was not a surprise as the senior captain and All-American candidate.

Johnson emerged last season as the top player as a junior despite not garnering even a second-team selection the year before.

Nobody, however, can deny that Johnson was Arizona’s leader from the beginning on a team that started 21-0 and finished 33-5.

Johnson’s competition for player of the year honors entering the season was returning all-conference players Jahii Carson, a sophomore at ASU; Spencer Dinwiddie, a junior at Colorado; and Dwight Powell, a senior at Stanford.

The top threat to Johnson out of those players was Dinwiddie, but he was lost to a season-ending knee injury midway through the season.

UCLA sophomore Ryan Anderson (a second-team choice the year before) was also a top candidate. Arizona’s dominance, winning the conference by three games over UCLA, gave Johnson the nod.

Arizona’s other conference players of the year — Sean Elliott (1987-88 and 1988-89), Chris Mills (1992-93) and Damon Stoudamire (a co-choice with UCLA’s Ed O’Bannon in 1994-95) — were all-conference selections the season before like Williams.

With all of this player-of-the-year data, it’s obvious that McConnell is the most unlikely Arizona player to achieve that honor if it comes about.

A lot of basketball is left. Stanford’s Chasson Randle and Utah’s Delon Wright are very deserving candidates. Ashley, Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson all have a chance to win league coaches over in the last nine regular-season games.

To Sean Miller’s credit, he has incorporated that top four core of players into a cohesive unit.

That, in my opinion, makes Miller the choice for Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

But that’s a different blog.


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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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