Arizona Basketball: Early-Season Grades for the Wildcats

Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are the only undefeated team left in the Pac-12.

After surviving one of the ugliest games that I have seen in this short season, they need a time out and a serious talking-to if they want to stay that way.

The No. 8 Wildcats turned the ball over a season-high 27 times last night and struggled in shooting hitting a sparse 7-of-20 from the field and 9-of-16 from the charity stripe in the first half.

Not all games have been this ugly, but they have all ended with a W. Here are my early season grades for all the integral parts of the Wildcat machine.

The Offense

The Wildcats have five freshman, with three of them seeing starting time and two averaging 20-plus minutes a game.

They are averaging 81.5 points per game, which ranks them top in the conference and 15th in the country.

Arizona also leads the conference in field goals, shooting on average 26.3-of-51.3 for a .513 percent, which places them at No. 6 in the nation.

A healthy .417 percent from the three-point line lands them as the best in the conference and 11th in the country.

They spread the ball around evenly with no clear-cut go-to shooter. They have three players averaging double figures and two others over nine points per game.

As a whole, this Wildcats offense is solid, and even though they have five players in double digits this season in turnovers, they are doing quite well.

Grade: A-

The Defense

zeusOn the flip side of having a great offense is having a great defense, or as Arizona calls it—just a defense.

With so many big men on the court for the Wildcats, you would think that they would do better than 127th in the country in average rebounds per game.

They are averaging 7.86 steals per game, which is third-best in the conference but doesn’t crack the top 100 in the nation.

Their 4.33 blocks per game come in as the fourth-best in the conference and tied for 91st in the country.

They lead the conference in fewest fouls with only 99, tied for 48th fewest out of 347 schools.

Kalb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley are the only ones pulling down any decent numbers in rebounding, and Nick Johnson is the only player in double-digit steals.

Plenty of room for improvement here.

Grade: C

Nick Johnson

The 6’3″ guard from Gilbert, Ariz. is quietly leading this Wildcat team in his sophomore season. Averaging 13.7 points per game, he trails 14 other players in the conference alone.

He leads the team in assists with 25 and steals with 14. He ranks seventh and fifth in the conference respectively.

A solid point guard who dishes out half as many shots as he takes shows promise, and he will make a big name for himself this year at the helm of this quality team.

He needs to improve on his free throw shooting though, as he is only hitting 15-of-22 for a .682 percentage.

Grade: B  

Solomon Hill

solomonThe three-year letterman is entering his senior season hoping to improve his draft prospects to join the myriad Arizona players receiving an NBA paycheck.

He is second on the team in scoring behind Nick Johnson with 79 total points averaging 13.2 per game. This ranks him at No. 17 in the conference, and his .479 field goal percentage is abysmal.

He shines beyond the arc, hitting half of the shots he takes, which leads the conference and ranks 66th-best in the country.

His .792 percentage from the free-throw line is quite pedestrian for such a prolific shooter from downtown.

He will need to pick up his game if he wants to hear his name come NBA draft day.

Grade: B- 

Mark Lyons

The senior transfer from Xavier University is fitting in nicely for coach Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats.

The all-around player is in the top four in every category on the team save for field goal percentage. He isn’t flashy, he just puts his nose to the grindstone and goes to work.

Unfortunately for Lyons, he can get a little too aggressive and has trouble handling the ball, leading the team in turnovers by a large margin with 18.

I really like what I have seen so far from him as a jack-of-all-trades; the only problem is that he is the proverbial master of none.

Grade: B 

Kaleb Tarczewski

kalebThe big 7-footer that they call “Zeus” is making a big splash in his first six games in a Wildcat uniform. The 225 lb. center from Claremont, New Hampshire has started all six games and has cemented himself in the lineup for the foreseeable future.

His 41 total rebounds and 14 offensive lead the team, as does his 6.8 rebounds per game. He is also second on the team in blocks with eight, and in field goals he is hitting 13-of-22 for .591 percent.

Being fresh out of high school and thrust into one of the most storied basketball programs can be taxing, but Tarczewski has done well adjusting to the jump. After he has a couple more games under his belt, I see him climbing the rankings in all defensive categories.

He needs to improve on his free throw shooting and take more shots under the basket once he grabs those rebounds. He has only taken 22 shots on the season, while other big men have two or three times that amount.

Grade: B- 

Brandon Ashley

Brandon Ashley has started the last four games after coming off the bench to relieve fellow freshman Grant Jerrett.

He made quite a point in his first start against Long Beach State on Nov. 19 with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The 6’8″, 235-lb freshman from San Francisco hasn’t looked back since. He leads the team with nine blocks, which is sixth-best in the conference, and is second on the team with 39 total rebounds, averaging 6.5 per game.

There is tremendous upside with the freshman, who averages just under 10 points per game This forward can take his team deep into the postseason if he continues to have games like his first.

Grade: B+

The Sixth Man

parromNot even gunshot wounds and broken bones can keep this three-year letterman off the court. He has the grit and tenacity to play through adversity, and Tuesday night’s second half showing was a perfect example of how Kevin Parrom provides the much-needed spark off the bench.

He is tied with Mark Lyons for best three-point percentage on the team, as well as the conference, hitting 10-of-20. He has only missed once from the charity stripe, and his .889 percentage is fourth-best in the conference.

His .613 field goal percentage is also tops on team, hitting 19-of-31 from the field. He is third on the team with 28 rebounds, and has 15 assists and two steals to boot.

Parrom is a true warrior for Sean Miller who brings it time and time again.

Grade: A 

The Bench

Other than the aforementioned Kevin Parrom, the Arizona bench is under-performing.

Highly touted forward Grant Jerrett started the first two games and came out flat. He is only shooting 11-of-27 for a paltry .407 percent and doesn’t get any better from three-point territory, hitting 5-of-11 for a .455 percentage. With Jerrett averaging 5.5 points per game and 3.7 rebounds per game, these are not the numbers that Sean Miller was hoping for.

Junior guard Jordin Mayes and sophomore forward Angelo Chol are a combined 18-of-35 from the field and 10-of-17 from the free throw line. They are both averaging under five points per game and are prone to picking up fouls.

Because Parrom is such a stud off the bench and I believe Jerrett will wake up eventually, I think this bench will be serviceable down the stretch.

Grade: C

Sean Miller

smillerSean Miller has an intensity that rivals shooting stars, he demands perfection and will let you know when he doesn’t get it.

He has brought this team back to national prominence after the departure of legendary coach, Lute Olson. His 2012 recruiting class was widely regarded as one of the best in the nation and his players are performing well.

After a heart-breaking loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game last season to Colorado, Sean Miller is poised to return to the title game and take what he feels is rightfully his.

Grade: A  

Final Grade

Despite Tuesday night’s ugly win at home against Southern Mississippi, this Arizona Wildcats team is the best we have seen in a while.

The starting five of Johnson, Hill, Tarczewski, Lyons and Ashley, coupled with the superb bench play of Kevin Parrom, are going to be tough to beat.

The team dynamic is such that each player viewed separately is missing a couple things here and there, but together, this team is undeniably great.

Look for the Wildcats to dominate the Pac-12 Conference and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament come March.

Grade: A-

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