The University of Arizona men’s basketball team is not perfect.
After 19 games, coach Sean Miller and the Wildcats have gone 17-2 and 5-2 in the Pac-12 Conference. They are currently two games behind the conference-leading Oregon Ducks.
They are ranked No. 8 in both polls and have been ranked as high as No. 3 in the midst of a 14-game win streak to begin the season.
The Cats are the No. 4 team in the RPI rankings and No. 3 in strength of schedule. They have been victorious over five teams in the RPI Top 50, including two teams ranked in the AP Top 25 in Florida and San Diego State.
Why is that they lost to a then unranked Oregon team in Eugene and were blown out at home to an unranked UCLA Bruins team?
Each member of Miller’s starting five has issues and knowing is half the battle. It is imperative that Miller strives to better each player and make them a better team down the stretch and into the NCAA tournament.
Here is the biggest flaw of each of the Wildcats’ starters.
Although Mark Lyons leads the team in scoring and assists, he also leads the team in another category—turnovers, and it isn’t even close.
His 55 turnovers are the most on the team and the third-most in the conference. The 2.9 turnovers per game on average is an area that needs improvement. Unfortunately, since this is senior season, I don’t see much change in the immediate future.
Granted, some of the best point guards in the country have high turnovers, but they also equalize them with an equally high amount of assists. Lyons’ assist to turnover ratio of 1.07 per game is one of lowest in the country.
The only issue that I see with Hill is that he goes so hard that he isn’t at peak performance and his shooting suffers. If he didn’t feel that he needed to be the “Iron Man” for the team, he would get the rest necessary to keep him at the peak of his game. The bench is deep enough for him to allow others to cover for him at times.
Going too hard isn’t the worst flaw to have, because it shows a deep desire and what makes a champion. However, it also shows that he isn’t buying completely into the team concept and feels that he has to do it all by himself.
Nick Johnson is a speedy player who hits well on both ends of the court. His 42 steals leads the Pac-12 and his 62 defensive rebounds are an amazing testament to how aggressive he plays.
Maybe a little too aggressive.
While he tries to do so much on defense, I have noticed a drop in his offensive production.
He is hitting 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the arc, which are both ranked at No. 20 in the conference. His 75 percent free-throw average also ranks at fourth on the team and No. 16 in the conference.
While I applaud his desire to play defense well among a towering frontcourt, I feel that if he was focused more on being a pure shooting guard, that his percentages would increase.
Brandon Ashley has started 16 games and 15 of the last 16 for Sean Miller. He is a sharp-shooter who leads the team in field goal percentage and although he only takes limited shots behind the arc, he is dead-on, hitting 100 percent.
He also leads the team in rebounds with 111 and is always fighting for the loose ball. His intensity is great and the fact that he only averages 21.7 minutes per game makes it seem even better.
His intensity also leads to him leading the team in personal fouls. While four players on the roster have fouled out this season and he has not, he has been in foul trouble on many occasions.
With such great shooting, he does the team a disservice by getting into foul trouble.
Kaleb Tarczewski is a 7’0″ center who has started every game for Arizona. Oddly enough, he doesn’t lead the team in rebounds or blocked shots. He is a close second in both categories and he will improve in those areas once he becomes more settled in Miller’s game plan.
The main area of concern is typical among big men, his free-throw shooting. He is hitting barely over 50 percent from the charity stripe and is giving other teams a reason to foul him at any given time.
In the several close games that Arizona has played this year, the few missed free throws could be the reason that the Wildcats lose the close games in the future.
Nobody wants to see Hack-A-Zeus, but the only way to prevent it is by improving his free-throw shooting.
Kevin Parrom, Grant Jerret and Jordin Mayes make up a solid bench squad that comes in for relief when needed. Parrom has started one game for Brandon Ashley and that ended quickly. Jerrett started the first two games but has given way to Ashley. Mayes is a serviceable backup point guard for when Lyons is catching his breath.
Jerrett has had issues with getting his shots to drop but that is an easy fix—practice, practice, practice. It will come in time as the freshman matures.
Mayes also needs to work on his shooting. He is only shooting 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc. The key for a true point guard is to run the court and work on feeding the ball to your scorers and if you are going to take it yourself, you have to hit better than one-third of the time.
The trials and tribulations will come and go, and the best that the Wildcats can hope for is that all the aforementioned players keep working and playing hard.
There is no way to predict if the Cats are going to play horribly like they did on Thursday against UCLA or incredibly like they did against Arizona State on Jan. 19. The only thing we do know that if the players can limit their mistakes, they can perform as one of the best teams in the country, we have seen it before and know that it’s possible.