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Anatomy of a Title Contender

December 12th, 2013 News No Comments

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Contibuting Writer
Justin Volmering

Arizona is the #1 team in the country, but are they the best? Will they be the best when it counts? These are not easy questions to answer, but I want to look into Arizona’s current anatomy and compare that to the perceived anatomy of a champion. ESPN’s Seth Greenberg recently released a video detailing three elements that make a successful championship team.

1) Defend at the point of attack
2) Efficiency on offense and defense
3) Ability to play at different tempos

And here’s my response as to how Arizona looks in each of these categories.

1) Defend at the point of attack

Arizona has the best defensive backcourt in the nation. Nick Johnson is a lock down defender and TJ McConnell is an equally talented defender who is averaging a career low 1.7 steals per game, which is still top 150 in the nation. An interesting stat to prove this point is opponent’s assist rate. Arizona’s opponents are averaging the 8th fewest assists per field goal. This says that the point of attack is being shut down and instead teams have to create forced shots one-on-one.

2) Efficiency on offense and defense

An area that Arizona will need to continue to improve is total offensive efficiency. Arizona is currently 24th in the nation in this category, mainly due to a very average TO rate. However, Arizona’s elite offensive rebounding and effective FG% (especially when you discount the head scratcher vs UNLV) makes Arizona one of the most productive teams in the country.

Arizona’s FT shooting has also dipped to 66%, which could hurt them in the future. One offensive concern may be missed layups at the rim. However, I’d like to point out that Arizona is actually the 9th best team in the country at finishing at the rim (74.3%), with over half of those coming off of assists. Basically, Arizona is fantastic at getting easy buckets.

An area that Arizona has cemented itself as one of the best in the nation is defensive efficiency. Arizona is currently top 15 in the following defensive categories: point per game (6th), eFG% (6th), rebounding (2nd), 2pt% (14th), and top 35 in FT Rate (33rd), 3pt% (32nd), and block rate (29th).

Most of those all make sense, but one stat I’d like to highlight is three point defense. Under Sean Miller, Arizona has been an elite three point defensive team every year but last. There were concerns that this could continue this year, but that is not the case. For as strong as Arizona’s interior defense has been, it has not even remotely been at the expense of shutting down the perimeter. However, my favorite stat of all is how Arizona forces its opponents to score. Below is a visual of this distribution. Included is how the average team shoots from the given position.

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It is clear that Arizona forcing such a large percentage of shots from 2 point distance is a huge advantage. This is the type of defense that coaches dream about. Force the toughest shot in the game and Arizona should continue to be a dominant defensive team.

3) Ability to play at different tempos

This is difficult to teach and many teams struggle greatly in different styles of games. Arizona has already shown a knack for playing well despite the game situation, tempo, and style of play. They have excelled when able to get in transition, in a hurry up half court set, in a slow down half court set, off of offensive rebounds, opponent misses, etc. Below is a visual of just how Arizona looks compared to the national average in various situations.

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The only scenario that Arizona does not compare favorably to is after a steal when the ball is not scored in the initial 10 seconds. However this is a tiny sample size (only 5 FGA on the year in this type of scenario) and should be overlooked.

Arizona does very well playing at different tempos and has faced high tempo offensive teams like Duke and UNLV as well as slow tempo teams like SDSU and Drexel. Arizona has won by scoring anywhere from 100 to 63 points but continually forces opponents to score right around 60. Whatever the method and whatever the route, Arizona can adjust to finish games.

Summary

Arizona is a legitimate title contender if they continue their current trend. Arizona has elements that they can work on, but overall is a high caliber team with all the makings of a team that can be, and is, the best in the nation.

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