TJ McConnell might be the #1 point guard in the college basketball. While that’s up for debate, if McConnell leads Arizona to another victory on Saturday, he’ll at least be the point guard of the #1 team in college basketball. Which I would assume, to McConnell, is just as good or better. It’s that kind of attitude that has allowed McConnell to thrive in his first year at Arizona.
McConnell is ranked 7th in the country in assists per game with 6.9, as he has a plethora of weapons on this Arizona team. But what makes McConnell truly special is the remarkable efficiency with which he is distributing the ball. Among the top 10 assist-getters in the NCAA, McConnell’s 3.2 assist to turnover ratio ranks 3rd. That’s rarefied air among point guards.
And despite playing just eight live games with this roster, McConnell’s chemistry with his teammates is palpable. Like all great point guards, he has a strong mental connection with the four other guys on the court and it results more opportunities for everybody.
In true point guard fashion, McConnell deflects any attempts to focus praise on his abilities.
“When you play with guys this talented, it makes the point guard look good, it makes the point guard’s life easier,” he said after Arizona’s 79-58 win over Texas Tech. “As I’ve been saying all year, credit to them because they’re making the plays, I’m just getting them the ball.”
A humble, team-oriented, pass first point guard who is leading the country in assists and protecting the ball? If McConnell’s not the best point guard in the country, I don’t care who it is. Because he’s giving Arizona everything they could have asked for and more.
And his teammates are the prime beneficiaries.
One of those guys has been Brandon Ashley. Coming off an 18 point, 10 rebound game, Ashley is in a groove and even connected on 2-2 three point attempts last game.
“I have 100 percent confidence in Brandon to shoot that shot and I know he does too, he’s been knocking that down,” McConnell said. “It just makes the offense run that much smoother.”
“I put a lot of work in in the offseason and I’m still putting work in right now,” Ashley said of his three point shooting, “so I’m definitely building up a larger comfort level with that.”
Another player who has grown with McConnell in the lineup is fellow junior and backcourt mate Nick Johnson.
“He’s on a different level,” McConnell said of Johnson. “He’s stepped up and made some big shots when we need him to.”
Last year there were times when Johnson had to facilitate more without a true point guard on the court. This year his assist numbers have gone down, but his scoring has gone way, way up. Now that Johnson is able to focus on playing the shooting guard position, his offensive game has expanded and he’s averaging a career high 17.1 points on 53.7% field goal shooting.
“Against Duke, he struggled in the first half and came back and had a monster second half,” McConnell said. “He played great tonight. He deserved the MVP (of the Preseason NIT). He’s playing great for us.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller acknowledged that the McConnell-Johnson tandem has been a success.
“I think they combine a lot of basketball skills,” Miller said, “but one of the things that makes our team good is that both Nick and TJ, as our starting one and two, are spark players and do it on both ends on offense and defense.”
It seems silly to have written this many words without mentioning McConnell’s defense, arguably his best skill. He’s averaging 1.5 steals per game, but more importantly he’s playing stellar perimeter defense against opposing guards.
A humble, team-oriented, pass first point guard who is leading the country in assists and protecting the ball? And he’s an excellent defender? I might be biased, but there’s no convincing me otherwise. TJ McConnell is the best point guard in college basketball.