Kaleb Tarczewski brings a lot to Arizona that makes the team a bonafide title contender next year. He gives Arizona elite size with an uncharacteristic agility and IQ for a big man.
The intangibles of that type of player are a conversation in itself, but what has intrigued me the most about Tarczewski’s freshman season are his more scrutinized assets: scoring and rebounding. I’ve taken a close look at what Tarczewski achieved in his first year and projected what we have to look forward to from our phenom big man in his second year using statistics from kenpom.com.
In less than 22mpg of action, Tarczewski averaged 6.6ppg for Arizona. That number doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but what does jump off the page is his incredible consistency. His point distribution last year was nearly half of any other player. The graph shows how each player’s varied from the average.
Tarczewski also had the tightest correlation on the team between minutes and points, meaning more minutes next year should directly translate to more points. We don’t really need to worry too much about him losing efficiency with more minutes like you often do with players since he plays close to the basket.
Tarczewski should be expected to play every minute he can physically play. I would predict around 30mpg based on Sean Miller’s rotational tendencies. With this increase in playing time, Arizona can expect a reliable 9ppg, even before standard freshman to sophomore improvement is accounted for (roughly 0.3ppg).
When accounting for the presence of pass-happy point guard TJ McConnell, we can expect further improvements. Statistically, McConnell is a net improvement at lead guard of about 2.7 assists per game. If a fourth of those end up in Zeus’ hands, with an FG% of 54%, we should expect an additional increase of 0.7ppg.
Looking forward, I predict Kaleb to average about 10ppg for Arizona in his sophomore campaign, a significant improvement from his first year.
Tarczewski finished 3rd in the PAC-12 in offensive rebounding percentage and 6th in total rebounds per minute. So it’s not really a secret that his 6.1rpg in 22mpg is very impressive.
What makes this particularly intriguing is how his numbers improved through the year. The graph below uses a five game running average and excludes the first five games of the season against the weakest part of the schedule.
We see that Tarczewski improved his average by over 2rpg in just four months of play. Obviously a large contributor to his increased production can be attributed to his development and adjustments made to his increased frame. However, there is also an interesting correlation between Tarczewski’s improvement and the type of opponent that he played against.
As the season progressed, Arizona’s opponents became larger. In fact, Arizona’s average opponent height was 3.8” greater after the December 23rd Miami game than before. Below, I show a strong correlation between Tarczewski’s rebounding success and the effective height of Arizona’s opponent. I have taken out data points in which Tarczewski played less than 20 minutes.
Tarczewski averages 8rpg when playing against teams with a +4” height (from the national average) or more per 22 minutes of action. I think some scouts would be interested in that info. As a team, Arizona still averaged the exact same rebounding advantage against both taller and shorter teams.
This is interesting, but not terribly surprising. One possible explanation is that smaller teams were helping to box out Tarczewski at the expense of another Arizona player getting a rebound. It’s also not uncommon for bigger guys to struggle against smaller players with quicker hands. There’s a third possibility that smaller players near Tarczewski just took a noticeably lower quantity of shots, resulting in less available rebounds.
Whatever the reasoning, NCAA teams are not going to all grow in size next season. We should expect similar results next year for Tarczewski, but with an increase in minutes, we can hope for an equal increase in rebounding production. 8.3 rebounds per game seems like a reasonable prediction.
Kaleb Tarczewski gives Arizona a great foundational player next year. He will be a reliable and productive player who could easily break out and show us even more than the averages I predicted. He has potential to make a huge leap as he continues to get accustomed to the college game, and TJ McConnell’s presence will benefit Kaleb more so than any other player.
No matter what, expect plenty of double doubles and big games from Tarczewski next year as he should give Arizona an advantage that few teams in the college game have. Zeus will continue to bring the thunder to McKale, and to the rest of the Pac-12. I cannot wait.