Do you know how many 7-footers there were in college basketball last year? 96. That’s approximately two trees for every seven teams, and more accurately one for every 3.656.
When you consider that most of those players had little to no impact on the landscape of Top 25ish college basketball, you can see the importance of having the truly elite, skilled 7-footers on your team.
So why is it that Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski, as one of the premier skilled big men in the country, hasn’t been more of a focal point?
To be fair, that’s a bratty question. Arizona was the best team in college basketball last year and undefeated until a starter went down to injury. There’s nothing wrong with the formula, so we’re essentially splitting hairs.
But over the last two years, Arizona hasn’t really played through their big man in the middle, an advantage that few teams have.
A lot of it has to do with the quality of talent assembled around Tarczewski. Arizona has been flush with talent at basically every position during his two years in Tucson. Arizona has had extraordinary balance, and that has hidden the impact of some players.
Another factor is that teams have adapted to Arizona’s size advantage, and have forced the Wildcats to play more of a perimeter game.
The size and strength that Arizona has put next to Tarczewski at the power forward and small forward positions have forced the defense’s hand into packing the paint or being eaten alive. So you can see why playing through Zeus in the middle could be difficult.
But maybe the most important reason why Arizona doesn’t play through Tarczewski is that he’s not a selfish player. He’s more concerned about winning basketball games than his field goal attempts.
Tarczewski is not the type of player to demand the ball when it disrupts the offense. Instead, he crashes the boards and plays solid interior defense.
But that doesn’t mean Arizona shouldn’t try to exploit Tarczewski more often. Part of Sean Miller’s challenge next year will be finding creative ways to get Tarczewski the ball.
One way Tarczewski can help is by consistently hitting the short jumper like he showed he could do toward the end of last year.
Of course, that won’t be a major part of the offense, especially with Brandon Ashley stretching the floor. But if Tarczewski can step out and hit that shot, he’ll have a dimension to his game that will always allow him to be effective no matter what the defense does.
But at the end of the day, Tarczewski is the player he is. He’s going to give you 100% effort, a team oriented attitude, and some serious skill for a 7-footer.
Here’s to hoping we see him rewarded for his hard work with a few more touches per game.