After sitting out last year as a transfer from Duquesne, probably no one is more excited to see TJ McConnell suit up for Arizona than the man himself. The Wildcat point guard will take over the reigns immediately, yet many fans aren’t entirely familiar with the Pittsburgh native. PGU’s Justin Volmering did a statistical analysis of McConnell earlier this summer, but here’s a scouting report on Arizona’s new floor leader.
The one thing most people know about McConnell is that he’s a good passer. That’s an understatement though. He averaged five assists per game through his first two seasons at Duquesne, but more importantly he’s an excellent decision maker with the ball. He’s a true offensive facilitator that looks to put his teammates in position to score. He also posted better than a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Playing alongside athletic finishers in Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as well as low post threats in Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley will be the finest collection of talent McConnell has ever led into battle. For someone who is known for his ability to utilize his teammates’ strengths, McConnell will have plenty of options to choose from. You can expect McConnell to have games next year where he pushes 10 assists, and he will likely do an excellent job of distributing the ball to Arizona’s many weapons.
One thing most casual fans don’t know about McConnell is how excellent of a shooter he is. Despite averaging about 11 points as an underclassman, he displayed remarkable efficiency shooting 50.3% on field goals over that time span. He is poised and discriminating with his shot selection, and rarely puts up bad attempts. He was also an 83% free throw shooter as a sophomore.
McConnell’s three point shooting is what will help Arizona most, though. In his first season of college basketball, he hit 39-97 long distance attempts, a more than respectable 40.2%. In his next year, he improved on the mark hitting 38-88 or 43.2%. McConnell could be one of the Pac-12’s best three point shooters next year on an Arizona team that will need to stretch the floor to fully exploit their size advantage down low.
And while McConnell isn’t the fastest, tallest, or highest jumping player, he remains one of the country’s best defenders. A disruptive, active handed guard, McConnell pesters his opponent with great on ball pressure.
McConnell was among the NCAA’s leaders in steals in both his freshman and sophomore years, posting 2.8 steals per game in each year. When you put him next to Nick Johnson, who grew into one of the nation’s premier perimeter defenders last year, you have two pesky guards that will give opponents fits and create transition offense off turnovers. When you add in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who might just be the best defender on the entire team as a freshman, Arizona’s perimeter defense looks nasty.
More than any one aspect of his game, McConnell’s true value will be as a leader. He spent time gelling with the team from the bench and in practice last year, so he has already had a chance to build on court and off court chemistry. But when Arizona is truly tested, when their talented young players get rattled or lose confidence, McConnell could be the steadying force that keeps the ship afloat.