Conference play is right around the corner, so over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.
ARIZONA PROMISES TO: Get back to defending at the level they did a season ago.
- It will happen because: Their head coach won’t demand anything lesss, with last year’s group being tops nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (per kenpom.com) and in the top five in both field goal percentage (4th) and effective field goal percentage (2nd). Losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from that team was a big deal, and the Wildcats continue to work to account for those losses defensively. With Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson the Wildcats have two high-level athletes on the wings, and their big men are solid defensively (even though UNLV’s Christian Wood did whatever he wanted Tuesday night). One loss doesn’t mean that it’s time to panic, and overall Arizona has been good defensively, and there’s plenty of time between now and their Pac-12 opener January 4 (against Arizona State) to work out the kinks.
- It won’t happen because: While Hollis-Jefferson has proven to be one of college basketball’s most versatile defenders, the other pieces have some strides to make if Arizona is to defend at a level similar to that of last season’s team. Gabe York, who this far has given the Wildcats solid contributions offensively, was the player UNLV looked to attack at nearly every opportunity Tuesday night and he still has work to do when it comes to defending. The same can be said for Johnson, and a key for this group moving forward will be center Kaleb Tarczewski avoiding foul trouble. Tarczewski’s committing 3.2 fouls per game this season, and he’s fouled out of three games so far.
ARIZONA ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Continue to have issues at the foul line.
- It will happen because: Of Arizona’s top six players in free throw attempts just one, Gabe York (77.4%) is shooting better than 70 percent from the charity stripe. That includes point guard T.J. McConnell, who’s made 14 of his 21 attempts and four front court players shooting between 63.6 (Brandon Ashley) and 68.3 (Kaleb Tarczewski) percent from the line. Foul shooting was a problem for Arizona last season as well, and their team free throw percentage has dropped from 65.9 to 64.9 percent.
- It won’t happen because: The player who attempted the second-most free throws last season was Gordon, who connected on just 76 of his 180 attempts. There’s no such player on this year’s roster, and one would think that Ashley can move closer to the 75.7% he shot before suffering the foot injury that ended his 2013-14 season in early February. And McConnell and Stanley Johnson (66.3%) are both capable of shooting better than they have to this point in the season.