Arizona Hoops: Hustle and Flow

Jacob Snow - USA Today Images 2019
Gary Randazzo

Arizona is off to an impressive start to the 2019-2020 men’s college basketball season. The statistics are off the charts. The routs are piling up. It’s difficult to figure out at which end of the floor the Wildcats are better.

On Sunday, Arizona (4-0) dominated New Mexico State 83-53 by outshooting the Aggies by 20 percentage points. The Wildcats won with solid offense and defense.

In year’s past, something was always a little off for the Wildcats. Even in the Elite Eight seasons, Arizona was always better on defense than on offense. With studs like Lauri Markkanen and Deandre Ayton in the lineup, Arizona was much improved on offense, but lacked that dagger to the heart defensive intensity synonymous with Sean Miller coached teams.

This season, through the first four games, the Wildcats are excelling on both ends of the floor. The positive news is this team doesn’t look like it’s a fluke.

Sure, one could easily argue that Arizona has yet to play a nationally ranked team this season. However, with wins of 39, 21, 48, and 30 points, does the level of the opponent even matter right now?

Consider the following statistics:

  • Arizona is shooting 52.7% from the floor this season, and 43.6% from behind the 3-Point arc.
  • Opponents are shooting 33.2% overall this season, and 26.8% on 3-Point attempts.
  • Arizona has outscored its first four opponents by an average final margin of 87.8 to 53.3.
  • Arizona is averaging 18.8 assists per game.
  • Opponents are averaging 19.8 turnovers per game.
  • Arizona’s defense is averaging 8.8 steals and 4.0 blocks per game.

This is impressive stuff, folks. As Pac-12 Networks color commentator Bill Walton said during Sunday’s game at McKale Center, if there are 19 teams currently ranked higher than Arizona, then this is going to be one heck of a college basketball season.

The reason the Wildcats are excelling early is hustle and flow.

The hustle is obvious. Against New Mexico State, Wildcat big men dove on the floor for loose balls no fewer than five times. In terms of flow, Arizona’s transition game is as good as I’ve seen it in the Miller Era, while defensively all five defenders are moving as one. Against New Mexico State, you could literally see all five Wildcats flowing from the left of the lane, to center, to the right of the lane as the Aggies were swinging the ball around the perimeter. Without exaggerating, it was poetry in motion for those who appreciate and value what great defense is supposed to look like.

The scary thing is Arizona’s ceiling is very, very high.

The Wildcats have not dominated the glass yet this season. The reason is simple to see as the Wildcats are pack lining, rotating, and helping so hard on defense that they’re losing sight of opponents on the backside of the offense, which has resulted in far too many offensive rebounds for the opponents. What’s insane though is opponents are not exactly capitalizing on second chance points. The Aggies, for example, only had five second chance points on 13 offensive rebounds. That’s almost impossible, and illustrates just how good Arizona has been in defending the rim thus far.

Improved rebounding is not the real reason why Arizona has such a high ceiling, though. For the Wildcats, it’s all about the personnel.

Arizona literally has 10 players contributing mightily to the team’s early success. All 10 can run the floor. All 10 can play defense. And for some reason, all 10 seem to be playing with the same chip on their shoulder.

The Wildcats have already had some incredible individual performances this season, but it’s the overall team play that has been most impressive. The floor spacing has been excellent. When someone has a hot hand, teammates are getting the player the ball in scoring position. The simple fact that this year’s team is not afraid to take shots and miss is a big reason why the ball is going through the net at a high clip. The Wildcats are taking the first good shot, rather than hoping to get a better shot later in the possession. This is important because even the great college teams have a habit of passing up good shots for bad shots later in possessions. In this sense, when you combine what I view as dramatically improved floor spacing and balance this year, a constant (not stagnant) motion offense, and the willingness to take good shots no matter how much time remains on the shot clock, the Wildcats are looking more like an NBA offense than a college offense.

Combining this level of offensive flow with the tenacity the Wildcats are displaying on both ends of the court, for the full 40 minutes, and it’s easy to understand why Arizona has blown away its first four opponents.

Up Next:

Arizona hosts South Dakota State on Thursday November 21. Tip time is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks. 

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