Ezra Amacher Player of the Week: Nick Johnson.
Johnson was one of the few bright spots in Arizona’s loss to UCLA, scoring 23 points and coming up with a couple crucial steals. Two days later against USC, “Bunnies” was equally impressive, again leading the team in points while displaying his tenacious defense with two steals and blocks.
Kenpom.com, a site that offers advanced tempo-adjusted ratings ranks Johnson 8th in the Pac-12 offensive efficiency and 2nd in steal percentage. However, stats alone can’t justly describe how important Johnson is to Arizona’s success. Intangibles like rubbing off his confidence on younger teammates and getting McKale rocking with reverse dunks are key ingredients of why the Cats are 17-2. Oh, and his preposterous leaping abilities don’t hurt either. What Did We Learn? Defense is the difference maker.
Although it may have felt like Arizona shot dramatically better versus USC than against the Bruins, the shooting percentages were nearly equivalent and only one more point was scored on Saturday. The signifying discrepancy between the two games was the Cats’ ability to defend ball movement.
UCLA had three times as many assists as the Trojans in Tucson and while that could be credited largely to Larry Drew II, it is worth noting that Arizona’s two losses have come in the games when the Cats have given up the most assists – 18 to UCLA and 17 to Oregon. The freshmen bigs are almost there.
After going scoreless against UCLA, Kaleb Tarczewski reached double digits on Saturday for just the time second time this season. Forward Brandon Ashley averaged 10 points and 7.5 rebounds over the weekend. And although Grant Jerrett is in the midst of a 2-12 slump, he came down with seven offensive rebounds in the home series. Now comes adding more consistency. Mark Lyons is capable of playing the point guard position adequately.
While you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you can tame him. Lyons is never going to be the prototypical point guard but when he plays like he did against USC, he’s enough of a threat to spark the offense without being a nuisance. Where Lyons occasionally goes wrong is when he tries too hard to be the superhero and ends up forcing poor shots and causing turnovers. If Arizona wants to be a legitimate title contender, it needs a sufficient point guard. Lyons can still be that, and much more. Two Predictions for the Washington Road Series The 10 man rotation will continue to be implemented.
It’s unlikely to think that Gabe York or Angelo Chol will all of a sudden see a giant increase in playing time. But against USC, the two showed that they’re capable while the starters are getting a breather.
Down the stretch of the regular season when fatigue sets in, having five guys who can be subbed in will give Arizona a significant advantage against opposing Pac-12 teams. Washington will put Arizona on upset alert.
The Huskies have already lost to Albany, Nevada, and Utah at home this season but no game at Hec Ed, especially one on national television against a hungry team, should be taken lightly. Despite the aforementioned losses and their 12-8 record, Washington is still dangerous. CJ Wilcox is second in the Pac-12 in scoring and Aziz N’Diaye is fourth in rebounding and is shooting an astounding 63%. Those two along with Scott Suggs and Abdul Gaddy make a formidable upset threat. One Parting Thought
In Sean Miller’s post-game press conference on Saturday, he was asked why there is such great parity in college hoops this season.
It doesn’t take an avid follower of the sport to recognize how many court stormings have occurred in just the last month alone.
And the upsets aren’t just occurring in the Big Six conferences. The La Salle Explorers knocked off two of the biggest mid-majors this past week – Butler and VCU – yet fell to Central Connecticut State back in November.
So what was Miller’s take?
“You have these really good coaches and programs with upperclassmen and older players competing against talented young players,’’ he said. “Experience still really matters especially if you have a system and a way of doing things.”
No other explanation can better answer why Ole Miss, 17-2, is atop the SEC and not Kentucky, 12-6.
Come March, teams heavy with juniors and seniors so often perform better than those who rely on underclassmen.
It bodes well for Arizona that they have a core of leaders like Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, and Mark Lyons. Said Miller, “We do blend some older experienced guys with these freshmen and hopefully that takes us where we want to go.”