Article from John Gasaway at ESPN
When you're 21-1 and ranked No. 2 in the nation, I suppose the present moment represents the "worst of times" for Arizona. Starter Brandon Ashley has been lost for the season due to a foot injury, and the Wildcats just suffered their first defeat of the season. In the wake of these two unsettling events, I thought this would be a good time to take stock of Sean Miller's personnel.
And as long as I'm reviewing the Wildcats' individual levels of performance, I feel like handing out awards. Therefore, I've taken it upon myself to declare one of these guys the most valuable player at Arizona. No need to thank me, Coach Miller. This is just the kind of pro bono, drive-by evaluation the faithful readers around here have come to expect.
Here's a breakdown of Arizona's top five players this season, along with my vote for the team's MVP.
I know Hollis-Jefferson has started just two games this season, but don't dismiss him. Arizona is a tremendous defensive team that looked very shaky on offense during the Wildcats' recent two-game swing through Northern California to play Stanford and Cal. And for Miller's team this season, the best offense often has come via an offensive rebound.
That's where Hollis-Jefferson comes in. He sports an impressive 12.9 offensive rebound percentage this season, and the 6-foot-7 freshman is achieving even better results as the year moves along. In Pac-12 play, Hollis-Jefferson has pulled down 14.3 percent of Arizona's missed shots during his minutes. Losing Ashley is a blow, no doubt, but if it's any consolation for Wildcats fans, the sophomore's absence will free up minutes for one ferocious freshman on the offensive glass.
There are better candidates for team MVP, but Hollis-Jefferson is hereby awarded the DeJuan Blair Commemorative Trophy for Excellence in Beastly Offensive Rebounding. Well done, young man.
Tarczewski is a walking billboard for the success of Miller's recruiting. On just about any other team in the country, a blue-chip, 7-foot sophomore would be seeing a lot more touches on offense and likely would have specialized on defense by now as either a shot-blocker or a rebounder. None of the above describes Tarczewski's job description in Tucson.
Instead, the big guy supplies a little bit of everything -- including free throws. His 12-of-12 performance at the line in the loss at Cal highlights the fact that, at 82 percent, he is indeed the Wildcats' best foul shooter. That nets Tarczewski the Steve Nash Uncanny Free Throw Accuracy Award. Tarczewski and Nash -- the comparison's just too easy.
Rather than look for his own shot on offense, McConnell functions as a classic pass-first point guard, and perhaps the best measure of his value is Arizona's performance team-wide in the area of turnovers. Last season in Pac-12 play, the Wildcats gave the ball away on 18.3 percent of their possessions, but this season that number is down to 16.1 percent. McConnell doesn't get all of the credit there, of course, but he certainly has been a big help in that department
Throughout his career -- first at Duquesne, and now at Arizona -- the junior also has posted high steal rates. I guess you could say McConnell is a one-man positive turnover margin, reminding me a little of the amazing differentials Virginia has been able to achieve as a team this season. (In ACC play, Tony Bennett's team is forcing turnovers on 22.6 percent of opponents' possessions, but giving the ball away on just 14.4 percent of its own offensive trips.) Honorary Cavalier T.J. McConnell, I salute you!
I know what you're thinking: Johnson is the obvious choice as this team's MVP. For one thing, the junior may well win the Wooden Award, and besides, there's no question that he's "the man" on offense for Arizona. During his minutes, Johnson takes 26 percent of this offense's shots, and his late 3-pointer against Stanford was instrumental in allowing the Wildcats to sneak out of Palo Alto with a 60-57 win. There's no doubt in anyone's mind who's getting the ball for Arizona in a close game, and in view of that, I'm awarding Johnson the One and Only Obvious Arizona Go-To Guy Hero-Ball commemorative cape. Wear it with pride, Nick.
I love Johnson's game, and there's no question Miller needs his featured scorer healthy and available if this team is going to make the Final Four. But I am a little worried that the Wildcats' weak performance on offense the past two games was a case of catching cold when Johnson sneezed. In those two games, the junior was just 5-of-23 from the floor.
And now we unveil Arizona's Most Valuable Player. In naming Gordon the Wildcats' MVP, I don't want to minimize the damage done by the freshman's 45 percent foul shooting. On the contrary, I've long thought that fans, writers and possibly even coaches don't recognize just how harmful this kind of inaccuracy really is. Free throws are kind of boring to watch, but if you stop and count the points Gordon is costing his team -- well, it's considerable.
But here's the thing about Gordon (who, by the way, is Arizona's best rebounder among the starters at both ends of the floor). Take him away and, especially now that Ashley's gone, this defense becomes much less sizable and much less mobile. I just don't see Arizona having the same scary-good defense with, say, McConnell, Johnson, Gabe York, Hollis-Jefferson and Tarczewski.
Gordon's not a shot-blocker per se, but he is a crucial part of a defensive front line that simply does not allow opponents to make 2s: Pac-12 opponents have connected just 40 percent of the time inside the arc against this D. Arizona is defined by its defense, and the arrival of Gordon this season has been a big factor in pushing that D to a whole new level.
For these reasons, I'm awarding Gordon my first-ever Arizona Most Valuable Player award. Congratulations, Aaron.
Now ask Kaleb for some help on those free throws.