The first loss of the season exposed nothing new about the Wildcats.
I’ll get the obvious taken care of quickly. This is an undersized team. We knew this starting with Seattle Pacific and we’ll be acutely aware of it right up until size arrives next fall. This is a team without a point guard. We haven’t known this for too long but it’s becoming more apparent with each game that Josiah Turner needs to time to develop and Jordin Mayes is a terrific off-guard. This team is still learning to play in Sean Miller’s system.
There. It’s done and I’ll stop beating that horse who’s pretty dead and will continues to be. And rather than pick apart a developing team following their first loss 3000 miles from home, I’ll highlight what the Wildcats taught us and learned about themselves 3000 miles out.
X-factor. As Kevin Parrom continues to find his basketball legs – rediscovering his touch and getting some lungs about him – he’ll be an obvious improvement to the talent level Arizona puts on the floor. We all know he’s versatile, capable of scoring inside and out while guarding nearly any position. He’s an unquestioned talent. But what makes Parrom special is that by simply being available to this team, he makes them a better team. His return did not coincidentally coincide with Solomon Hill’s two best games of the season. He takes loads of pressure off of Hill and Kyle Fogg and brings a calming presence to the team. Parrom is tough, unflappable, and the poster child of what Sean Miller teams play like. He’s the heart of Arizona basketball and they’re better for it.
Guards. My favorite lineup to date has been Mayes, Fogg, Parrom, Hill, and Perry. In second would be Turner, Johnson, Parrom, Hill, Perry. Notice a theme? I like the heavy guard sets because that is the undeniable strength of this team. These lineups, while undersized, offer tremendous versatility that can cause matchup problems Arizona should be able to exploit as they grow comfortable within the offense and defense. If there’s one drawback to this group of guards, it’s that they’re missing the ability to penetrate the lane. Hill has occasionally been able to do this and does a good job of recognizing and exploiting mismatches; however, as a whole, these guards struggle to get into the lane. The exciting part is that as Turner grows comfortable with the college game, we’ll get to see just how dynamic of a scorer and distributor he can be. Once he figures this out, the sky is the limit. He’ll open the floor up for his fellow guards to slash and shoot, highlighting their strengths. We saw glimpses of this in New York, as Turner played his best basketball of the season in The Garden. Unfortunately, that also happened to coincide with Arizona’s largest opponent to date and subsequent first loss.
Shooter. Jordin Mayes is a shooter and a fantastic one at that. Unfortunately, and while they’re not mutually exclusive, he is not necessarily a point guard. He’s been doing a very good job filling in at the position and is undoubtedly serviceable. However, I think we learned this weekend that the emergence of Turner as a true point guard (in the more modern sense) will greatly benefit this team. It will – as I previously stated – open up the floor for Mayes and others to shoot which fortunately they’re good at. Mayes’ game is one of my favorites on the team and he’s vital to the team’s success. He plays with presence and exudes confidence – something we don’t always see from Fogg or Hill. Now, that’s not to say that Fogg and Hill are not confident, I’m simply saying, Mayes’ ability to be a serviceable point guard has a lot more to do with his confidence than his skill set. In turn, this simply makes him a good basketball player.
Predator. Jesse Perry is tough. He’s been tasked with being the “everything front court” for this team and has done a phenomenal job of that. It goes without saying, that if he struggles, so too will the Wildcats. I’d mentioned how important Parrom is to this team – his presence takes this team from competitive to good. Perry, on the other hand, makes this team, a team. Anecdotal evidence: Perry did not play well for 35 minutes against St. John’s. He was missing from the field and getting beat up on the glass. It’s therefore no surprise that as he struggled, the Johnnies managed to build a late, eight point lead. They were expanding their zone and forcing Arizona’s guards to penetrate (which they were unable to do) without fear of an interior scoring threat. So when Perry snapped out of his struggles, scoring 6 of his 11 points in the final five minutes, BOOM! Arizona pulled away and won. The senior brings more than just a big body (see others on the team for that). He allows this guard heavy team to play to their strengths, while fortifying the frontline, and keeping teams honest.