Arizona has led the AP Top 25 Poll for three consecutive weeks, with a record of 13-0, as they are about to hit the halfway point of their season. Much like every year in Tucson, fans expect a lot out of Sean Miller’s squad, and a lot is exactly what fans have received thus far. A lot of dunks, defense, hustle and panic attacks. Arizona’s 13-0 record is chock-full of impressive wins at San Diego State (9-1), at #25 Michigan (7-4) and #6 Duke (9-2) in the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship Game at Madison Square Garden. In short, the Wildcats have played one of the most impressive non-conference schedules in the country.
Much of the success is due to three solid additions to the team this year in Duquesne transfer TJ McConnell at point guard, along with freshmen forwards Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. This group is simply one of the most complete teams in the country and one of the best Tucson has ever seen.
TJ McConnell is the only pass-first point guard Sean Miller has had during his time at Arizona, yet McConnell’s contributions seem to be overlooked. He passes when he has to, shoots when he needs to and defends whomever he wants. Gordon has made a great transition from high school to college as he fits into Sean Miller’s system seamlessly, owning the paint all season with electrifying dunks and ferocious blocks. Behind the shadow of Gordon, has been Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whose athleticism and hustle alone has made him a fan favorite in Tucson already. He’s physical, applies the defensive pressure and can rock the McKale Center in one leap.
Along with the addition of McConnell, Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson have been the improvements of Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York. Nick Johnson has been getting great feeds from McConnell all season which attributes to his team leading 16 points per game. Kaleb Tarczewski has already improved his points per game, rebounds, blocks and shooting percentage and still has plenty of room for improvement. And then there is Gabe York, going from just five minutes a game last season, to now playing just under 20 minutes per game. York’s defense and three-point shooting have been a pleasant surprise coming off the bench for the Wildcats.
However perhaps the biggest x-factor this season has been Brandon Ashley and his improvement from year one to two. Ashley has scored in double digits all by twice this season and is averaging five more points than least year and two more rebounds a game. And standing in at 6’9, Ashley is shooting an impressive 44% from the three-point arc, making him one of the most versatile players on the court.
The Wildcats will put their perfect record on the line against Pac-12 foes Washington State (6-5) and Washington (6-5) on January 2nd and 4th respectively.