Arizona Basketball: Cats need to find Defensive Identity to Complement its Offense

TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 09: Deandre Ayton
TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 09: Deandre Ayton /

Defense! Defense! Defense! That’s what Sean Miller is known for teaching his Arizona Basketball team, and it’s a challenge this season.

This year the Arizona Basketball team has been called the most talented Wildcats team of all time. Their second five can probably play with most of any starting five in the country. However, in college, having talent doesn’t necessarily translate to wins. There needs to be cohesiveness and selflessness on the court.

Every player on this years’ team is used to being the top scoring options in High School or AAU ball. However, each player needs to understand how to play with a new group of players all having amazing talent.

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A team headlined by Deandre Ayton, the 2017 Freshman class for Arizona is stacked at each position. Brandon Randolph, Emmanuel Akot, Alex Barcello, and Ira Lee. This talent, mixed with veterans Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Keanu Pinder, “King” Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier, this years’ team has more talent than we’ve ever had on one team. A lot of new faces but the key difference this years team has more veteran leadership than we’ve had in the past.

Through the early part of the season, the Cats have shown signs of dominance and signs of inexperience. Outside of Trier and Ayton, the Wildcats have struggled to find a reliable, third scoring threat, that is until the past few weeks, when Randolph became more assertive. Now having Rawle Alkins back in the lineup certainly helps from a defensive and offensive standpoint.

On previous Sean Miller teams, he has always had a defensive stopper, guys like; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kadeem Allen, and Kaleb Tarczewski. So far this year, the defense has been a real issue. While the Cats haven’t played great defensively as a team yet, it is getting better.

The Wildcats are beating teams because they have been able to out score each team they’ve beaten. When the time comes, the Arizona Basketball team will need big, defensive stops to win games. Perhaps against a good ASU team this weekend.

Sometimes the team gets lost and players miss their defensive assignment to stop the other teams top scorer. Having Alkins back in the lineup has helped in this area. He is very athletic and has the highest motor on the team with endless energy on both ends of the court. We saw this on display in the teams’ win against New Mexico, where Rawle had a career high in points with 26.

“He brings toughness to our team, whether in rebounding, playing defense or just overall I would say he’s an overall player. You can’t say he’s just good at one thing. He’s really good at doing multiple things on the court.” -Dusan Ristic

Additionally, the Wildcats have struggled defending the three, also giving up easy buckets at times due to a lack of focus and defensive energy. Individual defense hasn’t been bad, but rotating and playing with absolute focus for 40 minutes hasn’t happened yet.

The interior defense against UNLV won’t get it done to win a national championship. New Mexico was raining three’s against the Cats. The Wildcats need better effort moving forward to compete for a National Title.

Team defense comes from great communication and energy. Luckily, it is still very early and the Wildcats have plenty of time to figure things out.

After being ranked number two in the country and three straight losses, the Wildcats look to have weathered the storm. This team was, and, is still picked by many to be in the Final Four. Analysts have said that this can be Miller’s best team yet. That may be a little premature.

For Wildcat fans, we know all to well by now how hard it is to make the Final Four. You need luck on top of talent, and if you look at the Elite Eight losses, some of those were heart breakers with very good teams.

Time will tell, but it’s not bad having early season adversity. It’s good to test the mental toughness of a team. Three straight losses, a FBI probe, playing 10 weeks without your second leading scorer from a year ago will certainly test the mental toughness of a team. Cats look to be back on track heading into conference play.

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At Zona Zealots, we hope for the continued improvement of Arizona Basketball this season, and only hope this squad can live up to the hype! Bear Down, Arizona!