Through 21 games, Arizona has been fantastic. At 19-2, ranked seventh in both polls and boasting an amazing tournament resume, the Wildcats are off to one of their best starts in history. It should go without saying that the team, as a whole, receives a midseason report card with a solid "A."
But what about the individual pieces? This article passes out grades for each.
The defensive side of the ball has been up and down all year but has been mostly up. There have been several great performances including USC, Miami and Florida. Most of the games have been good, there are some bad ones. Overall, the characterization must be that the defense has been good, but it could use some tightening up.
Even within games, the play has been inconsistent. For example, in the game against UCLA, the Bruins started out getting any shot they pleased. Then the Wildcats played lockdown defense to get back in the game. The same was true in the last game against Oregon and Washington.
Against Washington State, the defense was rock solid for the first half, allowing only 26 points. In the second half, WSU scored 50 percent more. They broke down Arizona consistently and got to the hoop without difficulty. The game was never in question, but to play bad defense against a bad team is never acceptable.
When watching the Arizona team, it is rare to get 35 seconds of absolute lockdown defense. They play good on-ball, one-on-one defense, but late in the shot clock, breakdowns occur nearly every possession.
When the other team becomes rushed, it is like Arizona smells blood but becomes frenzied. The result is incomplete defensive possessions. This needs to be tightened up.
Watching the Washington game on Thursday night was one of the more painful things I have done lately. It was like 40 minutes of Rosanne singing the national anthem. The Super Bowl blackout was much more enjoyable. At least then I got to see more very expensive commercials and Steve Tasker, reminding me of this.
There were 34 turnovers. Arizona shot 35 percent from the field; Washington shot less than 37 percent. Washington made one three and finished shooting eight percent from beyond the arc.
Arizona shot 3-of-18. To display the "nails down the chalk board" feeling of this game, for several long stretches, Aziz N'Diaye was the best player on the court. For those who have never seen N'Diaye play, this should never, never, ever happen.
While Arizona's offense hasn't been that bad the whole year, it has bogged down at several key points. There has been trouble in the start against UCLA, the middle 20 minutes of the game against Oregon, much of the game against Southern Miss and San Diego State.
Every time it looks like the Wildcats are starting to get into a rhythm like they did against USC, a game like Washington happens. If it were early in the season, this would be passed off as rust and new-player adjustment, but it's February.
As the season winds down, the Wildcats need to do more on the offensive side of the ball. As I wrote last week, offensively inefficient teams do not win championships.
With all the talent on the team, the Wildcats should be much better than the mediocre on-court performances they have displayed all season. The turnovers need to stop. The bad shots need to stop. And for goodness sake, feed Kaleb Tarczewski the ball.
Arizona's freshmen came in with sky-high expectations.
They were the third-ranked class in the nation, and most people expected them to dominate. But individually, they have not. None of the big three have averaged at least eight points or got more than six rebounds per contest. After 21 games, many have labeled them a disappointment (per Kyle Johnson of The Arizona Daily Wildcat).
But this could not be farther from the truth.
If these guys made Arizona a legit national title contender, would they be disappointing? If these guys took Arizona from a poor rebounding team to one of the best in the nation, would they be disappointing? If these guys stepped in to one of the top programs in the country and contributed 60 quality minutes each game, would they be considered disappointing?
The answer is obviously no to these questions, and the freshmen's contributions have been that impactful. Arizona would be a borderline good team without them. Instead the Wildcats are a borderline great team.
Big guys take longer to develop, but even to this point in the year, the impact of the freshmen has been huge. This is a still a team game, and in large part, because of this class, Arizona is 19-2 and ranked seventh in the nation.
Grade: B (and getting better)
Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom have been the lifeline of this team. Each win has been a direct result of one of these guys, if not all three, stepping up. Whenever a big shot is needed, Sean Miller relies heavily on the seniors.
Lyons (14.9) and Hill (13.6) lead the team in scoring. They are first and third in assists, respectively.
Hill is having an incredible year shooting the ball. Currently, he is at 47 percent from the field, nearly 80 percent from the line and 42 percent beyond the arc. Parrom comes into the game, plays solid defense, grabs more rebounds than he should and has been a clutch shooter throughout the season.
Lyons, while not being the best pure point guard, is a winner. He is exactly the type of guy Miller wants. He is an agitator—an instigator. He is gritty and competitive. He plays with just enough anger behind him to be very refreshing.
While the team has a lot of youth, and relies on it to a good extent, the seniors will be the ones who determine the fate of this team. So far, they have been great.
We can call Nick Johnson, Angelo Chol and Jordin Mayes the other guys—the guys between the freshmen and the seniors.
Johnson has been consistent and has emerged as the go-to guy in many offensive sets. His athleticism and ability to create his own shots sets him apart from most 2-guards.
He has also shown an ability to really defend. In the game against Washington, he shut down the much bigger C.J. Wilcox, holding him to 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting. He leads the Pac-12 in steals, and his block against San Diego State shows one more dimension of his defensive game.
Johnson's improvement is a part of who this guy is. He works extremely hard and has done nothing but get better during his year-and-a-half in Tucson. His high level of play will be key for the rest of the season.
There was an Angelo Chol sighting for the first time in a long time against Washington State. He has largely become a non-factor. After a promising freshman campaign, Chol is in Sean Miller's dog house.
Mayes is used sporadically. Some games he plays a lot, others not at all. The problem with Mayes right now is that he, well, isn't very good at basketball.
Sometimes, he can be a dead-on shooter, but now, he can't make shots. He is shooting 26 percent from three, 33 percent from the field and averages 2.7 PPG. These are not the numbers you want from your shoot-first point guard.
Grade: A- (Johnson), D (Mayes, Chol)
Overall, the team is great. You can't argue with the record. Miller has taken his first four recruiting classes and turned them into one of the top teams in the country. He has successfully mixed youth with experience, size with speed and lots of talent with more talent.
Yet, there is a feeling that something is holding the team back. While Arizona is 19-2, they could be better. That sounds ridiculous, of course, but the Wildcats, at this point, are far from their potential.
They need to cut down the turnovers, ranking 171st in the nation with 13.6 a game. This seems to be getting worse. They need to cut down on ill-advised shots, happening several times each game. And once again, they need to feed the beast—or Kaleb Tarczewski. These are all coaching issues which have not improved throughout the year.
With all the nitpicking, the Wildcats are still one of the best teams in the nation. In the end, all that matters are the wins and losses. It really doesn't matter how you get there. Arizona has been fantastic in this regard.
Playing the fifth-toughest schedule in the country, the Wildcats are still 19-2. Arizona has wins over the RPI No. 2, No. 4, No. 25, No. 32 and No. 38. There aren't many teams in the country with a resume even half as impressive.
Sean Miller is responsible for all of it, and for that, he gets high marks as well.