All this week (and next) we'll be running through how to defeat some of the top contenders for the national title. Today's installment is the Arizona Wildcats.
Arizona has lost just three games all year, the latest of which at Oregon in a game where the Wildcats had nothing to play for. (it should also be noted one of their others was in a game where Brandon Ashley went down with an injury, making it a perfectly reasonable loss). The Wildcats rank 1st in defensive efficiency (note: assume all stats are via KenPom.com and all shot locations are via hoop-math.com), but the Wildcats are just 36th offensively.
Their offensive identity is at the crux of how to best beat the Wildcats. I noted here that they attempt a whopping 42.6% of their shots as two point jumpers (D1 average is 29.3%) and they make just a third of those. Seemingly letting Arizona run their offense, and hoping they don't have a hot day from three, is a pretty good way to beat them. That said, only three teams have done it, so there must be something more there. Arizona has been really good on the offensive glass, even without Brandon Ashley, so it's going to be tough to limit them to just one look. It's tough to zone a team that good on the offensive glass, but with Arizona it's probably a good idea. Point guard TJ McConnell is really good at running the pick and roll, and is a really good passer. He's also the lone Wildcat to whom you don't want to give any good midrange looks, as he's shooting roughly 46% on those shots this year.
On the flipside, Aaron Gordon is seemingly still trying to be a 3 man, which is good news for potential Wildcat opponents. Despite taking nearly half his attempts from midrange, he's making just 28.5% of them.
We can't get too much farther without discussing Pac 12 POY Nick Johnson. He's struggling a bit on those jumpers, but making 36% of his threes on the year. He's a high volume guy, and he's chipped in assists wise. A team will have to have a strong perimeter defender with some size so that Johnson can't shoot over the top of him. If a team can get one of McConnel or Johnson into foul trouble, Arizona's backcourt gets pretty thin in a hurry.
Scoring on them is a much bigger concern. They have length and athleticism all over the place. They allow the second fewest shots in the country at the rim because McConnell and Johnson are so good out there, though it should be mentioned that if you can break down that first line of defense, the Wildcats lack a great rim protector. In fact, they're 285th in FG% allowed at the rim. That puts a lot of pressure on the guys up top to stay out of foul trouble. If (big if, at this point) the refs start re-emphasizing the hand check rules and McConnell and/or Johnson pick up a couple cheap ones (though even with the new rules they rarely put themselves in that position) their defense becomes a lot more beatable.
If a team can run with them (and really there are only a handful who have a chance) that team might have a shot at consistently beating the defense down the floor enough to score enough points to win. Otherwise, a team will have to pick its spots and run when possible, and for the rest of the possessions try to shoot with as little time on the shot clock as possible.
For the most part, Arizona makes you take tough shots (51% of them are mid range jumpers) and you're going to want to have a guy who can stretch the floor. It's going to be really tough to beat them, especially in that you almost have to hope you can shoot over the top of them, but at the same time I do worry a bit that Arizona is going to be relying on winning 6 jump shot contests in a row, and that's a pretty tough ask as well.