UA basketball: Stats, obscure and obvious, best explain Arizona's rise to No. 1

2014-01-23T00:00:00Z 2014-01-28T20:14:46Z UA basketball: Stats, obscure and obvious, best explain Arizona's rise to No. 1By Bruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

In the only statistic that ultimately matters, the Arizona Wildcats are No. 1 nationally.

Of course, that would be the stat known as winning percentage.

But how the Wildcats have achieved a school-record 18-0 start, heading into tonight’s game with Colorado, may be best explored with a dive into the statistical areas where they dominate.

Not surprisingly, most of them are defensive, including official NCAA stats such as points allowed (56.7) and field goal percentage defense (37.0), but the Wildcats also shine in the more advanced analytical world.

There, you can also find Arizona coach Sean Miller’s favorite: Points per possession allowed.

That tempo-adjusted stat, as calculated by Kenpom.com, says the Wildcats allow opponents to score just .876 points per possession, the third-best number in the country.

“The only number that really counts on defense is points per possession, because that’s reflected in all categories, all stats, and simplifies it to one,” Miller says. “And our points per possession right now is very good.”

Here’s a look at all the top statistical areas in which the Wildcats are dominant:

Official NCAA statistics (through Sunday’s games)

Category: Scoring margin

National rank: 4

Stat: 19.2

This number will likely shrink during the Wildcats’ backloaded Pac-12 schedule, but Arizona hasn’t outscored teams by this much for a season since 1987-88 (20.9).

Category: Scoring defense

National rank: 5

Stat: 56.7

The Wildcats are on pace to hold opponents to their lowest average total in more than a half-century. UA opponents scored just 55.3 in 1950-51.

Category: Field goal percentage defense

National rank: 5

Stat: 37.0

The Wildcats haven’t held opponents under an average of 40 percent since their NCAA runner-up team of 2000-01 (.397)

Category: Rebound margin

National rank: 5

Stat: 10.6

This stat lacks significant context — in part because it doesn’t distinguish more difficult offensive rebounds — but still speaks to UA’s dominance on the boards.

Category: Field goal percentage

National rank: 12

Stat: 49.1

Arizona hits 37.9 percent from three-point range and is especially efficient inside with its skilled and athletic front line.

Category: Three-point percentage defense

National rank: 22

Stat: 29.1

Rangy freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and gritty junior transfer T.J. McConnell have joined Nick Johnson to make life difficult for backcourt shooters.

Category: Assists per game

National rank: 24

Stat: 15.9

The Wildcats have been telling you all season that they’re unselfish. This proves it.

Category: Assist-

turnover ratio

National rank: 28

Stat: 1.40

Led by McConnell’s ideal 3-1 assist-turnover ratio, the Wildcats are also careful with the ball.

Category: Fewest fouls

National rank: 39

294

With a thin rotation that often goes just seven deep, the Wildcats have managed to keep players on the floor with a minimum of foul trouble, even with the stricter new rules against defenses this season.

Kenpom.com analytic numbers (though Tuesday’s games)

Category: Effective field goal percentage

National rank: 1

Stat: 41.1

More evidence that the Wildcats can defend at all five positions and extend effectively out on perimeter shooters.

Category: Two-point defensive percentage

National rank: 2

Stat: 40.1

Pomeroy himself says this one speaks highly of the Wildcats.

“It’s a really good sign going forward that they limit opponent three-point attempts and that opponents’ two-point percentage is so low,” Pomeroy said via email. “Obviously they do other things well defensively, but those two things alone will take them far. They force teams to take a lot of bad shots.”

Category: Adjusted defensive efficiency

National rank: 3

Stat: 87.6

This is a popular metric because it takes tempo out of the equation. A team’s possessions are calculated as field goals attempted minus offensive rebounds, plus turnovers, plus .475 of free throws (Pomeroy says he has calculated that the .475 figure represents the average percentage of free throws that end a possession in a college game).

Using this calculation, UA opponents score only 87.6 points per 100 possessions against the Wildcats.

Category: Offensive rebounding percentage

National rank: 9

Stat: 40.3

Arizona is so good at converting its offensive rebounding chances that Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said when “they miss a shot, it’s almost like it’s part of their offense.”

Miller said the Wildcats take a “lot of pride” in the stat.

“To me, it really reflects aggressiveness, talent and size,” he said. “When we’re in and around 40 percent … that’s when we’re at our best.”

Category: Adjusted offensive efficiency

National rank: 16

Stat: 117.2

On the flip side of the efficiency equation, Arizona scores 117.2 points for each 100 possessions, making this number more telling than the Wildcats’ average of 75.9 points per game.

Category: Effective field goal percentage

National rank: 35

Stat: 54.1

This stat is the same as field goal percentages but gives 50 percent more credit for made three-pointers, which UA hits at a 37.9 percent rate.

Category: Average opponent possession time

National rank: 349

Stat: 19.6

Teams have the third-

longest possession time (there are 351 Division I teams) in the country against the Wildcats, leading to more rushed shots and bad decisions.

“If you’re a good defensive team, it’s hard to get quick shots against your defense,” Miller said. “In the first eight seconds if they shoot it against your defense and it’s a good shot, that’s not a good sign for you. We want to be really good at the beginning and make them work and earn every shot that they take.”

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