Nick Johnson’s 47-inch
It’s not fair to say that Nick Johnson is just a leaper. He defends like he’s a hungry Rottweiler and the guy with the ball is wearing a T-bone necklace. He scores with regularity, driving to the basket with little regard for self-harm. He shoots well, and he passes with the deft hands of a magician or some sort of wizard or even a wizard magician.
Yeah, he jumps pretty well: 47, count them, 47! Inches. Should he replicate it for NBA scouts, it would be the highest ever recorded. (Michael Jordan and LeBron James both jumped 44 inches.)
Search “Dunk Contest — Aaron Gordon & Nick Johnson” on YouTube, and you’ll get to see Johnson rise to the occasion — up and over T.J. McConnell — at the team’s annual Red-Blue Game.
When your shooting guard can jump over your point guard, that’s pretty impressive.
Aaron Gordon’s 84-inch wingspan
Aaron Gordon is one part basketball star, one part toothpaste spokesman, and one part pterodactyl. Maybe two parts pterodactyl?
With the wingspan of one 7-footer or seven 1-footers, the Arizona freshman star with the 120-watt smile doesn’t just leap tall buildings, he can clean the roof without jumping.
Ever wonder how he can defend all five positions? With arms as long as Gordon’s, he can pick off a low dribble or reject a hulking center.
Gordon’s defensive flexibility has allowed coach Sean Miller to mix and match defenders at will.
Gordon is to Arizona what a backscratcher is to a back — relief in all the hard-to-reach places. If any light bulbs in the shot clock above the McKale Center court need replacing, forgo the ladder and call Gordon.
Kaleb Tarczewski’s 7 feet
Warning: Trying to drive to the basket on Kaleb Tarczewski is like a surfer attacking a monster at Mavericks. Tarczewski is the wave, and he’s going to swallow you whole.
At 7 feet tall, Tarczewski is that rare breed in college basketball — a monolith — with a “Do Not Enter” sign around the post. His massive presence in the paint, when combined with the Wildcats’ overall fantastic size, makes for a foreboding path to the basket.
This year, however, Tarczewski made his size matter. The sophomore increased his scoring by nearly four points per game in just a six-minute-per-game bump in playing time.
He’s the rarest of species: The 7-foot-tall American male. You don’t get a nickname like Zeus for nothing.
T.J. McConnell’s 3.02
Every great basketball team needs a cautious and heady leader. And to be sure, T.J. McConnell is a large part — if not the largest — of what makes Arizona great.
McConnell had 172 assists this season and 57 turnovers in the regular season, a conference-best 3.02-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. His average of 5.5 assists per game ranks third in the conference. Nice. Nicer? His 57 gaffes were the second-lowest total among the top 13 in the conference in assist-turnover ratio: Oregon’s Johnathan Loyd had 56.
Only thing is, McConnell played six minutes per game more than Loyd, giving him one turnover every 17.5 minutes, while Loyd had one every 13.9 minutes.
All that is to say that Run TMC is precise like an Olympic archer is precise. And how many times this year has Aaron Gordon or Nick Johnson been on the other end of one of his arrows?
Gabe York’s 40.2
The sophomore blossomed into the team’s finest long-distance shooter this season, shooting 40.2 percent from three-point range, with 47 makes on 117 attempts in the regular season. His 47 triples tied for 11th in the conference. Among the other Pac-12 players with 47 or more, York ranks fifth in three-point percentage.
To illustrate his massive growth, consider that as a freshman, York averaged just 5.8 minutes per game over a mere 15 games. For comparison, Elliott Pitts, whose appearance for much of the year came about as often as Halley’s comet, averaged 8.7 minutes in 17 regular-season games.
If Pitts takes anywhere near the leap that York took, the Pac-12 better watch out: You’re in their sights.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s 10.9 offensive rebounding percentage
There’s a certain toughness you get when you’re raised in Pennsylvania, known for its steel and coal production, with plenty of grit to go around.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has his fair share.
The Pennsylvania product ranked in the top 10 in the country in seven categories as a freshman, but his best attribute undoubtedly is his talent on the glass. How else could a freshman rank so high in offensive-rebounding percentage? The Hyphen’s 10.9 offensive rebounding percentage ranks fifth in the conference. The four players ahead of him include two seniors (Perris Blackwell and Richard Solomon), a sophomore (Josh Scott) and a fellow freshman (Wesley Gordon), who all average more than Hollis-Jefferson’s 24.9 minutes per game.
The Wildcats get along
The second Nick Johnson decided to round up a bunch of his teammates and secure living quarters for them, the epic Madden 2014 battles began.
And maybe that’s where the road to the Pac-12 championship began, too.
Few teams have the inborn chemistry that these Wildcats have, partly because of their cohabitation and partly because Sean Miller went out and collected a team of pretty good dudes.
The chemistry helps explain the you-watch-my-back-I’ll-watch-yours defense, the fantastic rebounding numbers and the Wildcats’ willingness to make extra passes and take charges. And the wins. Oh, the wins.
Somehow, they kept up, even after the loss of starter Brandon Ashley.
Arizona’s ability to rebound from such a devastating loss is Exhibit A of the Wildcats’ cohesion.
They measure up
Perhaps no team in the country is more anatomically correct than Arizona.
The Wildcats’ guards have consistently out-sized their opponents, the frontcourt is one giant wall, and with lengthy freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the sixth man, Arizona offers one of the toughest top-six matchups in all of college basketball.
A lot was made about the loss of Brandon Ashley, but people must have forgotten about 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski and the long-and-strong Aaron Gordon.
Sure, the Wildcats’ size was dealt a blow with Ashley’s injury, but given the fact that they won 5 of 6 games to close the regular season, including three by more than 20 points, it appears that they’ve figured out the right formula.
That formula is pretty simple: Be taller and longer than everyone else, add a sprig of attitude, then mix and repeat.
They have a home-court advantage
McKale Center has been an absolute haven for the Wildcats – a manic, frenzied, intense, scary, hostile, jam-packed environment – and that’s abundantly clear given the spotless 18-0 record.
So why would climate matter for Arizona? Because the Wildcats aren’t traveling too far from home.
Arizona’s brilliant regular-season run put the team in position to gain a top seed in the West, which conveniently places the road to the Final Four just a drive west to San Diego for their first games and Anaheim for, should they make it, the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats have already had success in San Diego this season – the win at San Diego State in Game 3 may have been the team’s most impressive of the year – and no team may have a better road to riches.
If reporters recorded the press conference after Arizona’s exhibition win and maybe every game after, they’d hear the same things, again and again and again.
Somehow, Sean Miller’s basketball philosophy, bordering on religious fanaticism for defensive effort, has trickled down to the rest of the program. The Wildcats almost sound like a cult. “Defense, rebounding, defense, rebounding, yes, sir, no, sir, defense, rebounding.”
That philosophy, and the resulting commitment to it, led to a Pac-12-best 58.7 points-per-game scoring defense and to 28 regular-season wins. Opposing coach after opposing coach lauded Arizona’s stifling D all year.
They fit well
No team in college basketball has better human relationships, and few are better organized.
There’s no real way to quantify smiles, no matter how high the decibels on “Kumbaya,” so you’ll just have to take our word for it – this team isn’t just tight, it’s perfectly assembled.
Miller clearly makes it a priority to foresee the future, and even the rather unforeseen losses of Grant Jerrett and Angelo Chol were but minor speed bumps. With a mixture of size and speed and experience and youth, the Wildcats are balanced and hungry, playing off each other and skillfully systematized.
They have heart
If anyone questions the Wildcats’ grit, tell them to fast-forward to the final 1:33 of Arizona’s first post-Ashley matchup with Oregon back on Feb. 6.
Down for nearly 18 minutes of the second half, the Wildcats rallied back, claiming the lead on a T.J. McConnell three-pointer. They went on to win 67-65, bouncing back not only from the loss of Ashley but their first loss of the year just a few days prior at Cal.
Arizona would lose another heartbreaker two games later, giving it two losses in four games, but the Wildcats bounced back, reeling off five straight wins before succumbing to the Ducks in a season-ending rematch.
Who wants to bet they rebound again?