Mom, I love a man and his name is T.J.
With a pre-season NIT championship in the back pocket and a potential number one ranking coming on Monday if the Wildcats handle their business at home Saturday vs UNLV, life is good in Tucson and for Wildcats fans around the country.
Frankly there's a hundred reasons one could point to and say that's why Arizona is in the position it is in. Arizona is playing some of the best basketball in the country, has proven itself vs top competition and is getting production from a number of guys. Make no mistake about it, this is not Kemba Walker leading Uconn. This is not the Derrick Williams show of 2011. The Wildcats are a complete basketball team with starting quality reserves and five starters who have bought into the team system that Sean Miller preaches. Who gets the accolades each night might as well be drawn from a hat. Every member of the starting five could arguably have been the most important player at one point or another this year.
So make no mistake this is not pumping up T.J McConnell over his teammates. It's not cutting down others. However it's a different style of ball being played in Arizona this year and quite frankly I LOVE IT. I probably would have to go back to Jason Gardner in 2003 to the last time I felt this comfortable, this confident with the ball in a guard's hands to make the right play every time. Point Guard U has long been a trademark in Tucson, Arizona but frankly the players taking up residency here the last decade haven't always been built in that mold.
The team as a whole seems to be moving the ball as a unit as well as any Arizona team I can remember in a long time. Yes, it has been a relatively short time frame we're looking into but these things tend to get better, not worse, as the year plays itself out. Is that all a credit to T.J? Not necessarily. There's a growing curve players must mature into and that could be part of it with players like Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski who maybe in prior years didn't possess the ball movement capabilities they've shown at times.
However one thing I do know is it can be contagious. Playing with a point guard like McConnell makes everyone a more willing passer. When they see a guy who will get them the ball whenever they're open there's no questions of "will I get another quality look soon?" Mark Lyons for all his accolades and brilliance last year was not a pass first guard. As a result you saw the ball freeze at times last season and more one on one basketball.
I recall above all else the game against Colorado on the road where it seemed like 75% of the shot clock each possession was spent passing the ball around the perimeter. There were few cuts. There was nobody looking to drive and pass. It was one of the uglier offensive games the team had all season. You just don't see that with this team. The ball movement and just as importantly off the ball movement by others is what has this team clicking in the early weeks of the 2013-2014 season.
One of the early issues Arizona has struggled with is turnovers. While some are frustrating many of them have come with guys trying to make plays for a teammate. For that reason I can live with some of the glitches we've seen. In the long run it will be for the better of the team.
"I'm just trying to get people open looks and get us into the offense so it runs smoothly" T.J McConnell told Andy Katz after Arizona's championship game win over Duke. God bless you T.J. Keep getting guys shots all the way through March.