Coming off an incredibly tight overtime victory against winless Santa Clara, the Arizona Wildcats men's basketball team took on the undefeated Providence Friars in the Wooden Legacy Tournament. It was a game that many of us were hoping would give Arizona a chance to bounce back and fix some of the issues we witnessed against Santa Clara.
Instead, we saw an almost identical performance against the Friars. I suppose there's something to be said about consistency.
In similar fashion to Wednesday's game, Arizona's defense was suspect at best, the offense struggled to create scoring opportunities, and Gabe York had an atrocious night shooting the ball. Arizona was able to overcome this against a lesser opponent in Santa Clara, but Providence capitalized on Arizona's mistakes and it eventually cost the Wildcats the game. There's plenty for Arizona fans to glean from the first loss of the year, but here are three things we learned:
1. Inexperience abounds
Early season tournaments like the Wooden Legacy are an ideal opportunity to gauge how a team performs when the lights are a little brighter. Playing in McKale Center against Northwestern State is one thing, but going on the road in a tournament-style atmosphere is a completely different story. Though the symptoms manifested themselves in a myriad of forms, the root cause for Arizona's problems is traceable to their inexperience.
With the longest-tenured player, Kaleb Tarczewski, out with an injury and Gabe York deciding to take the night off offensively, Arizona essentially becomes a collection of transfers, first year starters, and freshmen who have little to no experience playing with each other. It's still exceptionally early in the year, and Arizona is showing that it still hasn't coalesced into a cohesive unit on either side of the ball. In years past, Arizona made up for a lack of experience with ridiculous talent (see: Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson), but that same line of thinking doesn't necessarily apply this year. Developing chemistry, cohesion, and rhythm is going to be critical going forward.
2. The backcourt is lagging behind the frontcourt
Gabe York's struggle has already been mentioned, but he wasn't alone. The Arizona backcourt shot a combined 11/29 from the floor, committed 12 turnovers, and struggled consistently in transition defense. Much has been made about Kadeem Allen's shift from scorer to distributor, but on a night when turnovers were abundant and points were scarce, Arizona needed more of the scoring persona.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright had a critical turnover late in the game, leading to a transition dunk by Providence that sealed the game. Allonzo Trier had 4 turnovers, 5 points, and missed both of his three point attempts. Elliott Pitts was non-existent on offense and taken to task by Providence star Kris Dunn on defense. The strength of the Wildcat team is certainly in their size and athleticism underneath, but the backcourt needs to produce at a much higher level than what they showed against Providence if Arizona is to be competitive.
3. Ryan Anderson is quickly becoming the linchpin of this team
It certainly wasn't all bad for Arizona. Ryan Anderson is doing all he can to remove some of the uncertainty surrounding Arizona's offensive identity by showing himself to be an absolute force underneath. Anderson had a nearly flawless evening, seemingly single-handedly keeping Arizona in the game with 27 points on 11/17 shooting and 12 rebounds. Arizona may have found their go-to player in Anderson, which may in turn help establish rhythm and consistency on the offensive end of the floor. When Anderson commands the level of attention he was given against Providence, the rest of the offense (particularly the perimeter) opens up. Sean Miller clearly emphasized running the offense through Anderson in the second half, and it kept Arizona in the game.
It's worth noting that Arizona tends to bring out the best in their opponents. Teams gear up to play their best games against the Wildcats, which comes with the territory of being a perennial contender in the NCAA Basketball landscape. A loss against a Providence team that hosts next-level talent isn't a reason to hit the panic button; it is, however, a learning experience for what is a very inexperienced team.