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Arizona’s point guards are ‘engine’ of high-powered offense

The Wildcats’ point guards are scoring at an efficient rate and have 30 assists to just six turnovers

NCAA Basketball: Cal. State - Bakersfield at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Why do the Arizona Wildcats have one of the most prolific offenses in the country this season?

Yes, Allonzo Trier’s monster scoring numbers have a big part to do with it. So do the double-doubles Deandre Ayton is putting up every game.

But don’t overlook UA’s point guard play.

Senior Parker Jackson-Cartwright and freshman Alex Barcello are 13-25 from the field this year (9-14 from 3), while tallying 30 assists to just six turnovers. Barcello himself has 11 assists to zero turnovers.

“They’re playing excellent basketball. They’re running the show,” head coach Sean Miller said. “Both guys are hitting open men and aren’t caught up in their own scoring. In Alex’s case, he hasn’t had a turnover in his career. Think about that. Three games and he’s played in big moments and he’s yet to have a turnover.”

Their excellence has allowed Arizona to boast the No. 2 offense in college basketball, per KenPom, while playing at an unprecedented pace, averaging just 15.1 seconds per offensive possession — a staggering 3.5 seconds fewer per possession than last season.

Arizona’s point guard play has been a question mark since T.J. McConnell graduated after the 2014-15 season, but so far it has been what Miller called “the engine” of UA’s high-powered offense.

“When you have (point guards) locked in on playing team basketball and playing quarterback, it sometimes makes the game easier for guys like Deandre, Dusan (Ristic), or Allonzo,” Miller said. “We’re getting a lot of good minutes at that position.”

As a senior, Jackson-Cartwright’s early success shouldn’t be surprising. Barcello’s sort of is, though.

A former four-star prospect, Barcello was Arizona’s lowest rated recruit in its highly-touted 2017 class, yet he has been the most productive freshman on the roster aside from Ayton.

Not only has Barcello been distributing effectively, he is hitting shots from the perimeter and defending well, making him an ideal complement to UA’s stars like Ayton and Trier.

“I think we envisioned him initially being the backup to Parker and a very good one, but I watch him everyday and I watch him on defense, we trust his ability to make shots, he’s really improved in all areas that we’ve asked him to improve on and he’s been one of the pleasant surprises,” Miller said.

“Not that I didn’t believe in him — I knew that he was going to be a terrific player — but he’s really impacted our games that he’s played in and I just don’t see that changing. He does too many things well for him not to be a part of our rotation and what we do.”

The major caveat with all these numbers and figures is Arizona has played three poor opponents so far. So, yes, Jackson-Cartwright and Barcello have played well, but they should against the competition they have faced.

This week in the Bahamas will be a better litmus test.

On Wednesday, Arizona faces the aggressive pressing defense of NC State. On Thursday, Arizona might face SMU which boasts a top-30 defense. And on Friday, Arizona could play No. 5 Villanova which has the sixth-rated defense in the country.

Three stingy defenses in three days.

“That’s been one of our early season emphasis, to make sure we can be as comfortable as possible against changing defenses,” Miller said before the team left for the Bahamas.

"And that’s going to be a big part of (Battle 4 Atlantis) where you play a game on a Wednesday and it’s like all of a sudden the next day you’re playing against a completely different style.”

Some folks — like ESPN’s Jeff Goodman — still believe point guard play is a concern for the Wildcats and that it could be what hinders Arizona from reaching its potential in March.

There isn’t enough evidence to quell those worries just yet, but a strong showing in Battle 4 Atlantis could go a long way toward proving otherwise.


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire