When Lorenzo Romar was hired by Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats this offseason, some believed a stylistic change, even just a slight alteration, would be coming to Arizona basketball.
After all, Romar and Miller have largely differing coaching philosophies, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
In their best years under Romar, the Washington Huskies used a relentless, aggressive man-to-man defense that prided itself on forcing quick, tough shots and ideally an ample amount of turnovers, which then fueled UW’s traditionally uptempo offense.
On the other hand, Miller’s teams deploy the “pack-line” man-to-man defense, a conservative scheme that packs the paint and forces opposing teams to execute in the halfcourt to generate quality shots.
The Wildcats have been effective on defense under Miller to be sure, but the pack-line defense results in UA playing at one of the slowest paces in college basketball year in and year out, since they don’t force a ton of turnovers and opponents often burn the shot clock to find quality looks.
The quickest pace Arizona has played at under Miller was in his first season (2009-10) when it had the 87th-quickest tempo in college basketball. The last two years, UA has been at 258th and 277th in tempo, respectively.
Last season, just 17.9 percent of Arizona’s field goal attempts came in transition. Washington was at 29.8 percent.
“If you look at the tempo and style (that we play), sometimes the harder you are to score against, the more deliberate the other team is,” Miller said. “They can’t get a good shot. It slows the tempo down no matter if you want to or not.
“Now if we were trapping, if we’re pressing, if we’re denying everywhere and teams are shooting quick shots, it may reflect that we’re playing a faster pace, but really it’s almost like a negative toward your own defense, if that makes sense.”
Romar’s teams did those things — trapping, pressing, denying — and in 2015-16, UW finished second in all of college basketball in adjusted tempo.
But as you can probably tell from Miller’s quote above, he won’t be adopting any of those principles, thus it’s unlikely Arizona’s tempo will quicken.
“For us, we want to push it on makes and misses, we want to have tempo. You’re right, I think I rely a lot on Lorenzo’s mindset and what he sees and he’s done to put his team in the position to be a running team, but our defense isn’t going to change,” Miller said.
“We believe in it, and because of that I don’t think we’ll ever be known as the ultra, shoot very, very quick (team).”
And they don’t really need to be. The Wildcats have had a top-20 offense in each of the past five seasons.
Yet where Romar can impact them (aside from recruiting) is not by changing their schemes to quicken the pace or create more transition opportunities, but rather, helping UA’s athletically-gifted roster be more efficient on the ones it already generates. And, yes, he can help improve Arizona’s zone offense, too.
“We’re looking to play defense at a high level, but we’re looking to push the ball always,” said Allonzo Trier. “I think Coach Romar gives us a different spin and a different perspective on how to do it and how he did it at Washington.
“It’s kind of about Coach Miller and Coach Romar combining their basketball minds and finding the best transition attack for us based on the weapons and team we have here.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire