It’s easy to look at a stat sheet and see how much Brandon Randolph has improved this season.
The sophomore’s scoring average has risen from 3.7 to 17.3 points per game. His field goal percentage has upped from 38.3 percent to 49 percent. His rebounding percentage has jumped from 4.5 to 6.5, and his turnover percentage has dipped from 15.0 to 8.8.
Yet, it Randolph’s defense that has impressed Coach Sean Miller the most this season. Miller said the 6-foot-5 wing is “by far” the Arizona Wildcats’ most improved defensive player.
“I can’t say enough good things about Brandon Randolph because he is our leading scorer and he made a lot of free throws (against UConn), I think you see his offensive talent, but it’s very nice to see the same player on a given day play equally hard on defense, try to do better in that area, and I commend him for him,” Miller said Monday on his radio show.
“And I also commend our leadership. Because without Chase (Jeter) and Justin (Coleman) setting the tone on a daily basis, those other guys like Brandon, maybe they don’t improve quite as much.”
Randolph, who plays 29 minutes per game, was unable to carve out much of a role a freshman because of his inability to contribute when his jumper wasn’t falling.
That is no longer the case, evidenced by his performance against UConn. Randolph shot 5 for 15 from the field, but made all nine of his free throws and helped Arizona turn in a solid defensive performance, holding a solid UConn team under one point per possession.
Randolph has credited some of his improvement to the gains he made in the weight room during the offseason, but there is also something to be said for having a year in Arizona’s system under his belt.
“If I go back to where he would have been a year ago as a freshman, he was just trying to find his way, learn what to do, where to be, how to do it, how hard you have to play at this level, and it’s an adjustment from high school to college for everybody — even for a guy like Deandre (Ayton),” Miller said.
“It’s quite a challenge at the beginning, but just watching how Brandon has progressed and then this spring, summer, fall and through these eight games, he’s a better defensive player today than he would have been when we were in Maui, and it’s a big reason that we beat Connecticut — because we have three guys out there at all times on the perimeter working.”
Arizona’s defense appears to be leaps and bounds better than it was last season. The Wildcats are allowing just 92.5 points per 100 possessions as opposed to 102.9. And even when you adjust those numbers for their opponents, Arizona checks in at No. 43 in the country in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.
Last season, the Wildcats were a dismal 83rd.
The effort and execution have been better, and Randolph has been a big part of that. And if the 6-2 Wildcats can keep it up and continue to jell offensively—they rank 58th in the country—they just might be able to outperform expectations this season.
“If this trend continues,” Miller said, “I think it’s going to say a lot of great things about our team this season as we approach January and February.”