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Is this actually Arizona’s worst rebounding team in the Sean Miller era?

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Arizona Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

At a press conference last week Sean Miller claimed this year’s Arizona Wildcats team is the worst rebounding team he’s had in his 11 seasons at the UA.

It turns out that’s a slight exaggeration. For now, at least.

Here’s Arizona’s total rebounding percentage in each season of the Miller era. (Its national rank is in parentheses.)

  • 2009-10 — 49.9% (184)
  • 2010-11 — 53.1% (36)
  • 2011-12 — 51.3% (104)
  • 2012-13 — 54.7% (14)
  • 2013-14 — 55.1% (7)
  • 2014-15 — 56.7% (2)
  • 2015-16 — 56.5% (6)
  • 2016-17 — 55.1% (9)
  • 2017-18 — 55.6% (7)
  • 2018-19 — 50.5% (146)
  • 2019-20 — 52.5% (81)

By these numbers, the current UA team is actually Miller’s fourth-worst rebounding team. However, Arizona’s non-conference schedule was just the 131st toughest in the country, per KenPom, suggesting that its rebounding rate could be a little inflated right now.

That idea seems more plausible when you consider Arizona has a total rebounding percentage of 50.4 against the six KenPom Top 100 teams it has played. That figure would rank around 152nd in the country if extrapolated to an entire season. (And by the way, three of those Top 100 teams are barely in the Top 100.)

In Arizona’s three losses, it has a 47.2 total rebounding percentage, getting outmuscled 115-103 on the glass. As Miller has said repeatedly, it is UA’s Achilles heel.

Arizona should be better on the boards given its sheer size and athleticism—UA is 20th in the country in average height—but more goes into it than that. It takes team-wide attention to detail, grit, and, yes, some luck to be a dominant rebounding team.

But as you can see below, Arizona relies almost completely on its frontcourt to control the glass. Arizona is rebounding well below average at point guard and shooting guard, slightly below average at small forward, well above average at power forward (thank you, Zeke Nnaji), and slightly above average at center.

Six of Arizona’s next seven games are against KenPom Top 100 teams, so if the Wildcats don’t start rebounding better (and hitting some 3-point shots), they may find themselves unranked pretty soon. Or worse, on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

“I believe we can get better,” Miller said before the St. John’s game. “We have enough talent to improve in that area but we have to do it. And it’s not just one person. It’s our guards. They can rebound a lot better than they have. It’s our big guys. I think Zeke is really the one right now that’s moving in the right direction. If you look at his recent rebounding versus maybe the five previous games, that’s more what we need from him and he’s capable of doing that.

“Our guys that don’t start the game who are reserves our bench, we need more production from them rebounding. But the more we improve in that area, the tougher team we’re going to be,”