A little more than a month into the season, it’s fair to say that Arizona men’s basketball passes the eye test with flying colors.
The Wildcats have beaten Duke at Cameron Indoor, taken down Michigan State on a neutral court, blown the doors off Wisconsin at McKale Center and annihilated the rest of the competition.
The rankings have awarded Arizona accordingly. The Wildcats will remain at the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press and Coaches polls when they’re released Monday.
More significant than those polls are the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, which is used as the primary metric by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Entering Monday, Arizona is No. 1 in the NET as well. The Wildcats began the past weekend ranked No. 3 in the NET but moved up two spots after their 98-73 win over Wisconsin.
Through eight games, Arizona has two Quad 1 wins, one Quad 2 win, two Quad 3 wins and three Quad 4 wins. Arizona can pile on the Quad 1 wins in the next two weeks with games against No. 4 Purdue, No. 16 Alabama and No. 18 Florida Atlantic.
This is the sixth year of existence for the NET, which replaced RPI as the primary tool the selection committee uses to evaluate and seed teams.
One of the primary factors in called the Team Value Index, which places a premium on beating quality opponents away from home. That explains why Tommy Lloyd scheduled so many high-profile neutral court games in addition to the game at Duke.
All three of Arizona’s next games are on neutral courts.
As for net efficiency, Arizona ranks No. 2 in defensive efficiency and No. 5 in offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. Arizona is No. 2 overall behind Houston.
The Wildcats’ defensive efficiency is a significant improvement from last season when they ranked No. 39 and from Lloyd’s first season in 2021-22, when they ranked No. 21.
“Our defense was great two years ago, maybe better or as good as our offense,” Lloyd said after the Wisconsin game. “Last year, our defense was good, not great. I think we’re back in the great category now.”
In the KenPom era (1997-present), no Arizona team prior to this year has been in the top five of both offensive and defensive efficiency. The last time Arizona made the Final Four in 2000-01, it finished No. 1 in defensive and No.7 in defensive efficiency.
In Arizona’s two winningest seasons under Sean Miller, 2013-14 and 2014-15, Arizona ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in defensive efficiency, respectively. But the offensive efficiency ranked No. 20 in 2013-14 while a year later it ranked No. 7.
Arizona has built a highly efficient machine by maintaining an up-tempo style of basketball. The Wildcats rank fourth nationally in adjusted tempo.
“I don’t ever think about dictating pace,” Lloyd said. “I just think our guys want to get out and run, and we play a system that gets out and run.”
So far Lloyd’s system of scheduling and coaching is working exceedingly well. It will be put even more to the test in the coming games.