Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
The Arizona Wildcats did what they could to disprove the Pac-12 conference's preseason media poll, but how much did they really prove against the second weakest non-conference schedules in the conference?
Arizona Wildcats (8-3)
Arizona was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 conference in the media's preseason poll, earning just 22 votes which was 25 less than 10th place Washington State.
After their showing in non-conference play, it might be fair to say that neither they nor the conference will be quite that uncompetitive this year; Arizona is talented enough to compete in the conference and based on the results from non-conference play, a couple of teams would have to step up their games for the Wildcats to finish dead last.
Nevertheless, their statistical profile from non-conference play tells a somewhat uneven story.
Four Factors statistics for Arizona during non-conference play.
Efficiency statistics for Arizona during non-conference play.
Narrative description: Not a particularly efficient scoring or ball handling team, but was good enough to defeat their non-conference opponents led by the play of Davellyn Whyte.
SOS: 45.29 (280th nationally)
Upset wins: N/A
Upset losses: N/A
MVP: Davellyn Whyte, G (5'11", Sr, 12.94 MVP)
There's a lot to like about Davellyn Whyte. With her athleticism and size, she's able to attack the basket and get to the line at a high rate (41.37%). She's a disruptive defender as she leads the team in steals at 2.9 per game (4.81% steal percentage). Since the moment she entered the program she has been able to get shots at will.
The problem is that she has always been an inefficient point guard, both as a distributor and scorer. Her free throw shooting helps her get her true shooting percentage to 53.38%, but her 2-point percentage during non-conference play was 34.42% which is surprisingly lower than her 3-point percentage (36.9%, team-high for anyone with more than 5 attempts). Although her assist rate is up this year, she has been turning the ball over at such a high rate that she's still among the least efficient distributors in the conference (-4.81). Still, on a team that isn't particularly efficient overall, Whyte's ability to create shots is an asset.
- Offensive rebounding has been a strength for the Wildcats in non-conference play, which helps to make up for their inefficient shooting in the form of second chance scoring opportunities.
- Defensively, Arizona forces quite a few turnovers and holds opponents to a low shooting efficiency.
- Arizona led the conference in 3-point shooting during non-conference play at 35.3%, but they're not necessarily a team that "dies by the three" by shooting themselves out of games - in fact, their 3-point shooting prowess is what kept them shooting more efficiently than their opponents in non-conference play.
- Regardless of whether they're an efficient team, they are relatively balanced in terms of how the statistical responsibility for success breaks down: Whyte did account for about 25% of the team's overall statistical production, but even that is much lower than some other teams.
- Although they turned the ball over at a lower rate than their opponents in non-conference play, they had not one player who could be considered an efficient ball handler - not one player had a pure point rating over zero. The team's top five players had pure point ratings between -4 and -10.
- They are a solid rebounding team, but the majority of that rebounding production comes from junior forward Erica Barnes (14.46% offensive rebounding percentage). Against some of the stronger rebounding teams in the conference, they might lose some of that rebounding edge.
- Setting aside the fact that Whyte isn't a terribly efficient scorer, her ability to get line and hit free throws actually makes her the most efficient scorer on the team (53.38% true shooting percentage). So although Whyte could be critiqued for being an inefficient scorer, she almost has to shoot as often as she does because they don't have any more efficient options.
- The Wildcats were better than their non-conference opponents in a number of ways statistically, but weren't dominant in any one area which is what would separate the good teams in the conference from the bottom tier.
X-Factor: Erica Barnes, F (6'2", Jr., 8.77 MVP)
Aside from her rebounding presence, the Wildcats need Barnes to be a scorer. And part of the reason why Whyte is the team's most efficient scorer this season is because Barnes, last year's most efficient scorer, is down a few percentage points this season (51.36% true shooting percentage, third on the team). There are two explanations for that in the numbers: first, her free throw rate is down 12 percent from last year to 34.40%. Second, her usage rate went up 5 percent to 23.05%. In other words, as she has been given more offensive responsibility she has gotten less efficient, which is no surprise. But to win games in this conference that's deeper than it has been in years, they're going to need some more reliable scorers.
Key question: How likely is it that Arizona will defy the preseason media poll that picked them last?
It's not clear who will end up at the bottom of the Pac-12 conference when all is said and done, but there was a massive gap in voting between Arizona (12th), Oregon (11th) and everyone else in the preseason media poll. Arizona might not find their way into the top half of the conference, but Real Time RPI's power rankings had them at 8th and that makes a lot of sense - they've proven that they are good enough to at least compete with the middle tier of the conference.
The question for them, moreso than most other teams in the conference, is whether they can maintain the advantages they established over non-conference opponents that they had over their relatively weak conference schedule.