Arizona basketball's future point guard similar to UCLA's at present
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Larry Drew II is Mark Lyons’ antithesis. But T.J. McConnell might be his synonym.
Drew, UCLA’s starting point guard, is pass-happy, has good court-vision and picks and chooses when he has to shoot.
McConnell has yet to play a game for the Wildcats, but he might have the same skill set.
In the Bruins’ 74-69 win against Arizona on Saturday, Drew did everything right. And if not for three turnovers in a two minute span late in the second half, he might’ve played a perfect game.
Drew had 14 points, nine assists and a steal, shot 50 percent from the field (6-of-12) and hit two 3-pointers.
“If they win the conference,” UA head coach Sean Miller said, “my vote for the conference player of the year is for Larry Drew, and I don’t really think it’s close. The impact that he has on the game to make his teammates better, the fact that he shoots 50 percent from three. I know this — in the two games we played UCLA, he was the difference.”
On the season, Drew is the Pac-12 leader in assists (7.8 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.4) and is getting 7.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three.
He’s also fourth in the nation in assists per game, and second in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“He played great,” Arizona sophomore guard Nick Johnson said of Drew. “He’s a heady point guard. He’s averaging seven assists a game, so I mean that speaks louder than anything.”
Said freshman guard Grant Jerrett: “He’s a good player. He’s a point guard. He makes his teammates better and he’s known for making plays for his teammates. That’s what he did tonight.”
It’s been said more than enough that Lyons is not a true point guard; he’s a scorer and a combo-guard. Miller has said as much.
Would Arizona be better with Larry Drew at the point? Sure. But, without Lyons, the Wildcats would be running with Jordin Mayes as their starting point guard.
The Wildcats just might have their own Larry Drew sitting on the bench though.
McConnell, a transfer from Duquesne University, won’t be eligible to play for the UA until next year due to transfer rules.
But, McConnell looks like the closest thing to a pass-first point guard Arizona has had since Mustafa Shakur donned the navy blue and cardinal red.
“He’s done really well,” Miller said last week. “It’s a real advantage for T.J. to practice every day. He’s gonna hit the ground running in such a significant way because he’s done everything that our team’s done. He’s played against Mark daily, Nick [Johnson], Jordin [Mayes]. There’s great competition in practice.”
In two years at Duquesne, the Pittsburgh native tallied 11.1 points, 4.9 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game and shot at a 50.4 percent clip, 41.6 percent from three in 63 games.
Last year, McConnell was third in the Atlantic 10 with 5.5 assists per game and tied for second in assist to turnover ratio at 2.1.
The Atlantic 10 might not be a Power conference but its quality of play in recent years as been at or near the level of the Pac-12, so those numbers aren’t something to cast aside.
It’s also why the comparison from McConnell to Drew is adequate, and the similarities don’t stop there.
Drew was also a transfer, albeit from North Carolina, and is only listed one inch taller than McConnell (6-foot-2) at the same weight (180 pounds).
Like Drew, McConnell doesn’t shoot often, but when he does, he tends to convert.
He didn’t shoot enough in his sophomore year to qualify, but a 50.3 shooting percentage would have been in the top 70 in the nation, which is exceptional for a point guard.
By comparison, Lyons is shooting 42.4 percent from the field, which is actually a solid total for a point guard.
Drew is surrounded by NBA-level talent with Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, not to mention Travis and David Wear, so his assist numbers are expectedly high.
Drew is fifth on UCLA in scoring, and the four players above him get 54.9 points per game, a lot of it coming on Drew assists.
“He’s a complete floor general,” Miller said of Drew. “He’s the throttle that makes them go and just in Pac-12 play I think he’s been excellent. If you look at the difference in the game [Saturday], to me he was the difference by his overall play.”
McConnell should have similarly talented teammates next year, especially if Miller is able to secure No. 4 recruit Aaron Gordon.
Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Lyons will all be gone, but Jerrett, Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York will all return, and incoming recruits Rondae Jefferson (a five-star) and Elliott Pitts (four) will join them.
“TJ’s gonna be a really important part of our future,” Miller said.
Arizona drops out of top 15
After a weekend sweep at the hands of USC and UCLA, Arizona men’s basketball dropped from No. 11 to No. 18 in AP’s weekly Top 25 poll.
It is the first time in 18 polls this season that the Wildcats (23-6, 11-6 Pac-12) are not ranked in the Top 15, but they are still the top-ranked team in the Pac-12.
Oregon (23-6, 12-4) is right behind them at No. 19 and UCLA (22-7, 12-4) came in at No. 23 after being unranked, with zero votes, last week.
California (20-9, 12-5) fell into the “others receiving votes” category.
The Wildcats were eliminated from contention for the Pac-12 regular season title but play Arizona State on Saturday in their last game before the Pac-12 tournament. Arizona is currently fourth in the standings, behind Cal, UCLA and Oregon, the latter two being tied for first place.
The Pac-12 Tournament begins on March 13 in Las Vegas.