To get you better acclimated with the talent Arizona coach Sean Miller has amassed this year, we offer you a series discussing things you may not know about a particular player. First up is the focal point of every team — the point guard.
The person taking over that important role is Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, a junior in his second year in the program after having to sit last year per NCAA transfer rules. McConnell and senior Jordin Mayes figure to handle the point guard role at a high standard.
– The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy, who is as well-versed on college hoops as any of the faces you’ll see on television, ranks McConnell as the No. 9 point guard in the country despite the fact McConnell has yet to play for the Wildcats. ASU sophomore Jahii Carson is No. 4 and Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart is No. 1.
– A defensive ace who can frustrate his opponent, McConnell tallied 86 steals in his last season with Duquesne in 2011-12. He had 91 in the season before that as a freshman. Both totals would a school record at Arizona, more than the UA’s best defender in school history — Jason Terry — had in a season. Terry’s best was the UA’s record of 85 in the national championship season of 1996-97.
Some perspective: Derrick Williams and Kyle Fogg led the Wildcats with 37 steals in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively, in the two years McConnell was at Duquesne. McConnell more than doubled their number. Nick Johnson led the UA with 68 steals last season.
– McConnell’s 177 career steals in only two seasons would already be ranked seventh on the UA career charts, tied with Russell Brown (1977-81). Terry holds the career record at 245 from 1995-99.
– McConnell showed his versatility to fans at McKale Center when Arizona defeated Duquesne 67-59 on Nov. 9, 2011. McConnell, 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, led the Dukes in rebounds (six), assists (four) and steals (three). Fogg had a rough game against him, shooting only 2-of-9 from the field with only one assist. To Fogg’s credit, McConnell struggled as well shooting 4-of-12 from the field and 0-for-3 from three-point range.
– McConnell ranked third nationally in steals per game (2.8) and tied for 31st nationally in assists per game in 2011-12. As a freshman in 2010-11, he averaged 2.8 steals per game in 32 appearances (30 starts), connecting on 49.8 percent (132-of-265) of his field goal attempts and 40.2 percent (39-of-97) of attempts from behind the arc in earning 2011 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors. He ranked fourth nationally in steals in 2010-11 and his 2.50 assist-to-turnover ratio was the sixth-highest ratio for a freshman in NCAA history.
– McConnell, from Pittsburgh, chose Arizona as a transfer destination instead of Virginia because of his background in the Steel City and Miller’s ties to that area. “It has a lot to do with it. We’ve known the Millers for a long time,” Tim McConnell, T.J.’s father, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before the guard made his decision.
Miller, who played at Pitt, is from Beaver Falls, Pa. The Wildcats also have standout freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is from Chester (Pa.) near Philadelphia. It would be a nice touch to schedule a game in Pennsylvania next season before McConnell and Hollis-Jefferson end their UA careers.
– McConnell’s best game statistically to date was his career-high 28-point performance in a 84-82 overtime loss to visiting St. Joseph’s on Jan. 4, 2012. He made 10 of 16 shots from the field, including 5 of 6 from three-point range, and all three of his free-throw attempts. He finished with five assists and only three turnovers in 41 minutes.
The game was forgettable as a team for Duquesne as it blew a 16-point lead with 9:48 remaining in the game. B.J. Monteiro, the Dukes’ leading scorer, was out for that game because of an injury he suffered at a bar on New Year’s Eve in Pittsburgh. Miller’s tight rein at Arizona won’t allow for something like that to happen with the Wildcats.
– McConnell’s career assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 2-to-1 at 311 assists compared to 136 turnovers. Those numbers compare very favorably to what Arizona has featured at the point guard position under Miller.
Miller has started four different point guards in as many seasons at the UA — Nic Wise (2009-10), LaMont “MoMo” Jones (2010-11), Josiah Turner (2011-12) and Mark Lyons (2012-13) — and they combined for 365 assists compared to 300 turnovers.
This is not a knock on Wise, Jones, Turner and Lyons. Each of these players prided themselves on their ability to score as much as get their teammates involved. They may have been better suited as shooting guards but Miller needed them at point guard.
McConnell should play the bulk of the minutes for two seasons, providing stability at the position the UA has not experienced since Wise ended a string of long-standing point guards at Arizona — Steve Kerr, Matt Othick, Damon Stoudamire, Reggie Geary, Mike Bibby, Terry, Jason Gardner and Mustafa Shakur.