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After former No. 1 Michigan State fell to North Carolina last week, Arizona was upgraded to a spot atop the Associated Press college basketball poll for the first time in a decade.

Wednesday evening, Arizona debuted at No.1 against an athletic and feisty New Mexico State Aggies’ squad.

The Wildcats did not disappoint.

After a sluggish start, where Arizona seemed a bit bogged down by the expectations of a No. 1 ranking and missed on seven of their first nine shots, the Wildcats ended up dominating New Mexico State on both ends of the floor.

Arizona moved to 10-0 after a 74-48 KO of the Aggies at McKale Arena in Tucson.

Although, Arizona’s 6-foot-7 freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stole the evening’s spotlight following his voracious left-handed flush with approximately 1:00 left in the first half, the Wildcats’ suffocating team defense was equally impressive.

Credit: Arizona Athletics

Arizona head coach Sean Miller has his team defending.

(Credit: Arizona Athletics)

Arizona head coach, Sean Miller directs a defensive scheme known as the Pack line  defense.

It’s a tactical approach created by basketball guru, Dick Bennett; father of current University of Virginia head coach, Tony Bennett.

The “Pack line” as it’s known among basketball insiders predicates on intense ball pressure while re-enforcing on-ball pressure with tremendous help defense.

What follows are several key indicators Arizona is executing the Pack line successfully.

Defensive Field Goal Percentage

Successful Pack line defenses apply great ball pressure while employing relentless help defense.

Opposing teams are harrassed  into haphazard dribble drives or passes to non-scoring areas, where the subsequent shot attempts are low percentage heaves or acrobatic peepers around the basket.

Against New Mexico State, the Wildcats held the Aggies to just 15-of-46 (32.6 percent) from the field including 2-of-11 (18.2 percent) from beyond the arc.

On the season, Arizona’s opponents are 203-of-557 (36 percent) shots from the field and 44-of-162 (27 percent) shots from three.

A standard generally accepted among coaches is a defensive field goald percentage anywhere between 39-43 percent and a 3-point defensive field goal percentage somewhere between 29-33 percent.

The Wildcats are enforcing shooting percentages well below these numbers.

Protect the Paint.

Difficult shot-opportunities outside of the typical scoring areas is a by-product of an effective Pack line.

Furthermore, a key emphasis of the Pack line is an acute ability to deter lay-ups, easy post-ups, middle drives and mid-range jump shots.

Coach Miller’s squad meets these expectations and some.

Consider this-

According to Synergy Sports, Arizona has allowed only 36 points on 64 possessions from 17-feet and in; equating to .56 points-per-possession, which is excellent!

More impressive is the Wildcats’ ability to defend post play.  On 49 possessions, teams have scored a meager 32 points, which gives way to .65 points-per-possessions.

In other words, 32.7 percent of opponents’ scoring comes from 7-feet and in.

It doesn’t take a coach to tell you that that is dyer for opposing offenses and speaks volumes for Arizona’s ability to protect the paint.

Run teams off the 3-point line.

Due to substantail help defense, Pack line defenses are instructed to take away 3-point-shot attempts altogether; instead of merely trying to contest them, or provoke an opposing shooter form some sort of long-distance hoist.

Well, Arizona is holding teams to 27 percent (37-of-137) from beyond the arc.

Enough said.

Finally, for the hoops’ fan who observes games with what my former college coach, Fran O’Hanlon, refers to as a “critical eye,” here are few other bullet points symbolic of Arizona’s successful Pack line defense.

- On-the-ball pressure remains consistent regardless of where the basketball is on the floor.

- Regardlesss of who the Wildcats face, their fundamental tendencies do not waiver (there are many teams in college basketball that will base their defensive strategy almost entirely on their staff’s scouting report opposed to solid and unconditional principles built up over time).

- Coach Miller’s team does whatever is necessary to not allow opposing teams to openly attack the middle of the floor.  You will notice Arizona players positioning their bodies in ways that force the action to the outside i.e. dribbles drives, base line penetration, etc.

- Close-outs on the basketball are intense and with high hands, which is meant to deter wide-open jump shots and easy post-entry passes.

 

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