The Arizona Wildcats are, in all likelihood, not going to get a 1-seed during the 2018 NCAA Tournament when the brackets are announced on Sunday afternoon. This ultimately doesn’t mean much, because as long as Deandre Ayton is able to take the floor, there is not a team in the country that will enjoy playing the Wildcats.
Ayton arrived in Tucson with as much hype as we’ve seen out of a center prospect this decade. Standing at 7’1 with an NBA-ready frame, it wasn’t especially hard to draw parallels between the nation’s No. 4 recruit and Hall of Fame center David Robinson. Getting him to Arizona was something of a major coup — per his 247Sports Crystal Ball, he was expected to go to Kansas or Kentucky — even if in recent weeks, that has come under the microscope.
But the Wildcats, at least for now, seem to be past the controversy that popped up in Ayton’s recruitment. This is good, because it lets basketball fans focus on something far more important: Deandre Ayton is a potentially franchise-changing center once he makes it to the NBA.
Trying to find the major holes in Ayton’s game are really hard. The basketball-specific stuff that you expect out of a center (rebounding ability, touch around the rim, low post game, ability to stretch the floor, etc.) are all things he has right now. He is a tremendous rebounder — per KenPom, he is 15th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage and 42nd in offensive rebounding percentage — and is great at making the right decision after he reels the ball in, namely when it comes to determining whether he should push the ball or slow things down. And if he has to go up and score from that position, he’s nearly unstoppable.
When he is not cleaning up the boards, Ayton is capable of scoring from just about anywhere on the floor. He’s not quite a stretch five yet, but in a small sample size, there are reasons to believe he can develop a devastating jumper: Ayton is 12-for-33 (36.4 percent) from three this year, while he is connecting on free throws at a 74.2 percent clip. He also has a reliable jump shot from inside the arc, as he showed a few times during his 32-point performance in the Pac-12 title game against USC.
According to the most recent data collected by The Stepien, Ayton is connecting on 51.89 percent of his long midrange shots, classified as shots between 13-feet out and the three-point line. That puts him in the 92nd percentile for big men in college basketball. Oh, and he’s in the 92.7th percentile on field goal percentage right at the rim, connecting on 79.61 percent of his shots from inside.