Gold: Why landing Caleb Love instantly makes Arizona a contender
In one fell swoop, Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd quieted his naysayers and brought in an instant superstar who turns the woe-is-me Wildcats into a top-10 squad.
North Carolina guard Caleb Love, easily the biggest prize in the transfer portal, announced his commitment to Arizona on Tuesday, 2 weeks after decommitting from Michigan because of an admissions issue related to his credits transferring over. His arrival changes the dynamic of the Pac-12 and the national race, as Arizona goes from a fringe Top-25 team to a potential top-10 contender.
Better yet, it helps exorcise some of the demons that have plagued Lloyd in the postseason since his arrival in Tucson and proves that McKale Center offers a compelling destination for the nation’s top transfer talent.
Welcome to the family, Caleb!
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaMBB) May 30, 2023
Love helps solve two holes for the Wildcats.
With Kerr Kriisa transferring to West Virginia, Arizona had a need for a point guard and an outside shooter, and Love is a clear upgrade at the position. He also fills the role of go-to scorer that Azuolas Tubelis vacated when he declared for the NBA Draft.
Love ranked 5th in the ACC in scoring at 16.67 points per game and instantly slots in as a contender for the conference’s leading scorer and player of the year. He also averaged 3.34 assists per game in conference play and ranked among league leaders in 3-pointers. He’s no one-hit wonder, though. He was an impact player for the Tar Heels since stepping on the floor in Chapel Hill, scoring 1,476 points with 200 3-pointers and 338 assists, becoming one of 5 players in the country with those numbers during that span.
He’s also been particularly impactful in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 17.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 7 NCAA Tournament games and helping lift the Tar Heels to the 2022 title game after scoring 18.8 points in 6 tournament games. His dagger 3-pointer against Duke in the 2022 Final Four sent North Carolina into the championship game.
“It means everything to me,” he said after the Tar Heels ended Mike Krzyzewski’s career. “I couldn’t do it without my guys and my coaches. I give all the credit to them. They put me in the position and it was a team effort. Just one game away from a national championship, what else can you say?”
One year ago today, Caleb Love hit the dagger for @UNC_Basketball as the Tar Heels defeated Duke in Coach K's final game to advance to the National Championship 👏#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/i8SRQJB8vG
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) April 2, 2023
But Love also struggled at times last year as the Tar Heels became the first team to miss the NCAA Tournament as a preseason No. 1 pick.
Plenty of blame fell on Love’s shoulders for UNC’s disappointing season.
Heading to Arizona gives him a chance to help rewrite his story.
Arizona’s biggest win of the transfer portal comes 2 months and 2 weeks after arguably the most embarrassing loss in program history.
On March 16, the Wildcats lost to Princeton, 59-55, in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament. That alone would be difficult to explain. Worse, Arizona was a 2 seed and the Tigers were a 15 seed, and it was one of the worst March Madness losses in recent memory.
It immediately followed a 28-6 season and a conference tournament title. And that followed a 33-4 campaign that also ended with a premature exit, a Sweet 16 loss to Houston in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
“Yeah, no, listen, hey, I’ve been blessed,” Lloyd said after losing to Princeton. “I’ve had a great start to my coaching career at Gonzaga, then coming to Arizona. There’s going to be some bad with a lot of good. I’m built for it. This is going to be a small setback ’cause, not for me, I’m just sad for these guys that they don’t get to experience how special an NCAA run is because these guys were built to do that.
We ran into a good team today that made the right plays at the right time. We weren’t able to separate from them enough when we had opportunities. That’s what happens when you’re able to stick around a basketball game. They made enough plays down the stretch and we didn’t. I’ll tip my hat to them. They’re a hard team to play against. I knew it was going to be a tough game. I know that program has a ton of pride. They’re well-coached, have great fundamentals. That showed today.”
For Lloyd to bounce back from that disappointment in such a grand way is a testimony to the machine he’s rebuilt in Tucson after only 25 months at the helm. Arizona, which also lost Courtney Ramey and Cedric Henderson Jr. in addition to Tubelis and Kriisa, returns Oumar Ballo and Pelle Larsson and has added former San Diego State forward Keshad Johnson, Alabama guard Jaden Bradley and Lithuanian post Motiejus Krivas. Johnson gives the Wildcats some terrific perimeter defense while Bradley will provide important rotational backcourt minutes.
But Love is in a league of his own.
He picked Arizona over Texas and Gonzaga.
If Love can conform to Lloyd’s system and be a bit choosier in his shot selection, the Wildcats are going to be a dangerous squad this season.
In a Pac-12 that features a UCLA team in transition and a USC squad on the ascent, Love takes Arizona up another notch.
— Caleb Love (@caleb2love) May 30, 2023