After a hectic offseason, Arizona and coach Tommy Lloyd are rolling the dice on perhaps the most polarizing player in the transfer portal in North Carolina transfer Caleb Love. The 6'4" guard who averaged nearly 17 points per game for the Tar Heels announced his commitment to the Wildcats on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after decommitting from Michigan due to reported issues with transfer credits academically.
There may not have been a more talented player in the portal this spring than Love, a former five-star recruit and projected one-and-done prospect whose career at North Carolina was marked with incredible highs and disastrous lows. His ability to put the ball in the basket is unmatched in the college game, and the Tar Heels’ Cinderella run to the national championship game in 2022 showcases just how impactful Love can be when he’s at his best. His 30 points in the Sweet 16 vs. UCLA and 28 against Duke in the Final Four were incredible March performances that carried the Heels across the finish line in two highly competitive games.
Simultaneously, Love’s poor shot selection and decision-making can make him a detriment to winning basketball when the shots aren’t falling. Love has drawn plenty of blame from analysts for North Carolina’s disappointing 2023 season that saw the Heels miss the NCAA tournament due to his unwillingness to reel in his gunslinging ways, and Love’s departure from Chapel Hill this spring has been described as a “mutual parting of ways” by Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.
The question presented to coaches with Love was whether the potential upside of landing an elite scoring guard was worth the risks of Love hijacking an offense and struggling again with efficiency. At Michigan, the risk/reward clearly made sense, given the Wolverines were desperate for talent after Hunter Dickinson hit the transfer portal.
The calculus for Lloyd and Arizona is more complicated. The Wildcats have had a top-10 offense in both seasons under Lloyd per KenPom and already had key pieces in place, like big man Oumar Ballo, talented sophomore point guard Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley. This backcourt lacked some firepower after the departures of Kerr Kriisa and Courtney Ramey this spring, especially after missing on Creighton transfer Ryan Nembhard, but the Wildcats already looked like a top-25 team without Love. Arizona’s up-tempo offense relies on sharing the ball (the Wildcats have ranked in the top five nationally in assist rate in both seasons under Lloyd), while Love has a reputation as a ball-stopper.
On the other hand, the Love fit in Arizona is highly appealing if he fully buys in. An up-tempo offense with good spacing and other ballhandlers is precisely the type of system that Love should thrive in. Lloyd might just be the right coach to get the most out of the enigmatic star.
It’s also hard not to wonder whether Arizona’s March struggles in Lloyd’s first two seasons played a role in swinging for the fences with Love. The Wildcats earned a No. 1 seed in 2022 but were blown out in the Sweet 16 by Houston after struggling with TCU in the round of 32. And in ’23, Lloyd’s team was stunned in the first round by Princeton, which went on to the Sweet 16. Rolling the dice on the talent and March pedigree of a player like Love to be the guy who can lift the Wildcats to a deep NCAA tournament run makes sense, even with the potential risk involved.
The Love addition is the most high-profile of an active offseason for Lloyd, who has flipped the Arizona roster after losing Kriisa, Ramey and star forward Azuolas Tubelis. Love and the aforementioned Bradley should shore up the backcourt, and the Wildcats also added a veteran to man the power forward spot in San Diego State transfer Keshad Johnson. Plus, Lloyd has been aggressive in the international market, landing commitments from Spanish guard Conrad Martinez and the Lithuanian duo of Paulius Murauskas and Motiejus Krivas.