Coast 2 Coast Hoops
Top 10 teams have come through the visitors’ tunnel at McKale Center over the years, but this weekend’s showdown between #8 Arizona and #5 Florida might sit atop the list. Heading into the clash of perennial hoops powers, the stakes have perhaps never been higher as the Wildcats seek a season defining win in a game that will shape the team’s national perception.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Florida is legit. Like the Cats, they are undefeated but they also hold impressive blowout wins over major programs in Wisconsin and Marquette.
And by the numbers, the Gators are impressive as anybody. Boasting a suffocating defense and a potent offense, Billy Donovan’s team is also 4th in the nation in terms of efficiency. The moral of the story is that Florida is every bit deserving of their #5 ranking, and they might actually be underrated. This could be, and probably is, the best Florida team since they won back to back titles from 2005-07.
That’s impressive. But so are this year’s Wildcats. With top to bottom depth, Arizona has the rare luxury of being able to match up with any starting 5 in college basketball. Propelled by a solid guard corps and a stable of mobile and skilled big men, the Wildcats don’t have a glaring weakness to attack and pose more match up problems than they deal with.
Florida is an exceptional team, but Arizona fans should still be confident. Though the Cats have yet to face a high quality opponent, the Gators haven’t played a game outside of their home state and tipoff will be 3 hours after their latest game this season. So both teams will have questions to answer come Saturday, not just untested Arizona.
It doesn’t take a bracketologist to see that the top 10 match up between the Wildcats and Gators will have implications on seeding when Selection Sunday rolls around. But Arizona has a bit of extra pressure on their backs. In a conference devoid of top 25 opponents, Arizona has just one golden opportunity to score a marquee, resumé polishing win against Florida.
If that opportunity goes unclaimed, the Cats will almost undoubtedly fight an uphill battle towards favorable tournament seeding. And though that may be classified as a good problem, it’s not one Wildcat fans want to have.
Despite being ranked 8th in the country, Arizona isn’t recognized with Indiana, Duke, and Michigan as title frontrunners. And even if Arizona plays spectacular basketball the rest of the season, without a win against Florida that perception will not change. So it’s a game for seeding, but for Arizona it’s also a game for national respect.
Will Arizona be considered contenders, or just the best of a weak conference? Respect is earned, and this is Arizona’s chance to earn it.