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Pac-12 Play: Who’s Gonna Beat the Cats?

December 29th, 2013 News No Comments

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Contributing Writer
Martin Hayvush

Order has been restored, as Arizona is the undisputed (by any logical person) #1 team in all of college basketball. No one but Syracuse is even close in terms of talent, chemistry, and body of work. That’s not arrogance either, Arizona is the most legitimate title contender out there today and they’ve proven it on the court. No opinions there, just facts.

So now that we’ve finished another undefeated non-conference season, Pac-12 play looms large on the horizon. And this isn’t the same Pac-12 we saw stumble through the last few seasons. The Pac is strong, boasting four top 25 teams before UCLA fell from the ranks.

And while a few teams have had a lot of success for the Pac-12, the real story is the conference’s depth and balance. Stanford scored a huge victory at UConn, further proving the mettle of the teams chasing Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, and UCLA. Utah and ASU are a combined 22-3. This is a league where the bottom half will push the top, and you can expect some major upsets to happen.

So that begs the question, who is going to beat Arizona? It would be arrogant to think the Wildcats will run through the conference undefeated, so where are the losses going to come from?

The biggest challenger to Arizona’s crown is #12 Oregon, who are also undefeated. The Ducks are for real, with an athletic core, deadly guards, and impact transfers. They are the complete package and we should consider them on more or less even ground with Arizona before teams prove themselves in conference play.

Not only is Oregon’s roster loaded with talent, they’re a team hungry to prove themselves while they are on the precipice of the top 10. A win against Arizona would be the feather in their cap, and a season-defining win, if not program-defining, for the Dana Altman era. There’s no shortage of motivation for the Ducks to give Arizona their best shot.

They took the Pac-12 tournament last year, but for some reason people aren’t giving them the respect they deserve. That would be unwise if the Wildcats did too. And now that the Ducks are reintroducing sophomore Dominic Artis, they add an extra dimension that could put them over the top. Fellow sophomore Ben Carter is also back in the mix, giving the Ducks extra depth.

When you consider that Oregon is the #1 scoring team in the nation at 90.3 points per game, they make for an interesting challenge for Arizona’s staunch defense.

While Oregon and Arizona are the class of the conference, Colorado is making a major case for national attention. The Buffs cracked the top 25 recently, and are 11-2 with a signature win against Kansas. Even their losses are impressive, dropping games to a top 25 team in Baylor and a national title contender in Oklahoma St.

While Colorado got the short end of the stick in the final minutes of big games last year, they seem to be reversing their fortune this season. They beat KU on an epic buzzer beater after outplaying the Jayhawks for all but the closing minutes.

In particular, a February 22nd date at Colorado could prove to be one of the toughest games of the year. The Buffs are fierce at home, as Arizona learned last season. Don’t be surprised to see the Cats split with Colorado again this year.

It might be weird that I’m talking about UCLA as the third challenger to Arizona’s Pac-12 title, since they have the most NBA talent outside of Tucson. But while the Bruins have talented pieces, they are still developing the chemistry and identity that Oregon and Colorado already have.

But despite not having an impressive resume so far, the Bruins have the talent to beat just about anyone. Sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are among the most difficult matchups in all of college basketball. Even if UCLA doesn’t put it together, they are a threat to beat Arizona. And if they do find that cohesion, then the conference and country better look out.

After Arizona plays the Washington schools at home, they travel to UCLA in just their third conference game. Though the Wildcats are tested on the road, that is the game most prognosticators will pick Arizona to drop.

Clearly there’s a lot of talent in the Pac-12, and it’s not all concentrated at the top either. There are a number of teams that can compete for the title, and there’s even more who have the ability to play the spoiler role.

I’ll be clear here, Arizona is the clear cut, runaway favorite to win the Pac-12, and anything less would be a disappointment. But we should take notice of the teams capable of dethroning Arizona and give credit where credit is due.

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