The Arizona Wildcats basketball team is ranked No. 7 in the AP Poll on the heels of one of its best starts in program history at 15-1. They began the 2012-13 season at No. 12 and have slowly climbed the rankings before reaching as high as No. 3 prior to the beginning of Pac-12 Conference play in January.
After two razor-thin victories at home to non-ranked opponents, the Wildcats dropped a spot to No. 4. Their first road trip of the season ended with a four-point loss to another non-ranked team in Oregon and a convincing 10-point victory over Oregon State. The loss at Oregon caused the Wildcats to drop three more spots in the AP poll with many thinking that the tumble wasn't far enough.
The roller coaster ride in the polls is nothing new for the Wildcat faithful as their football team took fans on a similar trip in their 2012 campaign. With a new head coach in Rich Rodriguez, the Wildcat football team had a new swagger and belief that 2012 would be their year.
Rodriguez led the team to a convincing victory over Oklahoma State and it decimated South Carolina State to enter the rankings at No. 22. Then they went on to lose three straight games to ranked opponents. Their will was strong and their talent shone brightly in convincing wins over Washington and then No. 9 USC.
They were once again rewarded with a No. 22 ranking and once again were embarrassed—this time in a 56-point loss to UCLA. The Wildcats beat up on the Pac-12 cellar dwellers, Colorado and Utah, and were once again ranked in the AP Poll.
Then came the Territorial Cup.
The No. 24 Wildcats lost at home to a struggling Arizona State team by giving up 24 points in the final quarter and limped into the New Mexico Bowl.
Saturday will see another ranked Wildcat team take on an unranked Arizona State team—this time in basketball. Will history repeat itself on the hardwood or will the Wildcats prove that they deserve to included in college basketball's elite?
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.
When: Saturday, Jan. 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Watch: FOX Sports Net
Listen: 1290-AM in the Tucson area, 620-AM in the metro Phoenix area Sirius 94/XM 193
The New Additions
The Sun Devils are a much improved team with the addition of redshirt freshman phenom, Jahii Carson and two new assistant coaches in Eric Musselman and Larry Greer. The Sun Devils are playing a non-Herb Sendek style of game this year in which they are taking it to opponents and playing a much faster offense with Carson at the point.
The Wildcats have a big team up front and an even more impressive depth. The addition of the "Big Three" freshmen in 7'0" Kaleb Tarczewski, 6'10" Grant Jerrett and 6'8" Brandon Ashley will be tough to defend and could cause fits for the Sun Devils as forwards Jonathan Gilling and Carrick Felix are considerably smaller.
The Rankings Comparison
- The Wildcats average 76.1 points per game, third best in the Pac-12 while the Sun Devils are fifth with 72.6 per game.
- The Sun Devils average 38.3 rebounds per game, sixth in the conference and the Wildcats are ninth with 37.8 per game.
- For the Wildcats, Mark Lyons is tied for 12th in the conference in scoring with 14.6 points per game and Solomon Hill is 15th with 13.6.
- For the Sun Devils, Jahii Carson is fifth in the conference in scoring with 17.1 points per game and Carrick Felix is eighth with 15.1.
- The Sun Devils have three players in the top 15 in the conference in rebounds while the Wildcats have four players in the 22-29 range.
- Arizona's Nick Johnson is second in the conference in steals with 2.25 per game while Arizona State's Jordan Bachynski leads the conference and is third in the nation with 4.47 blocks per game.
Wildcats head coach Sean Miller has an extremely deep and versatile bench and he uses them almost like a backup line in hockey. Miller has three non-starters that average quality playing time per game while Kevin Parrom averages more playing time than two starters.
Conversely, Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek's bench is relatively quiet with only two players averaging in double digits. This could prove costly for Sendek and the Sun Devils in the long run. In three conference games, Carrick Felix and Jonathan Gilling have played all but three minutes with Jahii Carson playing all 40 minutes each game. The top minutes for the Wildcats hover around the 35-minute mark, leaving the starters well rested come crunch time.
This will be a hard-fought battle in enemy territory as the Sun Devils have a rare sellout in Wells Fargo Arena. I predict the Wildcats will once again start off slow but pull away down the stretch.
Arizona 88, Arizona State 80