The University of Arizona basketball team opens up Pac-12 Conference play on Thursday night against the defending conference champion, Colorado Buffaloes, and excitement in the Old Pueblo is at a fever pitch.
The Arizona Wildcats are 12-0 for the first time in 25 years since Lute Olson led Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr to a 35-3 record. The remarkable 1987-88 team lost only one game in conference, an 82-74 match at Stanford. They went on to win the regular season season, the postseason tournament and advanced to the Final Four.
Is this years’ squad as good as that team or are there flaws waiting to spring up in conference play as they did for the 2008-09 team that was 12-4 and stumbled to a 9-9 conference record?
Read further to find out five bold predictions for this year’s Arizona Wildcats team.
They Will Lose at Least Once in Conference
It could happen in the opener against 10-2 Colorado or on the road Jan. 19 against rival Arizona State who is currently 11-2. The court at Oregon is horrendous but the 11-2 Oregon Ducks have not been, it is all a crap shoot.
Bear in mind that even the best Arizona teams have not escaped conference play unscathed, call it pressure, call it exhaustion, call it what you will, but numbers never lie. Five Arizona teams have come close but all ended conference play at 17-1.
Fret not, Wildcat faithful, the two Arizona teams that have gone the farthest in the NCAA Tournament were teams with multiple conference losses. The 1996-97 Championship team was a paltry 11-7 and the 2000-01 runner-up team was 15-3.
Additionally, the 1992-93 team finished with an aforementioned 17-1 conference record only to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
It has been 37 years since the Indiana Hoosiers went wire-to-wire with 32 straight victories and it would be amazing to see the Wildcats duplicate that, but more often than not, the pressure will cave in.
I prefer to see it happen in the regular season and not in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Grant Jerrett Will Step It Up
It took the freshman Grant Jerrett a couple months of non-conference games to get his feet wet and experience play at the next level. He has been averaging just over 17 minutes a game and is a big force under the boards.
His biggest asset is in transition, the guy is money, but is afraid to take the big shot and seems to be a bit awe-struck with all the phenomenal talent on this team. He will eventually come into his own and routinely score in double digits.
Gabe York Will Move Ahead of Jordan Mayes and Angelo Chol
With such incredible talent in the starting five and a leading contender for sixth-man of the year in Kevin Parrom, it is tough to be a bench player for the University of Arizona, just ask Jordin Mayes and Angelo Chol.
Mayes is in his third year and Chol is in his second year of coming off the bench. The 6’9″ Chol has been passed over by freshmen Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett and the 6’3″ Mayes may soon be losing time to freshman Gabe York, actually, I think it will be a certainty.
York, the overall No. 46 player and No. 11 shooting guard in the country by rivals.com last year will increase his minutes and move ahead of Mayes on the depth chart. He currently averages 2.9 points per game averaging just over six minutes a game. Mayes, with more than twice his playing time is barely outscoring York with 3.7 points per game.
It is only a matter of time for York, but he will overtake Mayes.
They Will Not Win the Conference Championship
They have won the regular season seven times since then and tied for another in the 1999-00 season and reached the Elite Eight three times and the Final Four once. It has been over a decade since the Wildcats won the Conference Tournament in 2002 and they advanced only to the Sweet Sixteen that year.
I’m not saying that it is impossible for them to win both, but a Conference Championship is merely ceremonial if they only have one or two losses on the season.
Their best finishes in the NCAA Tournament have come when they haven’t won the Conference Championship, so this is a good prediction for the Wildcats, not a bad one.
Solomon Hill Will Be Drafted and Mark Lyons Will Not
Although Mark Lyons leads the team in scoring and assists, I see Solomon Hill as a more NBA-ready player at the end of this season.
In all fairness, this is clearly a different team from last year’s team that went 23-12 and missed the NCAA Tournament with Hill in the starting lineup. The addition of Lyons from Xavier has been great for Arizona, but I feel that Lyons is sometimes overshadowed by Hill.
Lyons’ major fault is his turnovers, he leads the teams with 38 and the closest behind him is freshman Brandon Ashley with 23. I like Mark Lyons and what he is doing and will continue to do for the Wildcats but his style of play isn’t that of a true NBA point guard.
Solomon Hill is a great shooter, a strong defender and has great ball handling skills that will get him noticed and drafted.
Although you may not agree with these predictions, I hope you enjoyed reading the article and will continue to follow what I have to say about the team in the future.