The Arizona Wildcats won their eighth game in a row Saturday, taking down the third-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils in an exhilarating matchup to open Pac-12 play.
“It’s hard to believe this was our conference opener,” UA head coach Sean Miller said afterward. “We have 17 more left.”
Yeah, there might be 17 conference games left, but that rivalry game was hardly a primer for what Arizona is about to experience in the next month and a half.
Let’s get this out of the way — the Pac-12 is not good at basketball. Arizona and ASU are the only schools in the conference ranked in the Top 25, while KenPom rates the Pac-12 as the worst major conference, and it’s really not even that close.
Colorado, Oregon State, the Bay Area schools, and the Washington schools are legitimately bad teams, ranking 112th or worse in KenPom’s standings. That’s half the league!
USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Utah are better, but none of them are even inside the top 45. Arizona and ASU are simply head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
And with the way Arizona’s schedule lays out, it’s not unfathomable to think its winning streak could reach 20 games heading into the rematch vs. the Sun Devils on Feb. 15.
The Wildcats don’t have any extraordinarily challenging games before then. Check out their schedule (the percentages are win probabilities, and the score is the projected result):
Arizona’s biggest test comes this Thursday when it faces Utah in Salt Lake City, per KenPom. The analytics site gives UA a 58 percent chance of winning.
Win that road game, and the 11 games after that only get easier, as Arizona’s lowest win probability during that stretch is 77 percent. That’s because the best teams Arizona plays — Oregon, UCLA, USC, and Utah — all have to venture into McKale Center where it’s hard to imagine any of them winning.
Of course, things can happen — injuries, suspensions, a team shooting lights out, Arizona not being able to solve Washington’s zone, etc. — and teams can improve, but the surging Wildcats are clearly in a spot where they can rattle off win after win heading into the rematch vs. ASU.
That’s the good news. The bad news for basketball fans is Arizona might not have another riveting game like the conference opener for quite sometime.
ASU is for real and the game in Tempe should be fun, but Arizona’s schedule until then is nothing to get overly excited about — the Pac-12 is awful.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire