We’re less than a week away from the Arizona Wildcats’ Pac-12 opener against Colorado, so it is time to make some more predictions.
This time the question is, what will UA’s Pac-12 record be this year?
Brian J. Pedersen — 12-6
With a 121-41 record in Pac-12 Conference play since arriving at Arizona in 2009-10, and never worse than a 12-6 mark since his first season, Sean Miller has a track record of winning in league play. This is his worst team in several years, though, so it’s hard to imagine Arizona being near the top of the standings when the regular season is over in early March.
Then again, the Pac-12 might be at an all-time low in terms of overall quality, so …
(insert Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man meme here)
This conference slate is going to be unlike any other in the Miller era because of the combination of his team’s ability and that of the opponents. There aren’t likely to be any laughers, nor are there any games the Wildcats will have no shot to win, making for 10 weeks’ worth of coin flips.
That being said, a hot start isn’t out of the question. The opening weekend, against Utah and Colorado, followed by a trip to the struggling Bay Area schools, could give Arizona some nice early momentum. Oregon’s injuries make it vulnerable when it comes to Tucson on Jan. 17, making a 6-0 start not unfathomable.
But then comes the gauntlet: from Jan. 24-Feb. 7 the Wildcats play USC, UCLA and Arizona State (all on the road) and then host Washington. Losing all four is entirely possible.
The season-ending swing at the Oregon schools and the finale at home against ASU is another tough stretch. That’s where the six losses are most likely to come from, though look for Arizona to win a couple of those and trade off with a few unexpected losses to get to 12-6.
Christopher Boan — 12-6
Arizona is a mediocre team in the sea of broken dreams that is the Pac-12. That said, they still have one of the better scoring combos in the conference, in sophomore guard Brandon Randolph and Duke transfer Chase Jeter. It’s hard to see this team doing much against actual competition, but not so much against the powderpuff level stuff they’ll face in the Conference of NIT Champions. I’ll guess that Miller’s team will beat USC, Oregon State, CU, Utah and Cal at least once, with the rest as toss-up games, given how weak the conference is. The fact that KenPom has ASU as the conference’s torch-bearer, at the 44th position, tells you all you need to know about the state of affairs in Larry Scott’s nightmare of horrors.
Ronnie Stoffle — 10-8
This pains me to say but I have a really bad feeling about conference play. The way non-conference play wrapped up is less than ideal and the bench play continues to be a nightmare. I understand the argument that the Pac-12 as a whole is nothing to be excited about and I don’t disagree. The reality is this will be a very average UA team playing other very average Pac-12 teams.
There is only one sure-fire win that I can see on this schedule and that is when Cal comes to Tucson on February 21. Seeing how that’s several weeks away, I could actually be talked out of it.
The best thing this team has going for it is strong defensive play coupled with veteran leadership in the form of Justin Coleman and Chase Jeter. The Brandon’s are capable of combining for 50+ points in any given night but unfortunately the floor could be a combined 20 in any given night. This volatility could be smoothed over if there is reliable scoring off the bench but that has basically been nonexistent over the first 13 games.
I’m going to guess a 10-8 conference record understanding that Sean Miller’s coaching, a true home-court advantage and strong defensive play/leadership can carve out 10 wins. If this estimate proves true, the Wildcats will need to run the conference tournament because an at-large big will most definitely be off the table.
Zant Reyez — 11-7
Arizona isn’t good this year. Let’s just get that out of the way.
However, this Arizona team should be able to finish no worse than fourth in a dismal conference.
Most of these Pac-12 games will be close, and will have fans recalling times when Deandre Ayton, Lauri Markkanen, made winning in conference as near a given as it could be.
This season isn’t going to bring much joy to fans, but fans should be wanting to see improvement over the season from guys that’ll most likely be back next season. Yes, I’m looking ahead to next season, but come February, most fans will be too. The Brandons will be the duo I’ll be tracking to see how they grow. I think they’ll be vital for UA next year.
Ezra Amacher — 11-7
With the anticipation of a question like this looming, I spent the last three weeks watching every Pac-12 team play at least once. The overall consensus from that brief study is that the conference would be lucky to field more than two teams in the NCAA Tournament, ASU being one of them. Arizona has the talent to win 13, maybe 14 games this year, but that would require at least a few lucky bounces and off nights from opponents.
The difference between a 13 win vs. an 11 win conference season will come down to whether Arizona can go 4-0 in California compared to splitting the Bay Area and southern California trips. I don’t have much faith in Arizona’s ability to sweep either one of those trips, and ultimately a loss to a Stanford or UCLA will be what dooms Arizona’s chances come Selection Sunday.
At 11-7, I think Arizona barely earns a crucial bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, where the Wildcats will almost certainly need to cut down the nets if they want to hear their name called come March 17.
Ryan Kelapire — 12-6
I guess I am more optimistic than most, but Arizona only playing USC, UCLA and Washington once will help them avoid an additional loss or two.
But I see Arizona losing to ASU, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, and Colorado on the road and then dropping one game at home, most likely to Washington, Oregon or ASU.
I think 13-5 is best-case scenario and 10-8 is worst-case scenario. And if the Wildcats go 12-6 as I predict, they will fail to make the NCAA Tournament unless, of course, they win the conference tournament.