The No. 12 Arizona Wildcats (9-0) played their first neutral site games of the season last weekend when they won the Wooden Legacy. Now it’s time for their first road game—and their toughest opponent to date.
Arizona will take on the No. 18 Baylor Bears (6-1) in Waco, Texas on Saturday at 10 a.m. MST on ESPNU. KenPom gives Baylor a 66 percent win probability and projects a final score of 75-71.
Here is how our staff sees the game shaking out. Be sure to leave your prediction in the comment section below.
Matthew Rein — Baylor wins 61-58
In my preseason predictions article, I gave Baylor the nod in this contest with a final score of 70-58. While I still think Baylor ends up winning, I think this will be a very close game. Arizona has played well to start this young season, albeit against less than stellar competition. The Illinois win was nice, but I will be interested how this team responds to a road game against a ranked team. Baylor lost to Washington in the first game of the season, but they have looked sharp since. I think ultimately the home court advantage gives Baylor the slight edge.
Ryan Kelapire — Arizona wins 76-72
I have a strangely good feeling about this game. It seems like the perfect stage for Arizona and its three freshmen to announce themselves to rest of the country.
What will it take to do that, though? Control the glass, for one thing. Baylor’s rebounding margin in McKale Center last season (51-19) was flat out demoralizing and the Wildcats have had some struggles on the boards this year, so it could happen again, though not the same extent.
Arizona is gonna need more of the Chase Jeter who was aggressive in the final two Wooden Legacy games and less of the one who went reboundless against Pepperdine.
The 3-point line will be critical too. Arizona is shooting the eight-best percentage in the country, but the Bears are holding opponents to 33.8 percent from behind the arc. They also shoot the ball well from distance (39.6%) and Arizona has had trouble defending the perimeter.
The guy to watch for is 6-foot-3 sophomore Jared Butler, who is averaging a team-high 19.4 points per game while shooting 52.2 percent from 3.
It’s worth nothing that Baylor’s arena might be not as rocking as it should be. The Bears’ football team plays in the Big 12 Championship Game at the same time as tip-off. There is a reason Baylor is giving away free tickets to the basketball game.
Adam Green — Arizona wins 77-70
The last nine games have left Arizona fans feeling good about the team but wondering how it would fare against stiffer competition.
Well, it’s time to find out.
While this would normally be an incredibly hostile environment, it’s fair to wonder what the crowd will be like with Baylor playing football at the same time. No matter how tame the crowd may be, though, it still won’t be as friendly as the McKale Center’s and thus present a new challenge for this year’s squad.
Most experts have Baylor winning, but I’m going to disagree. Arizona’s star freshmen, Nico Mannion especially, strike me as the kind of players who elevate their game in big situations. That, along with the re-emergence of the Wildcats’ veterans, will be enough to push the road team to victory.
Brian J. Pedersen — Baylor wins 73-68
Baylor flat out embarrassed Arizona at McKale last season, which would make for a great revenge storyline IF the Wildcats’ roster was almost entirely different. Chase Jeter is the only starter back from that game, and the combination of he, Dylan Smith and Ira Lee had 19 points and nine of the meager rebound tally Arizona matched.
Sean Miller remembers, though, but he also has another team that’s struggled on the boards during a 9-0 start. That hasn’t hurt them yet, but Baylor is averaging nearly 14 offensive rebounds per game. And this Bears squad is much more efficient on offense than a year ago, running past Villanova in a holiday tournament and scoring at least 72 in all of their wins.
Considering the vulnerabilities shown at the Wooden Legacy, as well as the youth of Arizona—compared to Baylor, of which its top eight are all sophomores or older—the recipe is there for the first loss of the season.
Ronnie Stoffle — Arizona wins 70-66
In spite of the tests in Anaheim last week, this is the first real test of the season. Any Arizona fan will tell you that facing zone defenses have been an absolute nightmare for the offense over the years.
In years past, there hasn’t been strong perimeter shooting which helps combat the zone. Also, true point guards/competent ball handlers can assist in breaking the zone by collapsing the defense which will hopefully lead to an open man on the baseline. These are two aspects that this Wildcats’ team has.
I’m very excited to see how the young team responds to its first true road test. Baylor has been able to score the ball as they’re averaging a tick under 80 points per game. We know Arizona can also score who has been averaging a shade over 87 per game.
Although Arizona hasn’t been tested to this level in the early season, I do expect them to take care of business and reach the 10-0 mark for the first time since the 2014-15 season.