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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Pac-12 basketball power rankings: Wildcats must pounce on conference title chances

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Tyler Besh
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

When one reminisces about Arizona’s 2010-2011 men’s basketball season, memories of Derrick Williams’ emergence, the Elite Eight tournament run and the thrilling grudge matches with Washington come flooding back.

What’s probably near the bottom of the memory bank is the Wildcats’ 14-4 conference record and their outright Pac-12 title. Why? Because in college basketball today, conference championships don’t mean much when compared to the actual NCAA Tournament.

But this season, a Pac-12 title for Arizona would mean more than forgotten hardware. Not only would it complete another step in the Wildcats’ comeback tour from the Lute Olson days, but it’d officially usher in a new era of dominance for Arizona in the new-look Pac-12.

Since his arrival in Tucson, head coach Sean Miller has been the king of recruiting on the West Coast. Sunday, he added another commitment to his list. Point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, the 30th-ranked player in the 2014 class according to ESPN, will bring a much needed young point guard to the Arizona team. Jackson-Cartwright, in addition to another solid class in 2013, gives Arizona the tools to continually dominate the Pac-12.

The Wildcats just have to deliver on the potential and that starts this season.

The UA entered conference play back in January as the No. 3 team in the nation, with an undefeated record and loads of potential. Sure, the Pac-12 is stronger than it has been in the last few years, but with UCLA struggling to find consistency, it was the Wildcats’ conference to lose.

And they almost did.

Losses to Oregon, UCLA, Cal and Colorado — teams ranked No. 2, 3, 4 and 6 in the standings respectively — put the Wildcats in an undesirable position. Good fortune, and the injury to the Ducks’ Dominic Artis, has allowed Arizona to slide back into a tie for first place. A shared title isn’t good enough for Arizona, though.

“I’m selfish. I don’t want to share with anybody,” guard Kevin Parrom said. “My senior night, I want to cut down the nets and be the only team in first place. But we have to do what we do. We can’t control what the other team does. These next three games, we have to buckle up on defense and play consistently on defense, first and second half.”

Since Oregon holds the tie-breaker, destiny is out of the Wildcats’ hands anyway. If both win out, the Ducks will win the title and Arizona will have to settle with a nice seed in the NCAA Tournament (probably a No. 2 seed). Not too shabby.

But, unlike two years ago, the Wildcats aren’t a surprise team taking advantage of a weak conference. Arizona isn’t like Oregon or Cal this year, where a Pac-12 title would be a nice reminder of the turnaround season it had.

Arizona was supposed to take the crown, or at least battle with UCLA for it. Anything less will put a dark smudge on what has been a very successful season.

The battle with the Bruins could still very well happen as UCLA hosts the UA Saturday and is only a half game back from first. But keep in mind, this isn’t the UCLA team everyone predicted — Ben Howland’s squad has seven losses and is only ranked in four of the 17 AP Polls.

The Wildcats haven’t dropped lower than No. 12 in the rankings the entire season.

If a conference title evades Arizona, a run to the Final Four would absolve it of any sins and that type of run could happen. It shouldn’t be expected though, especially with how the Wildcats have played lately.

The 2012-2013 season is set to end in the same way as 2011 — Arizona has four losses, and if it wins out, it should be the last team standing as the dust settles. Of course, in 2011 the Wildcats were swept at the Los Angeles schools in the second to last week of the season. That’s where the UA is headed this week.

If things stay status quo in the Pac-12, with Miller in Tucson and Howland at UCLA, the Wildcats appear to be taking the mantle as top dog in the conference. And with the UA’s ticket to the Big Dance all but guaranteed now, a Pac-12 title is, in a sense, a party gift. It’d be nice for bragging rights and booster dinners but would do little for national recognition.

However, with Arizona trying to assert itself as the alpha in a currently beta basketball conference, it can only do this through a Pac-12 title. I guess you could say this California trip is important.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week Nine

1. No. 11 Arizona (23-4, 11-4 Pac-12) Last Week: 2
This Week: at USC, at UCLA
Week Eight: W 70-52 vs. Washington, W 73-56 vs. WSU

2. California (18-9, 10-5) LW: 4
This Week: vs. Utah, vs. Colorado
Week Eight: W 48-46 at Oregon, W 60-59 at OSU

3. No. 24 Oregon (22-6, 11-4) LW: 1
This Week: vs. Oregon State
Week Eight: L 48-46 vs. Cal, W 77-66 vs. Stanford

4. UCLA(20-7, 10-4) LW: 3
This Week: vs. ASU, vs. Arizona
Week Eight: W 75-59 at USC

5. Colorado (18-8, 8-6) LW: 5
This Week: at Stanford, at Cal
Week Eight: W 60-50 vs. Utah

6. Arizona State (20-8, 9-6) LW: 6
This Week: at UCLA, at USC
Week Eight: W 69-57 vs. WSU, L 68-59 vs. Washington

7. Stanford (16-12, 7-8) LW: 8
This Week: vs. Colorado, vs. Utah
Week Eight: W 82-72 at OSU, L 77-66 at Oregon

8. USC (12-15, 7-7) LW: 7
This Week: vs. Arizona, vs. ASU
Week Eight: L 75-59 vs. UCLA

9. Washington (15-13, 7-8) LW: 9
This Week: vs. Washington State
Week Eight: L 70-52 at Arizona, W 68-59 at ASU

10. Utah (11-15, 3-11) LW: 10
This Week: at Cal, at Stanford
Week Eight: L 60-50 at Colorado

11. Oregon State (13-15, 3-12) LW: 11
This Week: at Oregon
Week Eight: L 82-72 vs. Stanford, L 60-59 vs. Cal

12. Washington State (11-17, 2-13) LW: 12
This Week: at Washington
Week Eight: L 69-57 at ASU, L 73-56 at Arizona

— Kyle Johnson is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @KyleJohnsonUA.

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