After dominantly racking up an 18-0 record through the first three months of regular season play, Arizona has broken the record for the longest winning streak in school history en route to tallying seven straight weeks of being ranked the number one men’s basketball team in the country. It is impossible to ignore that there is just something special about this year’s Wildcat team. In fact, there might just be something special about this year’s PAC 12 Conference all together. With conference victories over Duke, Kansas, Connecticut, and Michigan, some optimistic prognosticators are forecasting as many as seven PAC 12 teams squeezing into the National Tournament, which would be a conference record. Though Arizona is clearly the biggest dog in the Pacific 12 fray, there are a number of teams that have the ability to pose a serious threat to the current king of the hill.
Oregon is one of the most dangerous teams in the conference, and an early candidate for delivering a notch in the Wildcat loss column. Head coach Dana Altman has improved the Oregon program by leaps and bounds, even bringing them to the Sweet 16 in last year’s tournament. This season, Oregon has been ranked among the nation’s top 10, led by a pair of dangerous transfers in junior guard Joseph Young, and senior forward Mike Moser. Young is the team’s leading scorer, tallying over 20 points per contest, while Moser provides tenacity and muscle in the paint. Altman’s program will also rely heavily on consistent guard play provided by sophomores Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. Poised to shake things up come March, Oregon may also shake things up for Arizona when they meet the Wildcats at McKale Center on Feb. 6.
The sad reality of last season’s Arizona run was that UCLA always seemed to be the bane of the Wildcat’s existence. The Cats went 0-3 against the Bruins, including the infamously painful loss in the PAC 12 tournament semifinals that resulted in referee controversy. Though Arizona squeaked by UCLA in a four-point nail biter in their first meeting on Jan. 9, all roads point to another meeting come PAC 12 tournament time. The reining PAC 12 Champions are led by a group of talented prospects under the tutelage of new head coach Steve Alford. The Bruins operate through the motor of point-forward enigma Kyle Anderson, who has been stellar this season. Sophomore Jordan Adams compliments Anderson’s playmaking by providing a consistent scoring option, averaging nearly 18 points a game through January. The icing on the Bruin cake comes in the form of freshman star Zach LeVine, who has already begun attracting NBA attention.
Though true U of A fans have not forgotten last season’s thriller matchups with worthy opponent Colorado, a crushing blow to the Buffaloes squad came early when star player Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a torn ACL that will undoubtedly keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season. While Colorado is still an ultra talented basketball team, this recent event shakes up the entire conference, opening the doors for Cal to make a significant impact on the PAC 12. Already propelling to a 4-0 start in conference play that includes an upset over Oregon, the Golden Bears are led by a dynamic pair of seniors in scoring leader Justin Cobbs, and sturdy big man Richard Solomon. With four NCAA Tournament appearances in the past five seasons, Cal basketball is on the upswing, and if they can find the right rhythm this season, they have all the talent to pose as a real threat to the league.
In addition to the core four powerhouse programs of the Pacific 12, Stanford, ASU, Utah, and even Colorado all possess the right tools to put Arizona in jeopardy on any given night. This may be one of the strongest seasons in history for the PAC 12, and matchups will be no cakewalk for Arizona. Lucky for us, however, this may just be one of the best Wildcat lineups we have ever seen.