Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 7:00 AM
The current polls rate the Arizona Wildcats as the #1 team in basketball. They were certainly a respected side entering the new season. But, are they really the best in the land? Or, is this just a case of the superpowers scheduling so many teams against each other that an outsider has snuck in temporarily?
The Preseason AP Poll looked like this:
In their favor, Arizona did beat DUKE in Madison Square Garden recently, which is no small feat. That certainly keeps them on the short list of elite teams as we transition through the holiday schedule into conference play. And, the market had them favored in that game…a big sign of respect. But, would you really make Arizona favorites straight up on a neutral court right now over all five of those teams in front of them?
Some oddsmakers might. There are two games that stick out as sore thumbs if you want to make the case that Arizona is really numero uno.
*Arizona (-12) beat Drexel 66-62
This game was in New York two days before the Duke battle in the same mini-tournament. Arizona trailed 29-20 at halftime, apparently thinking Drexel was just going to roll over and play dead. Dragons don’t do that! Arizona did rally to get the win. But…this is DREXEL! It shouldn’t have been a game to sweat in the final minutes. Note that Arizona only forced four turnovers on the night. A woeful 3 of 13 on three-pointers created a scenario where the Wildcats had to win free throws by 18 points just to win the game by four.
*Arizona (-15) beat UNLV 63-58
This was a home game this past Saturday afternoon that may have scooted past your attention because you were watching so much football. Not a very impressive performance considering market expectations. Arizona trailed 42-39 at halftime before clamping down more defensively. But, even with that stingy second half, the Wildcats let the Rebels shoot 53% inside the arc. We’ve said often in past years that many of the top “media” teams tend to look very mortal when their treys aren’t falling. That happened again here, just like it did against Drexel. Arizona was only 3 of 16 from long range in this game. What’s going to happen in March…on neutral courts…against teams better than UNLV…when the treys aren’t falling?
So, we have a team that’s capable of beating Duke on a neutral floor. But, also one that’s prone to slow starts against opponents that don’t get their juices flowing…and one that looks very mortal when the treys aren’t falling.
Arizona will be in action tonight against big underdog New Mexico State, tuning up for a huge TV game Saturday at Michigan that will be nationally televised by CBS at noon ET as a lead in to the Army/Navy football game. Handicappers should pay very close attention to that latter game in particular with an eye toward picking winners when Arizona travels in Pac 12 action and then for the tournaments in March. You should always be preparing for March Madness! Michigan may have fallen out of the AP Top 25 because of a 6-3 start. They’re going to be sky high for a big TV game in Ann Arbor, particularly against a team prone to slow starts playing at an awkward starting time.
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We’ll return here in the NOTEBOOK Thursday to preview the San Diego Chargers at the Denver Broncos in NFL action. That’s actually one of the best games this week given the fact that both teams need to win. Friday we’ll take a look at Saturday’s Army/Navy rivalry renewal. Then it’s back to the NFL Sunday and Monday for Cincinnati/Pittsburgh and Baltimore/Detroit respectively.
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