Sean Miller’s second season at Arizona still hasn’t brought the rebirth of excitement folks in Tuscon were hoping to see this season. At one point in November the Wildcats peeked into the Top 25, but have since fell in line with the rest of the Pac-12, and fallen well out of the national spotlight. It is hard to believe, but the five best teams in the West right now all reside in a conference other than the Pac-12 (and not even BCS-leagues… San Diego State, UNLV, St. Mary’s, Gonzaga and New Mexico. Yes, I’d take all five over Cal or Stanford or Arizona or UCLA or whoever the heck one considers the best team in the Pac-12…)
Tonight is exactly the type of game that will eventually tip the pendulum of Arizona’s season. They enter tonight at 4-2 in conference, and just 13-6 overall. They squandered most of their pre-conference opportunities to snag a big resume win. They’ve looked shaky in the first three weeks of conference play. With the rapidly shrinking reputation of their league, any more losses to non ‘upper echelon’ teams could earn the Wildcats a birth in the NIT. That makes this game very important to Arizona.
Colorado has been one of the (VERY) few teams in the Pac-12 who have fared slightly better than expected. Alec Burks is gone to the NBA, arguably their most talented player since Chauncey Billups, and with his departure, it seemed likely so were the Buffs chances at competing. However, through a combination of other’s misery and their own relatively solid play, Colorado at 12-6 (4-2) is a legitimate contender in the Pac-12.
Let’s take a closer look at the schedule. Though the two teams records are the same, their quality of losses are vastly different. Each of the Wildcats’ losses have been either to solid tourney-bound ballclubs, or very competitive games to ‘bubble to NIT caliber teams. Arizona has lost to Mississippi State, Florida, San Diego State, and Gonzaga, and their two conference losses were to Oregon by 2 and narrowly at UCLA. Colorado on the other hand, has dropped some tough ones to stomach. Losses to Wyoming and Colorado State will be a little tougher to rationalize away on Selection Sunday, making home conference teams against similar middling squads absolutely essential for the Buffs.
Overall, I think Arizona is the more talented squad, but have to give some respect to the enormous influence home court advantage plays in the college game, particularly once conference play begins. Yes, they have a few bad losses pre-conferene, but in the past three weeks Colorado has easily dispatched Washington, Washington State and Arizona State on their home floor, by an average margin of victory of 15ppg. That makes laying a slim one point for their home-court advantage seem pretty attractive and hard to pass up.
Give me Colorado at home earning a huge win for their at-large hopes and dealing a significant gut-punch to Sean Miller and Arizona.
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