Let me first begin by welcoming our newest initiates to the Pac-12 Conference: Utah and Colorado.
As a student of the University of Arizona I have witnessed the virus, that is the hype around the campus, all the way down to the city limits of Tucson. Arizona basketball is back, and in full force.
Returning from cloud nine following an epic Elite Eight run in last year's March Madness, the Wildcat nation couldn't have been more ecstatic to get back in the groove for the 2011-2012 season.
The opening tipoff to the season launched in late October with their annual inter-squad scrimmage where they played in front of a sold out McKale Center. The tone was set early for what is probed to be a promising season with the additions of the youngsters in the frontcourt; shooting guard Nick Johnson and point guard Josiah Turner.
Shoes to Fill
The youth around the perimeter came due to the early departures of the No. 2 overall pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Derrick Williams, and the dazzling speed and game-changing guard play of Lamont "Momo" Jones, who left the program for Iona to be closer to family.
What if Derrick Williams elected to stay one more year? A question that will forever remain unresolved. To sit here and dwell on the past and what could have been is irrelevant to the team's current and future success.
On paper, the Wildcats appear to have the necessary talent and ability to flourish and tackle another title. However, youth and team continuity have remained deterring factors that have refrained the Cats from their winning ways.
The Wildcats began the year with a 3-0 start until they faced an early hiccup when they were handed their first loss of the season in the 2K Sports Classic Championship to the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. The youth of the Cats, equipped with their inexperience to finish around the basket during crucial moments of games, have led them to account for three more losses, as they faced a 9-4 record entering the inaugural Pac-12 play.
The Wildcats recorded their first conference game of the season against in-state rival Arizona State. The contest concluded by the addition of another tally to the Territorial Cup Series scoreboard, defeating the Sun Devils handily, 67-51.
The Wildcats currently stand at a healthy 2-1 record and sit a top the upper half of the divisional standings.
Following the victory, they headed to Los Angeles where a hungry UCLA team was ready upon their arrival. The Cats would claw their way into the game, yet managed to fall short against the Bruins' talented frontcourt, 65-58.
An early loss may have been the necessary prescription as they headed south to USC with a bitter taste in their mouths. They rolled into the Galen Center with vengeance and capitalized on all opportunities made available. An exclamation mark indeed.
Now, the two Oregon schools roll into the desert this weekend beginning with Oregon State Thursday night and Oregon on Saturday afternoon. The Beavers will enter tomorrow night's contest in the cellar of the conference at a dismal 1-3 clip in the Pac-12.
Following the weekend's two games, I took the initiative to peer over onto the Wildcats' conference schedule.
Remember, its not about who you play but when you play them. The Cats have been highly regarded throughout as one of the top teams in the conference, yet the factor that overshadows the team is their E-X-P-E-R-I-E-N-C-E.
However, watching game after game I have begun to witness a spectacle before my eyes. The development of a sense of maturity, where we separate the boys from the men, has erupted on the scene. The 'diaper dandies' are actively leading the charge, surging into the heart of the conference play.
The timing couldn't be better. As a Wildcat fan and contributor to the pride of the Zona Zoo student section, January was the month that we had all been longing for. Every game here on out remains a true testament to the caliber of the team and ability to propel themselves away from the rest of the pack.
Feed the Beast
Once conference play ignited, so too, did the play of the big man underneath, Jesse Perry. He has climbed the ladder and now averages 16.4 points in conference play. He is a dominating physical presence in the paint that was a crucial, missing aspect. Fortunately, Perry has stepped into the lead role, to corral every opportunity left.
As the team delves further into the season, so too will the composition of the team, as they set themselves up for yet another thrilling run into the Madness that is college basketball playoffs.
Overall, I may be a little biased, but after intense statistical detail up and down the conference, I foresee the Wildcats finishing off the season with a comfortable overall record of 20-11, to go along with an elusive Pac-12 record of 12-6. In turn, I have the Cats just squeaking into the second spot, right below UCLA and above California.
Now, these presented records may appear like a long shot and unfathomable to most; however, after witnessing the individual growth by the star-studded starting five, those records aren't as seemingly dramatic to attain after all.
They don't need the recognition of the sports analysts, who have inappropriately labeled them as pretenders, to condemn their talent. They will let their play on the court do the talking. It is only a matter of time before the nation begins to become believers and hop aboard the Wildcat Wagon all the way to the Big Easy.
Turnovers have proven to be devastating and remain at an all-time high this year. Cutting down the turnover ratio along with the ability to convert off the dribble will remain pivotal down the stretch for the hopeful Wildcats to be crowned division champions for a consecutive year. Everyone look out.
Last note: They have understood the value of team this year, and that is the winning factor that they will ultimately ride through to future success. The Wildcats have overcome much adversity this season and will utilize the depth off their bench to carry them to the ship.