Arizona Wildcats Basketball: Did the Wildcats Peak Too Early This Season?

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2013

TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 19:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts during the college basketball game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Wells Fargo Arena on January 19, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 71-54. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Sean Miller's Arizona Wildcats are an intriguing college basketball team.

At times, they have played like world beaters, knocking off an impressive list of ranked (or nearly-ranked) teams including Florida, Miami (Fl.), San Diego State and Colorado. 

But now that Arizona (16-2; 4-2) is in the thick of their Pac-12 schedule, the Cats' swagger and steadiness seems to be currently unpredictable.

Last Saturday, U of A went into cross-state rival Arizona State's arena and handily took care of business, 71-54.

Yet on Thursday night, Arizona looked out of sync on both ends of the court, from the opening tip to the final buzzer, as the UCLA Bruins came into the McKale Center and beat the Wildcats 84-73.

Defensive assignments that were soundly carried out in the first two months of the season are now inconsistently accomplished, and the offensive flow that previously helped Arizona either build leads or come from behind was nowhere to be found against the Bruins.

So the question is: has Arizona peaked too early this season?

Is the current wavering condition that the team finds themselves in a temporary haze or the beginning of a downward slide?

You might be thinking, "How can you even suggest that a team is already peaking? It's too early for a team to be peaking."

Yes, there is a lot of basketball left to play in 2012-13, and the season is barely half over. And yes, Arizona has two-thirds of their Pac 12 schedule still left to play.

But it's almost impossible to plan and manage when a team will hit it's stride in any given season. And it's also almost impossible to keep a team that has peaked at that level for any significant time frame.

Arizona, like many college basketball programs, took a summer trip. The Wildcats went to the Bahamas in August. In order to prepare for the games, the NCAA granted U of A extra practices, as is standard for teams going overseas. Even before the official preseason workouts had started, the team was already blending the talents of the returning players and the host of newcomers.

This sounds like a good thing, and it was.

The problem could be that they jelled so well, so early, but are now hitting a mid-season decline after playing exceptionally in December and early January.

Another question that could be asked is: are Sean Miller's talented front court trio of  Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett hitting the "freshman wall?"

Not every first-year collegiate player experiences this, but so many freshman players who have been productive in the first 2-3 months of the year can suddenly become unproductive, seemingly out of nowhere.

In the last two games, the trio has combined for a total of 21 points. Tarczewski, a 7-foot center, has only managed five points and nine rebounds in these two important contests.

In some ways, it may be "good" to be peaking this early (if that's what is happening).

That way, maybe Arizona could hit a bump in the road now, but be back to full-speed when the Pac-12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament open up in mid March.

Wondering if Arizona has peaked too soon doesn't mean that they will experience a total collapse. It just means that, if they have topped out already, they will not come close to realizing the projections that have been made about them winning the conference and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.