Arizona Wildcats Basketball: Ranking the Pac-12 Teams That Can Upset Arizona

Javier MoralesCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2014

Arizona Wildcats Basketball: Ranking the Pac-12 Teams That Can Upset Arizona

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    Arizona coach Sean Miller has the Wildcats on the same page.
    Arizona coach Sean Miller has the Wildcats on the same page.John Miller/Associated Press

    The Arizona Wildcats basketball team is in full-throttle, notching its school-record seventh consecutive No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll Monday morning.

    The Wildcats have 13 regular-season games remaining to keep their goal alive of winning the Pac-12 title and becoming the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. Their chance for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament is very much a realistic opportunity with February around the corner.

    Between now and the Pac-12 tournament, the Arizona Wildcats' No. 1 ranking will be seriously challenged by a handful of conference teams. Chances are, the Wildcats will lose at least two or three games when the final weekend of the regular-season is complete at the Oregon schools on March 8.

    The Pac-12's unbalanced schedule means the Arizona Wildcats do not make a return trip to face Washington, which is always dangerous in Seattle. Furthermore, UCLA does not play in Tucson this season. The Bruins, who lost to Arizona at Pauley Pavilion two weeks ago, won at McKale Center last year.

    With Washington and UCLA out of the picture, which teams have a realistic shot of beating the Arizona Wildcats?

    Colorado was a good choice to do the trick in Boulder, Colo., and at McKale Center before star guard Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a season-ending knee injury. Now the Buffaloes are a middle-tier team in the Pac-12, at best.

    The Buffaloes face Arizona in Tucson Thursday in what would have been the game of the year of the Pac-12 to this point. 

    Others should prove to be formidable, including Cal, which like Arizona has yet to lose a conference game. Traps on the road include Stanford, ASU, Oregon and, believe it or not, Utah and Oregon State.

    The Utes play at Arizona on Sunday night, but even if they lose they know a rematch at Salt Lake City awaits Feb. 19. The Beavers have three of the more talented players in the Pac-12 with Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland, all of whom can advance to the next level.

    The following slideshow indicates what teams could upset Arizona down the stretch.

     

No. 5: Arizona State with Healthy Lineup in Tempe Should Be Difficult

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    ASU second-leading scorer Jermaine Marshall missed last week's game against Arizona because of a groin injury.
    ASU second-leading scorer Jermaine Marshall missed last week's game against Arizona because of a groin injury.Matt York/Associated Press

    Arizona just disposed of ASU 91-68 at McKale Center last week, but the Wildcats did so against an injury-depleted Sun Devil roster.

    Jermaine Marshall, a Penn State transfer who is the second-leading scorer on the team, sat out the game with a groin injury. Marshall should be healthy by the time Arizona makes a return trip to Tempe on Valentine's Day.

    No love lost will exist between the archrivals, especially with how Arizona gave the Sun Devils their worst loss of the Pac-12 season to this point.

    With Marshall back and an intense atmosphere at Wells Fargo arena (the venue should be packed with about 25 percent of the seats occupied by Arizona fans), ASU should come out charged for the rematch.

    Since Lute Olson's hire in 1983-84 by Arizona, the Wildcats have defeated ASU by double-digits at McKale Center but lost in the rematch at Tempe three times (1992, 1994 and 2012).

No. 4: Stanford Team That Played Well in Top Non-Conference Games Can Be Tough

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    Dwight Powell should challenge Arizona's talented frontcourt.
    Dwight Powell should challenge Arizona's talented frontcourt.TONY AVELAR/Associated Press

    Stanford has a decent non-conference resume with a road victory against UConn and an impressive showing against Michigan on a neutral court.

    The Cardinal also have a decent frontcourt presence with NBA prospect Dwight Powell, talented forward Josh Huestis and wing player Anthony Brown (a former Arizona recruiting target) that can challenge the Wildcats' interior game with Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley.

    Stanford ranks 12th nationally with a field-goal percentage of 49.1 percent thanks to their ability to control the paint, an area in which Arizona is very strong.

    Johnny Dawkins, in his sixth season, has yet to advance to the NCAA tournament and needs a signature win to keep the faith of Cardinal fans. 

    When Arizona travels to Maples Pavilion on Jan. 29, Dawkins and the Cardinal should be ready. Stanford (12-5) is on a three-game winning streak and should get at least a split at the Los Angeles schools this weekend.

No. 3: Last Regular-Season Game at Oregon Looms Large

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    Oregon is in a slump now under coach Dana Altman but chances are they will awake.
    Oregon is in a slump now under coach Dana Altman but chances are they will awake.Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

    Oregon has fallen on hard times, losing four consecutive games, but the Ducks are still ranked No. 23 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

    The Ducks, the defending Pac-12 tournament champions, have the talent to have an awakening. 

    Dana Altman is a quality coach and Oregon is accustomed to winning. It's the first four-game losing streak in three years.

    Oregon has veteran leadership with Houston transfer Joseph Young, UNLV transfer Mike Moser and senior point guard Johnathan Loyd. The question is when will Altman get the chemistry right. Ever since suspended sophomores Dominic Artis and Ben Carter joined the team on Dec. 16, Oregon has a 4-4 record after starting 9-0.

    The Ducks have two weekends that include winnable games against Washington, Washington State and USC before traveling to Tucson on Feb. 6. The last game of the season in Eugene, Ore., looms large. Certainly by then, Altman should have this team clicking again.

No. 2: Utah Utes at Home Are Dangerous

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    Utah nearly beat Oregon at home and upset No. 25 UCLA there last week.
    Utah nearly beat Oregon at home and upset No. 25 UCLA there last week.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Some may believe this ranking is too high because Utah has not been formidable since the Rick Majerus years.

    But the Utes are for real, especially at the Huntsman Center. UCLA and BYU have been victimized there this year. Oregon came close to losing but prevailed in overtime. 

    The Utes (14-4) have an inexplicable loss at Washington State on Jan. 12, a 49-46 dreadful setback in which Utah blew a 12-point lead. However, Utah's four defeats, including the loss to the Cougars, were by three points or less.

    Utah travels to Tucson on Sunday but the true test for the Wildcats should come at Salt Lake City on Feb. 19. Arizona fans know going back to the school's affiliation with the WAC, when Utah was a rival in that conference, that playing in Huntsman can be very difficult.

    Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge (team-best 16.4 points and 8.2 rebounds a game) and junior guard Delon Wright (team-high 5.2 assists a game) are as good as any tandems in the Pac-12.

No. 1: Mike Montgomery and Hot California Golden Bears

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    Cal coach Mike Montgomery has a 19-33 career record against Arizona, but is 4-4 against the Wildcats with the Golden Bears.
    Cal coach Mike Montgomery has a 19-33 career record against Arizona, but is 4-4 against the Wildcats with the Golden Bears.Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Some Arizona fans insist that Mike Montgomery could have been the Wildcats' coach if Lute Olson retired a year earlier, before the 2008-09 season.

    That's when Cal brought Montgomery aboard. Olson tried to coach in 2008-09 but took a leave of absence for the second consecutive year. He retired for good after that season. 

    All's well that ends well. Sean Miller was hired entering the 2009-10 season as Arizona's coach and the Wildcats are on a roll. Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley went so far as to write that Miller is among college basketball's five elite coaches.

    Arizona fans are enamored with Montgomery because of the veteran coach's ability to compete with the Wildcats. He holds a 19-33 career record against Arizona but is 4-4 against the Wildcats as Cal's coach. He made Stanford a legitimate rival of Arizona's in the 1990s, taking the Cardinal to the Final Four the season after Arizona won it all in 1996-97.

    Montgomery's Cal team is very dangerous this season with Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate Justin Cobbs. The Golden Bears, 5-0 like Arizona in league play, play at USC on Wednesday before facing UCLA in a significant conference matchup Sunday at Pauley Pavilion.

    The following weekend Cal hosts Arizona (Feb. 1) in what should be the game of the year in the conference to this point. Adding to the drama, Arizona's Aaron Gordon (of San Jose) and Brandon Ashley (of Oakland) will be returning home that weekend.

    The only drawback is that game does not start until 10:30 p.m. ET. That will be a game worth staying awake until 1 a.m.

    Please check out Javier Morales' blogs at TucsonCitizen.com and following him on Twitter @JavierJMorales.