Arizona Wildcats: Quietly on Their Way to the Pac-10 Title

Gordon TrueCorrespondent IFebruary 1, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 12:  Guard Nic Wise #13 of the Arizona Wildcats looks to move the ball against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at the Staples Center on March 12, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Arizona is not a team that is used to being overlooked.

But combine the fact that they're playing in the struggling Pac-10 with the fact that they've had four coaches in four years, and it's no wonder that they are.

Arizona has perhaps the most misleading record in all of college basketball at 12-9. It's misleading because of the very tough schedule and close games that Arizona has played in.

Through the end of January, Arizona has played the hardest schedule in all of college basketball. That may surprise you since they play in the Pac-10.

Remember, though, the Pac-10 is not full of horrible teams. Rather, it's full of "pretty good" teams. So while there are no superior teams, there are no bad teams, either.

Arizona played the 2nd-ranked, non-conference schedule, matching up with such teams as Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, UNLV, North Carolina St., and BYU.

Of their nine losses, four came down to the final possession, losing by three points or less. Two more losses came down to the final minute, losing both by six points.

Arizona had a rough start to the season but is really coming along now. This makes sense, as Arizona is ranked No. 330 out of 370 in experience with an average of 1.01 years of experience per player.

Arizona has one senior, one junior, four sophomores, and eight freshman on its roster. It should be expected that they would need time to learn and mature, and it looks like they have.

Arizona is on a four-game winning streak, with a 6-3 record in conference play, good enough for a share of first place in the conference (along with California). Sunday night, they defeated the California Bears in a very entertaining game, declaring themselves as the team to beat in the Pac-10.

In the six wins, Arizona has won by an average of 12.7 points, while only losing by an average 3.7 points in the three losses.

Nic Wise and Derrick Williams are the two players you should know about.

Nic is the lone senior on the Arizona Wildcats. He is only the second player in the history of college basketball to play for four different coaches.

It was Nic's decision to return for his final year that gave Arizona any shot at the tournament this year. Even more important than his 16 points, three rebounds, and four assists, is his experience.

He has been the clear leader of this young team, stepping into the role well. He has become close friends with the freshman players and probably deserves more credit than anyone for the success of this team.

You may have seen Derrick Williams on SportsCenter top-ten plays. He's been there already a handful of times this season.

Williams leads all Pac-10 freshman with 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. He has a rare blend of fundamentals and raw athleticism that make him fun to watch.

Derrick shows amazing patience and footwork in the post, especially for a freshman. This is a guy destined for the NBA. Arizona hopes to hold on to him as long as possible.

Sean Miller has done an outstanding job of pulling this young team together. Despite their youth and tough schedule, Arizona stands atop their conference. They seem poised for a strong finish in the second half of the conference season and will be in the thick of the race for the Pac-10 title.