Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats got an endorsement from Kenny White as the best team in the Pac-12 not too long ago, but a couple of recent key injuries have the Don Best Sports analyst looking in another direction now.
The loss of Kevin Parrom for the season and Jordin Mayes for at least another week leave the Wildcats very thin as they prepare for a Thursday night matchup with the Colorado Buffaloes in Tucson. The game is part of a full slate of Pac-12 contests on Thursday that also includes current conference leader Washington in a tough road tilt at the Oregon Ducks and California visiting the Southern Cal Trojans. The Huskies will begin the day at 9-2 in league play, just a game ahead of Cal and Colorado, each with 8-3 marks. Oregon and Arizona follow two games behind Washington with 7-4 records.
"Arizona has the best talent in the Pac-12, I think by at least six points," White commented during a recent college basketball daily report. But he added that was "no longer" the case this week because of the injuries to Mayes and Parrom.
The folks setting the college basketball betting lines still tend to agree with White's former statement, at least for Thursday's matchup at McKale Center on ESPN beginning at 9:00 p.m. (ET). Arizona opened -7 on the earliest of overnight lines with the scoreboard hurdle set at 130.
We talked a little last week about the general decline that the Pac-12 has been in for a few seasons, and this campaign specifically. Cal continues to be the only squad getting any mention in either of the two big rankings, garnering just a few points according to the latest coaches poll. Ken Pomeroy has five schools – Cal, Arizona, UCLA, Stanford and Washington – in the top 64 while the RPI list has but two (Cal and Arizona).
Arizona is climbing in the RPI ranks, however, thanks to a couple of big road victories in the last week as an underdog at both California and Stanford. The Wildcats are also starting to gain support among bettors, covering five of their last six and seven of their last nine contests. One problem they've had is winning (and covering spreads) at home where the 'Cats are just 3-2 straight up and against the spread so far in conference play.
Defense has been a strength all season, allowing just 61.9 points per game to rank in the top 60 nationally. That number drops under 60 per game on the Pac-12 schedule, tops in the league. Arizona will be facing a Colorado squad that is averaging about 10 points more per game on the conference slate (69.6 PPG).
Finding consistent offense has been the biggest bugaboo for Miller & Company. The Wildcats have been very hot both inside and outside at times this season, but have also gone ice cold at the drop of a hat. They managed to shoot just over 38 percent in last Saturday's victory over the Cardinal, but were able to fall back on their defense as well as Stanford's own shooting woes in the contest.
Mayes is battling an injury to his right foot that he suffered in the recent win over Cal, and the sophomore guard is not expected to play Thursday against Colorado or Saturday when Utah comes to town. Parrom was hurt a couple of games before that.
Colorado has sneaked into the Pac-12 hunt thanks in large part to strong play in Boulder. The Buffaloes are a perfect 6-0 at home when facing a conference foe, but just 1-3 on the road (2-2 ATS). Like Arizona, wins at the expense of Oregon and Oregon State in the last week have Colorado's RPI stock rising, but now face three straight away from Boulder starting with this clash against the 'Cats.
The Buffs eked out a 64-63 win at home over Arizona on Jan. 21, a game that closed Colorado -2 on the NCAA odds board. Fogg could not find the net for the Wildcats in the game, missing nine of his 12 shots and going just 2-for-7 from outside the arc. Arizona was a pitiful 3-of-20 from 3-point range in the game.
Despite the loss, Arizona did manage to win the rebound battle and all but negate Colorado big man Andre Roberson's presence. Roberson was snuffed out completely on offense, missing all eight of his field goal attempts, and managed to pull down seven rebounds which is about two-thirds of his season average.
That contest marked Arizona's first game in Boulder in nearly 40 years, and the final stayed just below the 131-point closing number.
The rest of the Pac-12 schedule for Thursday has Stanford at UCLA, Washington State at Oregon State and Utah traveling to Arizona State.