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Wildcat bench could be No. 2 team in nation

Brett Fera
By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday December 10, 2002

An eight-point laugher over a team from the Mountain West Conference normally would be cause for concern for the nation's top-ranked team.

Just the same, boredom is not usually a good sign just three games into the season, as was claimed to be the case by Arizona players following their drubbing of Saint Louis.

But these aren't normal circumstances, as no other team seems to want the challenge of picking off Arizona.

Despite the team's lackluster play over its last two games, there is no question that the Arizona men's basketball team is still the nation's best, and every bit deserving of the stranglehold it has atop the national polls. The real question is no longer in regard to who should be No. 1, but actually who the second best team is.

Many pollsters and so-called experts tried to give Kansas the preseason nod at No. 2, while others picked Oklahoma. Some even picked either of the two Midwest challengers above Arizona, obviously beyond their better judgment, if for no other reason than to stray from the crowd and be different.

At the start of the season, even those who chose to drop UA down in the polls still marked Arizona's visit to Lawrence, Kan., in January as the marquee matchup of the year, between the nation's two most talented teams.

But Kansas, who has three losses before the second week of December, no longer looks to be as intimidating as it was believed to be at the beginning of the season. So seems to be the same case with Oklahoma as well, as it has taken the same path as its Big 12 brethren, losing to Alabama in its season opener just a few short weeks ago.

With the Jayhawks tumbling to the No. 19 spot in the polls this week, coupled with Oklahoma's early trip, who would be next to challenge UA for the top spot?

Texas is slated to visit Tucson this weekend and was ranked second, so another opportunity arose to see the nation's top two teams square off against each other.

But, alas, Texas was also beaten, this time by an unranked, up-and-coming group from Notre Dame ÷ now it has dropped from its previous pedestal.

Three weeks of games, three different teams at No. 2 in The Associated Press poll, and so Alabama is now ranked second, with Duke, Pittsburgh and Oregon right on the heels of the Tide.

With Kansas dropping off the radar and Texas falling flat on its back, the most daunting challenges on Arizona's schedule seem to be a trip to Eugene, Ore., in early January and home matchup a month later against the No. 5 Ducks, who are fresh off that victory over the Jayhawks.

Some under the college basketball microscope, including much of that same Arizona team, think that going undefeated is not all that far out of reach for the talented group, despite still having over 85 percent of its schedule remaining to be played.

While the likelihood of not losing is not very probable, this year's team has a legitimate shot to challenge the 1988 group as the best team in school history.

That Wildcat squad ended the season with a 32-3 record, ending their season on a disappointing note with a loss to Kansas in the Final Four.

That initial question is still unanswered, however.

Who can call themselves the nation's second best team? Who looks to be able to challenge Arizona for that top spot?

A strong argument can be made that the second best team in the country hails from Tucson as well, with the Wildcats' roster going deep with 11 potential starters, as no other team across the land can show that kind of depth.

More realistically though, with the shakeup each week throughout the rest of the polls, it appears that the only way Arizona can lose its perch is if it starts to follow the oldest clichˇ in all of organized sports ÷ the Wildcats start to beat themselves.

Arizona's abundance of talent coupled with unheralded depth means that any time a Saint Louis or Northern Arizona is on the schedule, rather than a Kansas, Texas or Oregon, there is the potential for boredom and sloppiness to occur. It is just a matter of time before the team starts to see all opposition in the same light, instead of focusing on the different jerseys that its opponents are wearing.

Should the majority of its players stay healthy and focused, and learn to cope with the possibility of seeing less than 20 minutes of action per game because of the lack of available playing time, there is no doubt that Arizona will be odds-on favorite to cut down the nets in New Orleans come April.


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