|Arizona is 12-0, but are the Wildcats an elite team? (pac-12.com)|
Sean Miller's Arizona team is 12-0, ranked No. 3 in the country and is off to the school's best start since the late 1980s (1987-88).
Arizona was projected to win the Pac 12, but not many expected this team to start off this well, and some are still questioning if this is an elite team. The pickup of Xavier transfer Mark Lyons is clearly paying off, as he is averaging a team-high 13.4 points and 3.2 assists per game. Senior Solomon Hill has also been playing great, averaging 12 points, five rebounds and three assists per game.
But both Arizona's games against top-25 opponents have been one-point wins against Florida and San Diego State, neither on the road and both could have very easily been losses. Florida was up by six with 56 seconds left and it took an incredible collapse for the Wildcats to sneak out a win. Against San Diego State, it was a last-second defensive stop with a block that kept SDSU from taking the lead and possibly winning.
Arizona deserves the No. 3 ranking because they did enough to win those games and stay undefeated. But are they ready to be called elite? Not quite yet. Outside of those two one-point wins, none of the teams Arizona has played so far will be expected at the party in March. They survived the Florida game in part to the crowd energy and home-court advantage that the Wildcats won't have in March.
Part of the issue with Arizona not getting the same love given to other top five teams is geographical. With games that start late in most of the country, everyday fans haven't had the opportunity to see the Wildcats play on a regular basis, and when they have, it's games like against Florida when they probably should have lost.
Another could be that while Lyons has played well for the Wildcats, he's not a household name. Arizona doesn't have a Mason Plumlee, Trey Burke or Cody Zeller to grab headlines. This helps make what the Wildcats have done more impressive, but it also makes them less marketable to everyday fans.
This could all change in the next month when Arizona's conference schedule starts out with some big (for Pac 12 standards) challenges. Colorado is talented enough to keep with the Wildcats on Jan. 3, and if Arizona wins, two-loss Oregon and Oregon State will be waiting back-to-back on Jan. 10 and 12. The Wildcats are the only Pac 12 team ranked in the top 25, so beating up on a weak conference won't do a lot to help their case, but a couple of early losses will do much more to discredit what Arizona has accomplished so far.
Perceptions change from December to March, and maybe Sean Miller's club has what it takes to make a run at a national title, but it's going to take more from the Wildcats to win the respect of the country.