A mid-February storyline nobody saw coming months ago: The Arizona Wildcats have a convincing case to claim top-two status among all teams in men’s college basketball.
The AP Top 25 ranking currently says No. 4 for Tommy Lloyd’s team, but that’s going to change when the polls refresh Monday. Computers are even more complimentary for this group. U of A sits at No. 2 (behind Gonzaga) in the NET, at KenPom.com, at Sagarin.com and in Strength of Record. That’s No. 2 in predictive and results-based metrics. Not only has Arizona proved it from a résumé perspective, but it’s also winning games it is expected to win — often doing so by a lot.
This team is for real.
Arizona is beating opponents by more than 20 points on average, which it did again Saturday night. The Wildcats pulled a cruel trick on the road against Washington, allowing the so-so Huskies to build up a little false hope by letting the game get to a 25-11 lead in favor of UW. A few beats later, like big brother snatching a treat from little brother’s hands, Arizona took the lead. By halftime, Arizona was up nine. The Wildcats bloated their lead to as many as 28 points in the second half.
Final: Arizona 92, Washington 68.
Lloyd’s team is 22-2, and considering No. 1 Auburn and No. 3 Purdue lost in recent days, the Wildcats should take the No. 2 spot in the AP Top 25. Lloyd has been one of the best coaches in college basketball this year, his first year as a head coach.
Sure, he inherited an enviable roster situation from Sean Miller, who left him multiple NBA picks (including potential 2022 lottery selection Bennedict Mathurin). That said, don’t examine Arizona today and retroactively assume this was destiny. The Wildcats were not ranked in the preseason. Lloyd was a lauded hire but no one knew what to expect right away; after all, he’d never coached a game in his life. Let’s not pretend that any coach in Lloyd’s situation would…