As Eddie Murphy famously said in the movie Trading Places, “Merry New Year!”
The Pac-12 regular season title could very well be on the line when Arizona visits UCLA on March 2.
Yes, we’re literally minutes into 2013, but I’m already prepared to dole out the Friday Fizz’s tip of the year. Seriously, don’t laugh. Red wine and beef jerky. I had a friend hoodwink me into consuming this explosive combination late Saturday night and the flavor burst was apocalyptic. I’m not kidding, total game changer. The first bite I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. After the second bite, my taste buds were like teenage coeds doing the twist in an episode of American Bandstand. It was euphoric, and delicious, and receives the Friday Fizz A-1 stamp of approval.
Speaking of approval, Arizona basketball has earned its number three national ranking after closing out non-conference play with a perfect 12-0 record. The last time an Arizona team opened the season with 12-consecutive victories they advanced all the way to the Final Four. Amazingly, this is a team that last March missed the NCAA Tournament, and then fell to Bucknell at home in the first round of the NIT. Yes, Sean Miller went out and recruited a top-notch class in the off season, but more importantly he went out and got two marquee transfers in Mark Lyons and T.J. McConnell. Lyons has helped the Wildcats knock off two Top 25 teams already this season with late-game heroics. First, he hit the runner against No. 5 Florida with 7.1 seconds remaining. Then he sank two free throws with 13.1 seconds to play to lift Arizona to the Diamond Head Classic championship over No. 18 San Diego State. As for McConnell, he’s currently ineligible due to transfer rules, but he’s still making an impact as the leader of Arizona’s scout team. Seriously, you’ve got an elite point guard running the Wildcat scout team week in and week out. You can’t put a price tag on that one, just like you can’t accurately gauge the importance of having two guys like Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom on the roster. Hill has literally transformed his body in the past four years while Parrom has overcome tremendous adversity throughout his career both on and off the court. Put it all together and you’ve got an Arizona team that is not only talented, conditioned and well-prepared, but tough as nails physically and mentally.
The Wildcats will need to maintain their level of toughness to survive the conference slate. No school has ever completed an undefeated Pac-12 regular season, and for good reason. The conference has never been for the faint of heart. Scheduling has always been incredibly difficult filled with crazy travel itineraries, a potpourri of coaching styles and philosophies, tightly packed arenas that literally shake when the fans get rowdy, and a collection of high-caliber athletes that are incredibly well schooled. Arizona opens league play this Thursday at home against Colorado before playing Utah Saturday and then traveling to Oregon and Oregon State next week. The stretch is anything but easy. However, it’ll be a great barometer for an Arizona team that despite its success still has enough questions to raise doubts as to how much they can achieve this season. If they survive the next two weeks unscathed the sky is the limit.
So much has happened recently, I find it incredible that Arizona’s bowl game against Nevada was just 16 days ago. I mean, wow, the way the NCAA has stretched out its postseason schedule, try and tell me one more time why a true playoff system wouldn’t work. By now, Arizona could be squarely in the national semifinals, having won on Dec. 15 and then playing a quarterfinals game on Dec. 22 to set up a Jan. 1 two-game slate of college football’s version of the final four. Naysayers talk about academics, but lest not forget that Arizona played its bowl game on the day mid-years celebrated graduation on campus following finals week. In short, that excuse is out. Injury and health are valid reasons, but the Wildcats went through more athletic tape and bandages this season than a sports trainers of the world seminar sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and they still managed to field a squad. I’ve always enjoyed the bowl system, but the more we move away from traditional matchups thanks to endless conference realignment, a playoff makes more and more sense for entertainment purposes and yes, money.
While on the subject of where did the time go, silly me, I completely forgot the world was supposed to end 10 days ago. On behalf of everyone…whew. Still, you have to give it up to those whacky Mayans for pulling off the greatest practical joke of all time. They really had us going there for a while. You know who else is a practical joker, none other than Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson who publicly announced via Twitter last week that he was the premiere Pac-12 point guard. Talk about stones, Carson better sting like a bee moving forward because I can all but guarantee that conference foes will do everything possible to make his basketball life miserable over the next two months. Those “smart” students up in Berkeley and Palo Alto are going to have a field day with game day signage while others like Arizona’s Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson will take a more diplomatic approach and simply live in Carson’s hip pocket for 40 minutes. Either way, it should be fun to watch and if Carson happens to live up to his own hype then more power to him, right? If he doesn’t, reap the whirlwind young man.
I saw the movie Answers to Nothing the other night. It literally answered everything, but I digress.
How great is Minnesota vs. Green Bay going to be on Saturday? Funny how just weeks ago us in Pac-12 Country were saying how strange it was for UCLA and Stanford to play in the final game of the regular season as well as the Pac-12 Championship the following weekend. Low and behold, the Packers and Vikings are doing the exact same thing as they battled in their own regular season finale and now must line back up against each other in a Wild Card game. The Vikes converted a game-winning 29-yard field goal as time expired to best the Packs 37-34 on a day when Aaron Rodgers threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns. It’s hard to imagine either of these teams giving an inch on Saturday, but the Packers do get a significant advantage by hosting Minnesota in the punishing outdoor elements unique to Lambeau Field. As for the other three tilts, Seattle upsets Washington, Baltimore terrorizes Indianapolis and Cincinnati skates by Houston.
It’s been a crazy year for sure so as we put a bow on 2012, let’s close in style by keeping things simple with three basic facts:
Arizona baseball is a national champion.
Arizona football won a bowl game.
Arizona basketball is undefeated and ranked third, nationally.
Bear Down, Everyone! And Bear Down, Arizona!
Follow me on Twitter @GaryRandazzo, and follow the website @WSRArizona.
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