4. Arizona Wildcats (9-4) LW: 4
In an underachieving conference, the Arizona Wildcats have stayed afloat behind close victories against typically weaker competition.
Year-to-year, we know the Wildcats to be the juggernauts of the Pac-12, a program built to dominate the the Pac-12 and compete at a national level. But this season has been uncharacteristic.
With a 9-4 record, the Wildcats begin conference play at home against the Colorado Buffaloes on Thursday and are a far cry from a team usually hitting its stride come January.
Far from a finished product, the ‘Cats have a lot of kinks to figure out if they hope to compete for a conference title, none more demanding than helping the starters build confidence.
Coach Sean Miller routinely doesn’t play his core guys over 30 minutes with any sense of consistency. Rather, the long-time coach opts for an unconventional strategy, relying on his bench and different lineup combinations to win with what is arguably his least experienced group since arriving in Tucson.
As conference play tips off, the Wildcats need to establish a core group Miller can give extended minutes to.
Redshirt junior forward Chase Jeter has been an efficient scoring presence on the block, shooting 65 percent and averaging 12.8 points per game. Given additional court time, Jeter is a candidate to be breakout player in the Pac-12.
Sophomore guard Brandon Randolph is another to watch. With all five starters moving on from a season ago, his role has vastly expanded, scoring over 16.5 points per game on 45 percent shooting. But once again, he receives 29 minutes per game. An increase in Randolph’s minutes could help him ascend to the top of the conference scoring lists, carrying the offensive load alongside Jeter.