While Pac-12 play started literally at the start of the new year on New Year’s Day, Utah’s first real conference test of the season will come later this week when it travels south to take on Arizona (Thursday) and Arizona State (Sunday).
The Utes are fresh off of a 76-60 win over Colorado, and while that was a solid way to kick off the Pac-12 season, it wasn’t much of a head-turner. The Buffaloes were a respectable 10-3 heading into the matchup, and even beat Xavier along the way, which Utah was unable to do during the exhibition portion of the schedule.
That said, the Wildcats and Sun Devils will be much tougher to top (eh, maybe not the latter…) in the Grand Canyon State. In advance of this week’s matchups, let’s take a look at what both Arizona schools bring to the court, first we’ll touch on the Wildcats.
Arizona, who currently sits with a 13-2 record, has dealt with more adversity than in years past. Injuries and off-the-court issues have kept this team from suiting up a fully healthy squad, but to escape the exhibition season with just two losses to the hands of solid teams in Gonzaga and Butler has to have Sean Miller and company feeling pretty good.
Especially now that Miller’s getting some of his players back. Parker Jackson-Cartwright has returned after dealing with minor injuries to provide Arizona a steady floor general on the court. And with how secretive Arizona has been with the whole Alonzo Trier fiasco, the chances of him suiting up against the Utes are probably just as good of him not doing so.
Larry Krystkowiak has said he won’t game plan for Trier, as he hasn’t played a minute all season long. Then again, who knows when the sophomore, who averaged 14.8 points per game last year as a freshman, will actually find the court? Could be Thursday, could be never.
Either way, this Wildcat team is starting to look dangerous. The fact that it’s only adding firepower to its current roster makes them that much scarier. Lauri Markkanen, the team’s leading scorer, will certainly be a challenge for the Ute big men, but fans can hope that the fact Krystkowiak recruited him so heavily will mean he knows his game, as well.
Kobi Simmons, another highly-touted freshman, has been solid during his first campaign, as well. The problem with these first-year players is that they seem to quickly improve as they acclimate themselves to the college game. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen on Thursday.
No matter who plays or who improves by Thursday, this Arizona team is still good enough to beat most of the teams in the country. If Utah wants to pull off the upset, it will need big games from guys like Kyle Kuzma and Sedrick Barefield, as well as good defense on big man Markkanen.
We’ll preview ASU tomorrow.