If the Arizona Wildcats gain the No. 1 ranking in the country as expected today, the gift won’t be just for them.
It will also be for New Mexico State, which will get a crack at the Wildcats on Wednesday at McKale Center. Then for Michigan, which will host UA on Saturday. And, if the Wildcats keep winning, for Southern University, NAU and so many Pac-12 teams after that.
After all, everyone wants to be No. 1.
And everyone wants to beat No. 1.
“If you were looking at this, I think you’d say it’s a great challenge for your team and we have to be ready,” UA coach Sean Miller said Saturday, after the Wildcats beat visiting UNLV 63-58 to move to 9-0.
“There’s a sharpness that you have to have and a responsibility to try to stay No. 1.
“I think the word ‘chase’ is what we’ve used, to be on the attack and we can’t lose that. One of the things our team has done is we’ve taken every next step and we’ve been ready for it. We have to continue to do that.”
Actually, Miller said, the Wildcats have already taken teams’ best shots all seasons, being highly ranked all season.
The Wildcats spent the first two weeks at No. 6 in the AP Top 25, moved to No. 5, then 4, then 2 last week after beating Duke in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Before playing UNLV, they also had to deal with the anticipation and hype of possibly being No. 1 for the first time since March 10, 2003, once top-ranked Michigan State lost to North Carolina on Wednesday.
Point guard T.J. McConnell said it was “definitely” in the back of the Wildcats’ minds heading into the weekend.
“But UNLV, we were thinking about them all week,” McConnell said. “Now that we’re possibly No. 1, it’s satisfying.”
Syracuse, Ohio State and Wisconsin are other top-rated unbeaten teams, but none of them have beaten a team in the Sagarin Top 50 and UA appears to have the best overall résumé.
Syracuse (9-0) won the Maui Invitational and has beaten three teams with a Sagarin power rating of 1 to 50 but has yet to play a true road game.
Ohio State (8-0) has not beaten any Sagarin Top 50 teams and has only played once away from home, beating Marquette 52-35 on Nov. 16 in Milwaukee.
Wisconsin (10-0) is currently ranked only No. 8, but the Badgers may have as convincing an argument as Syracuse and Ohio State.
The Badgers are 4-0 against Top 50 teams, beat Florida at home, won true road games at Green Bay and Virginia, and beat Saint Louis and West Virginia in Cancun.
But Arizona, with its Nov. 29 win over Duke, a true road win at No. 24 San Diego State and few troubles at home, is expected to earn the No. 1 honor. However, it’s possible the scare against unranked UNLV and a shaky first half against Drexel in New York, may cost the Wildcats a few first-place votes.
“I know we’re not ranked 1; I’m just assuming,” Miller said. “But (if it happens) all of us can say that we played, coached, watched the No. 1 team in the country.
“Moving forward, that’s like winning the NIT championship in New York. It’s something that we put on this season’s résumé, it’s something we feel good about, and now the responsibility that comes with it is very obvious.”