LOS ANGELES — The preseason praise kept rolling in for the Arizona Wildcats on Friday, and the timing couldn’t have been more awkward.
Just a day after the Wildcats lost their first exhibition game in 27 years, 69-68 to Division II Seattle Pacific, Arizona was given the highest rating, No. 16, of any Pac-12 team in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll.
And the Wildcats were chosen to finish in third place in the Pac-12’s official media poll, behind UCLA and California, which still stuck a needle in coach Sean Miller’s side.
“There’s no way in the world we’re the third-best team in the Pac-12,” Miller said, during the Pac-12’s annual preseason media day. “You can say every coach says something like that. I didn’t say that last year. Hopefully I won’t say it next year, but I’m saying it now. There is no chance at all that’s where we are.”
Indeed, a year ago, the Wildcats were picked to finish second, and Miller said then that he expected Arizona would be able to compete with four or five other teams for that spot. Of course, the Wildcats went on to do better, winning the regular-season title, finishing second in the conference tournament and then making a surprising NCAA tournament Elite Eight appearance.
But all that was with a guy named Derrick Williams, who not only led the Wildcats in scoring but also managed to fill up the otherwise shaky area they had in the middle. As Arizona learned in its loss to Seattle Pacific, when centers Kyryl Natyazhko and Sidiki Johnson combined for just two rebounds, Williams’ loss may be an even bigger void than anybody thought.
Read more about the Pac-12 in Saturday's Arizona Daily Star.