Pac-12 Notebook

In good company: How No. 1 Cats compare with fellow unbeatens Syracuse, Wichita St.

2014-01-22T00:00:00Z 2014-01-22T16:17:13Z In good company: How No. 1 Cats compare with fellow unbeatens Syracuse, Wichita St.By Jon Gold Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Just three teams remain undefeated in all of college basketball.

They hail from vastly different parts of the country. They are each led by renowned head coaches. And they each had impressive runs last season.

No. 1 Arizona, No. 2 Syracuse and No. 5 Wichita State.

Here’s a look at how they’ve remained unblemished, and what it will take to stay that way.

ARIZONA
  • Coach:
  • Sean Miller
  • Record:
  • 18-0
  • 2012-13 Finish:
  • 27-8, NCAA Sweet 16
  • Breakouts:
  • A win over then-No. 6 Duke in the championship
  • game of the preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden may have gotten all the press, and a win at Michigan is never an easy task, but the Wildcats’ victory at No. 7 San Diego State in mid-November may prove to be the most valuable for the UA. The Aztecs (16-1) hadn’t lost before and haven’t lost since.
  • Bubble-poppers:
  • The Cats already won at UCLA, their only game with the Bruins this year, and given the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado isn’t the mountain it once was. Even Oregon fell off drastically. Now it appears the team’s upcoming Bay Area swing (Jan. 29 at Stanford, Feb. 1 at Cal) might be the biggest challenge for staying out of the loss column.
  • Clear face of the program:
  • Aaron Gordon may get the fabulous freshman hype, and T.J. McConnell certainly steers the ship, but Nick Johnson is the goateed face of the program. Johnson has upped his scoring to 16.3 points per game, and his defense is still some of the best in the conference. But his leadership has jumped by leaps and bounds
  • no surprise for the prodigious leaper.
  • Pro-actives:
  • Gordon would be a first-round NBA pick if he left, even though he could benefit greatly from another year in school. Johnson, too, could solidify a higher ranking if he stayed his senior year. Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all intriguing prospects, as well.
  • Warts and all:
  • The two main knocks have been poor free-throw shooting and no primetime scorer. Johnson has topped 20 six times this season, including 24 and 22 in back-to-back wins over UCLA and Washington, but does he have it in him to drop 35 if it comes down to it? It might come down to it.
SYRACUSE
  • Coach:
  • Jim Boeheim
  • Record:
  • 18-0
  • 2012-13 Finish:
  • 30-10, NCAA Final Four
  • Breakouts:
  • Wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh count among the best in the country, that’s for sure. But the Orange’s strength of schedule is dealt a blow by laughers over Cornell, Fordham, Colgate, Binghamton and High Point. Wins over North Carolina, Miami, Baylor, Cal and Minnesota are nice, but not too nice.
  • Bubble-poppers:
  • Syracuse still has a home-and-home with Duke, plus visits to RPI top-25s in Pittsburgh, Virginia and Florida State. And there are the typical ACC land mines, such as Maryland, Wake Forest and North Carolina State. Running this gauntlet would be a real testament to that Boeheim magic.
  • Clear face of the program:
  • C.J. Fair’s minutes — and production — rose drastically last season, and now he’s upped his scoring to an impressive 16.8 points per game. While other parts of his game have slipped — his turnovers are up to 2.9, and his rebounds dropped from 7.0 per game last year to 5.8 this year — he’s shouldered the always-premium scoring burden for the Orange.
  • Pro-actives:
  • Tyler Ennis is playing better than most of the freshman in the country, averaging an impressive 11.9 points and 5.5 assists, and he’s looking at a mid-first round draft selection. Jerami Grant — son of Harvey and nephew of Horace, retired NBAers — may be able to secure himself a lottery selection if he keeps improving. Fair might be on the outside looking in for the second round.
  • Warts and all:
  • Once again, the Syracuse offense is nothing to write home about, as SU’s 177th-ranked 72 points per game will attest. Plus the Orange is struggling on the glass (34.7 per game, 204th nationally), and its size was dealt a blow with the loss of sophomore center Dajuan Coleman for the season.
WICHITA STATE
  • Coach:
  • Gregg Marshall
  • Record:
  • 19-0
  • 2012-13 Finish:
  • 30-9, NCAA Final Four
  • Breakouts:
  • Premier wins have been hard to come by for the Shockers. They can’t be blamed if no one is willing to play them, but the struggles of BYU, Alabama and Tennessee (teams they beat) haven’t helped the bottom line. A win at 16-2 Saint Louis is the team’s best RPI triumph of the year.
  • Bubble-poppers:
  • Well, the team with the highest remaining RPI on the schedule is Indiana State … who the Shockers just beat by 20 on Jan. 18. So unless Wichita State stubs its toe in horrific fashion, it could run the table pretty easily. Back-to-back tests at Indiana State and Northern Iowa loom, and Missouri State won’t roll over in the season finale.
  • Clear face of the program:
  • Cleanthony Early was quieted the last two games, scoring just six points in each contest, his first two single-digit performances of the year. Before then, he was clicking, with 20-point games in four of seven outings, including 22 in a 72-69 overtime win over Missouri State. His ability to get to the free-throw line — he was 13 of 14 in the win over MSU — is crucial.
  • Pro-actives:
  • Early isn’t on most mock drafts, but sophomore guards Fred Van Fleet and Ron Baker will get a look when they make themselves available.
  • Warts and all:
  • As is always the case with mid-majors, strength of schedule is a concern. The talent in the Missouri Valley Conference is relatively dispersed, so the Shockers could get … shocked … but don’t count on it. Marshall is too good a coach.

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