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Jay Bilas: Arizona seventh-best team in ‘inconceivably weak’ field

Players on the Arizona bench cheer a dunk against Washington late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, in Seattle. Arizona won 76-68. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The theme of the 2016-17 college basketball season has been the seeming lack of teams capable of taking home the title.

Yes, the 28-0 Gonzaga Bulldogs and 26-2 Villanova Wildcats have played some great ball up to this point, but there aren’t too many other teams that can be relied upon game-in and game-out to pull out wins over other quality squads.

In fact, the only teams in the AP Top 25 that have yet to lose a game by double digits are No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 12 West Virginia and No. 14 Purdue.

This led ESPN analyst Jay Bilas to describe this year’s field of teams as “inconceivably weak” in his Bilas Index.

“There are quite a few teams that can play well on a given day and win games,” Bilas wrote. “But the field of teams that can perform dependably at a high level is pretty small.”

According to Bilas, the Arizona Wildcats are the seventh-best team in this feeble field.

Arizona averages 66.8 possessions per game, the slowest pace in the Pac-12 and seventh-slowest among major-conference teams. The Wildcats allow 9.7 transition points per game, fewest in the conference. Lauri Markkanen is one of three major-conference freshmen leading his team in both scoring and rebounding (UCLA’s TJ Leaf and Auburn’s Mustapha Heron are the other two).

Arizona currently ranks fourth in both the AP Poll and Coaches Poll behind Gonzaga, Villanova and Kansas. This is the Wildcats’ highest ranking since the 2014-15 season. Bilas also placed No. 8 North Carolina, No. 7 Louisville and No. 6 Oregon over the Wildcats.

The Wildcats have won 19 of their last 20 games following Saturday’s 76-68 win over Washington and currently own the third-best winning percentage behind Gonzaga and Villanova.

Markkanen has also continued his high level of play throughout the season, as he was awarded his second Pac-12 Player of the Week honor Monday.

Despite all of this, the Wildcats’ 85-58 shellacking at the hands of the Oregon Ducks earlier this month presumably gives analysts like Bilas pause about ranking them too high.

Arizona will look to continue to prove themselves this week, as USC and No. 5 UCLA come to visit on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

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