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SI: Arizona a Pac-12 champion sleeper entering 2019 in ASU’s ‘shadow’

Arizona guard Brandon Randolph (5) runs the ball down court during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga at the Maui Invitational, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The loss to Princeton brought ASU mens basketball’s national glory to a screeching halt and served as a notice: In a struggling Pac-12, there’s no clear favorite.

The Sun Devils enter conference play tied in first place with Colorado, but the excitement from the win over then-No. 1 Kansas has been tempered.

Will ASU continue its overall strong play against a middling conference? Or will it repeat its 2018 Pac-12 performance?

There has to be a champion. Sports Illustrated thinks it might be Arizona.

After all, when every team is refusing to grab the reigns, why not go with the historically superior program?

When asked to write which sleeper team could steal a conference title, SI’s Dan Greene went with the Pac-12.

“The Wildcats have been somewhat of an afterthought in Arizona State’s shadow during this rebuilding year, but they defend as well as anyone in the league and Sean Miller has won this thing a few times.”

That’s a roller coaster of a sentence. Who would have thought the Wildcats would have entered 2019 in ASU’s shadow? Trailing the Sun Devils in the standings and struggling to beat UC Davis (70-68), this has not been the happiest of new years for the program.

It’s a reversal of norms.

But it’s still Arizona. ASU has not proven it can sustain a high-enough level of play night after night to win a championship, and Greene seems to think the Wildcats are in it until another program forces them out.

The roller coaster ends on a high note for the Wildcats as Greene points out Miller has won the title a “few times.”

SI’s Eric Single added on to Greene’s thought.

“Of all the Pac-12 teams with reason to be ashamed of themselves at this point, Arizona’s list of losses (Gonzaga, Auburn, Alabama and Baylor) doesn’t look nearly as bad as some other contenders out west.”

That list includes two teams that had been in the top-10 at time of play and a 9-3 Alabama squad.

To all the Pac-12 fans eager to see Arizona fall, it’s far too early to rejoice. There’s still a season to be played. In a year where there’s no clear conference favorite, the Wildcats could eke out the less experienced, struggling programs.

As Greene asks: Is there such thing as a sleeper in the Pac-12?


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