Dec 26, 2012, 2:12 PM EST
With the Arizona-San Diego State matchup on Christmas night living up to its billing, it reopened an old conversation. Who is the best team in the West? Below NBCSports.com takes a look at some contenders
No. 3 Arizona
The two biggest questions being asked of Sean Miller’s Wildcats are as follows: Can Mark Lyons be a reliable true point guard for the entire season? And how will the young Arizona front line hold up in the thick of Pac-12 play and into March?
Firstly, Lyons may not be a true point guard, but he is the team’s leading scorer and assist man. He ran into foul trouble against San Diego State, but he is a high-major caliber guard who can score the ball. The Wildcats aren’t “settling” by running Lyons at the point, but he is by far their best option and they wouldn’t be where they are today had he not transferred from Xavier in the offseason.
As for the youth, they’ll have their ups and downs and Tuesday night was a down. The freshman frontcourt trio of Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, and Grant Jerrett combined to go 3-of-9 for nine points. There are few front lines larger and more athletic than Arizona’s, but the key will be about maturity and experience.
That leads into the third major point: Kevin Parrom. Remember what Darius Miller did at Kentucky last season, how he was the senior leader in a group of young players? Parrom is taking on the same role at Arizona, as is evidence by his 17-point performance on 7-of-11 from the floor Tuesday night in a win over San Diego State.
No. 13 Gonzaga
Gonzaga was rolling through the early part of the season until it ran into a, Illinois team that was composed and hot from the floor on Dec. 8. Since that loss, the Bulldogs have won two straight, one a 16-point win over Kansas State (which later beat No. 8 Florida) and another double-digit win over Campbell.
Adding Kelly Olynyk into the mix after his suspension has been huge for Gonzaga, as he has averaged 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Add him to frontcourt mate Elias Harris and there’s no wonder why the Bulldogs are third in the country in field goal percentage and in the Top 15 nationally in scoring.
No. 17 San Diego State
The most impressive part of San Diego State’s near-victory over Arizona is that they did it with only nine points from Jamaal Franklin. Not only does that speak to Franklin’s ability to affect the game in different ways (eight rebounds, six assists, one turnover), but it also highlights how underrated Chase Tapley has been for the Aztecs. His 19 points carried SDSU on Franklin’s off-night and showed his ability to carry a team when needed.
No. 20 UNLV
UNLV has been questioned about its youth as well, but Anthony Bennett has been the biggest answer so far for the Rebels. Not only has he been Freshman of the Year material, but he has also found his way into the National Player of the Year conversation. Dave Rice’s team took a hit when Mike Moser went down, but Pitt transfer Khem Birch has been an important player to back-fill the position. They will be battling with San Diego State for the Mountain West throughout conference play.
Dec 22, 2014, 9:05 PM EST
Kansas no-showed on Monday night as Temple crushed the Jayhawks.
Dec 22, 2014, 7:55 PM EST
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin will miss another game as he continues to undergo testing for a brain aneurysm.
Dec 22, 2014, 6:30 PM EST
A former Texas guard transferred to the school he originally pledged to in high school before later re-opening his recruitment.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:54 PM EST
Kethan Savage should change his last name to Posterized.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:45 PM EST
Illinois has to get more offense around Rayvonte Rice before a road-heavy start to the Big Ten season.
Dec 22, 2014, 3:06 PM EST
There are some 86 games on tonight.
Dec 22, 2014, 2:28 PM EST
With conference play right around the corner, who have been the best players in the country?
Dec 22, 2014, 1:41 PM EST
If there’s anything that can ruin Kentucky’s dream of a perfect season, it’s coming from their own locker room.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:54 AM EST
We went an entire week without an unbeaten losing.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:25 AM EST
It’s great that the Rams do this.
Dec 22, 2014, 10:01 AM EST
The Buckeyes are 9-2, dropping both of their key non-conferences games against ranked opponents.
Dec 22, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
Some new faces make their way into the Weekly Awards.
Dec 22, 2014, 6:30 AM EST
The top 12 remain the same, but there was plenty of movement in and around the rest of the top 25.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:09 PM EST
Yeah, you’re going to want to see this.
Dec 21, 2014, 10:31 PM EST
Four of the eight teams in the field reached the NCAA tournament last season.
Dec 21, 2014, 8:22 PM EST
Virginia limited Harvard to 27 points, Maryland won at Oklahoma State, and Georgia picked up a solid home win.
Dec 21, 2014, 7:04 PM EST
Could the Terps be the second-best team in the Big Ten? At the very least they’ve earned their place in the conversation.
Dec 21, 2014, 5:31 PM EST
Harrell was assessed a flagrant 2 foul in Saturday’s win over Western Kentucky.
Dec 21, 2014, 4:42 PM EST
Coaches donning festive holiday sweaters doesn’t happen all that often in college basketball.
Dec 21, 2014, 3:46 PM EST
Brad Stevens left Butler in 2013, agreeing to a six-year deal with the Boston Celtics, but that will not stop his name being linked to one specific college job.
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