Diamond Head Classic champions

The Wildcats have been doing a lot of this lately.
Photo by Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 portion of the 2012-13 college basketball season is complete and the Arizona Wildcats have done nothing but win.

They may soon have to replace the McKale Center roof because it’s time to raise this team’s ceiling.

Three weeks ago I said this looked like a “year away” team. The view has changed. It’s not just the 12-0 start; it’s how the Cats are winning. Or, more specifically, it’s with whom the Cats are winning.

The seniors are the ones leading and the freshmen are following. Imagine that. It’s a simple concept that has become rare with today’s sprint-to-the-NBA mentality. It’s an old-school roster mix that doesn’t come along very often at this level and you don’t want to let it go to waste.

Forget next year. The time to make a run at a high seed in the tournament is right now.

Before the season started the excitement was all about the young guys. With last year’s team missing the Big Dance the thinking was the new players would be the ones to get Arizona back to elite status. One of the new guys has in fact taken a lead role through the first dozen games but it’s not one of the youngsters.

Senior transfer Mark Lyons has already established himself as the UA’s go-to guy at the end of games, scoring the game-winning points against both Florida and San Diego State. Add in the superior play of fellow four-year players Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom, plus sophomore Nick Johnson drastically raising his game, and the Wildcats’ best players so far this year are the ones who started games last year.

This is not to say the young big men are failing in any way. Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett have certainly contributed to Arizona’s perfect start but they are playing complimentary roles.

(It’s possible now that next year’s team ends up being a year away from a peak season due to only having one key returning upperclassman. So the year away team may be a year away.)

How high a seed can this team get? Well, whattaya got? It’s been eight years since Arizona was seeded higher than 5 in the NCAA tournament and a full decade since the UA was a No. 1 seed. To refresh our memories on what the big dogs look like, here’s a breakdown of the last few seasons:

NCAA Tournament No. 1 Seeds, Last 4 Years

2012 Record Won Conf Reg Won Conf Tour
Kentucky 32-2 Yes No
Syracuse 31-2 Yes No
N. Carolina 29-5 Yes No
Mich. St. 27-7 Yes Yes
2011 Record Won Conf Reg Won Conf Tour
Ohio St. 32-2 Yes Yes
Kansas 32-2 Yes Yes
Duke 30-4 No Yes
Pitt 27-5 Yes No
2010 Record Won Conf Reg Won Conf Tour
Kansas 32-2 Yes Yes
Kentucky 32-2 Yes Yes
Duke 29-5 Yes Yes
Syracuse 28-4 Yes No
2009 Record Won Conf Reg Won Conf Tour
Pitt 28-4 No No
N. Carolina 28-4 Yes No
Louisville 28-5 Yes Yes
Conn. 27-4 No No

The last three seasons tell us if you don’t win your conference’s regular season championship you’d better win your conference tournament. In 2009 UConn was in the top five all year and No. 1 most of February. Then Pitt beat the Huskies twice and Louisville ended up as the Big East champ so the committee gave all three of them top seeds.

The 2013 Arizona team is going to have to post a really big win total to make up for its weak strength of schedule. (Notice how badly the UA’s SOS stands out compared to the other teams currently in the RPI top 10.) Winning the Pac-12 regular season title is a must. Taking the Pac tournament in Vegas would also be advised. And it would certainly help if Florida went on to a huge season, like SEC-champs big.

One thing that may work in Arizona’s favor is if you look at the last four years you’ll notice there isn’t a single No. 1 seed from a school west of Kansas. Fourteen of the last 16 top-seeded teams came from the Eastern Time Zone. Because of this drought a legitimate 1-seed candidate from a western school could be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the top slot in the West Region.

At this point I would say the favorites to the claim the No. 1 seeds this season are Duke, Michigan, Kansas and Louisville. If Arizona isn’t able to win enough to make up for the strength of schedule gap here’s what last year’s 2-seeds looked like:

2012 NCAA Tournament No. 2 Seeds

2012 Record Won Conf Reg Won Conf Tour
Missouri 30-4 No Yes
Kansas 27-6 Yes No
Duke 27-6 No No
Ohio St. 27-7 Yes No

That certainly looks doable after a 12-0 start.

But doable and doing are two different things. The Wildcats are about to start Pac-12 play and any college fan knows that conference games are a whole different breed, especially when you go into someone else’s gym wearing the league’s biggest target.

There will be plenty of close games and the nine players in Arizona’s rotation will have to continue to define their roles, accept those roles and pick each other up when injuries, foul trouble or off nights occur.

Opportunity is here. The undefeated conference slate gives this team a chance at a huge regular season which provides the best chance to do something special in March.

The “someday” Arizona hoops fans have been waiting for since the end of the Lute Olson era may finally be here.

It sure beats bubble talk, doesn’t it?

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Scott Terrell prefers his scoreboard watching to be at the top of the rankings. Look up on Twitter and Facebook.