The Arizona Wildcats and Arizona St. Sun Devils are kicking off their first season of Pac-12 play this weekend in Tucson. Leading up to the game, SB Nation Arizona is both recapping and previewing the 'Cats and Devils. Here is the second part of the series, looking at conference play for both teams from Scott Coleman and Cody Ulm.
Q: Entering conference play, what will be needed for this to be considered a successful season?
Cody Ulm: Sad to say it, but at this point, it won't take much for this to be considered a successful season for Arizona State already sitting at 4-8. As I stated in our last Q&A post, I'm putting the over/under of conference wins at four for this team with two of those wins coming against the dismal Utah Utes. Obviously if this team could win Saturday's game, that'd be some serious bonus points but at this juncture, that's looking like a pipe dream.
Although 11 wins would be a regression from last season, I think most fans would definitely consider that "successful" for a roster that still hasn't found their true identity, especially if they could steal one against Stanford or Cal. Really though, as long as ASU's key components (Keala King, Kyle Cain, Carrick Felix, Trent Lockett and hopefully Chanse Creekmur) show some signs of continued progression, that will be successful enough for me to build some hope for a 2012 season that will have an influx of new talent.
Scott Coleman: Arizona certainly has the talent and ability to win the conference, although they will see multiple teams give them a run for their money. After overachieving last season and winning the conference championship, many in Tucson had high expectations for this club, even after they lost so much from last year. This being said, it's tough to imagine too many around the program being happy with anything less than a second place finish.
Of the 18 conference games on the slate, the UA should finish with a record no worse than 14-4. It's tough to imagine any team coming into McKale Center and knocking off the 'Cats at home other than maybe Washington or UCLA, but even then it'd be incredibly surprising to see Sean Miller lose a Pac-12 game at home. Should the team take care of business at home (9-0), they would need to win just five of their nine games on the road to hit their minimum record requirement.
In my estimation, Arizona will need to go something in the neighborhood of 15-3 in order for conference play to be considered a success. With no signature victory on their resumé, the Wildcats cannot afford to drop more than a couple games the rest of the way if they hope to reach March Madness. A strong showing in the conference tournament would be very welcome, as well, and would only help the team on Selection Sunday.
Q: What are the consequences if the team doesn't play well in the PAC-12?
Cody Ulm: Even with how critical I've been of this team, I really don't think there are many negative consequences for the Sun Devils if they don't play well in the PAC-12, as strange as that might sound. With the ink on Herb Sendek's two-year contract extension still wet, there's no way he's going anywhere no matter how poorly this team my play. And although the timing may have felt odd for some fans, I think we can all acknowledge the Sun Devil's current record is by no means an indictment of his coaching savvy.
In my humble opinion, he's the best coach this program can possibly get and fans should be ecstatic for at least one Arizona State program to have some stability. I also don't see any more players transferring, and definitely not Jahii Carson who seemed as committed as any player can be in his post-ineligibilty announcement press conference. This is truly a team playing with nothing to lose. Let's just hope they can actually use that mentality to their advantage.
Scott Coleman: If the Wildcats do not play well in the Pac-12 they likely do not make the NCAA tournament, which would be a huge blow to Sean Miller's reloading project. The team would always have a chance to win the conference tournament for an automatic bid for March Madness, but even that would be considered a disappointment by many.
Each of the four committed recruits for 2012 -- a group that has given the UA the No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the nation -- have signed and there is basically no chance they look elsewhere, although it may hurt the recruiting efforts for 2013 in various ways. Coach Miller has done an excellent job locking down his players and it will pay dividends greatly in the spring.
It would be a pretty big step back for the program if they do not reach the tournament because of poor play in the Pac-12. It would not be a time to panic, but there would be plenty of frustration in Tucson among fans and boosters.
Stay tuned to SB Nation Arizona for complete coverage of the showdown between Arizona and Arizona St. The game is set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 31 from Tucson.