The Mighty Ducks
After a disappointing 2-2 start to the season, which included a close loss to Georgetown at the Maui Invitational, No. 10 Oregon has won 16 games in a row — shattering a 104-year-old school record — to propel the team back to the preseason Final Four contender it was projected to be.
Currently tied for first place in the Pac-12 with the Arizona Wildcats (18-2, 7-0 Pac-12), the Ducks (18-2, 7-0 Pac-12) look to continue their success against the Utah Utes (14-5, 5-2 Pac-12) and the Colorado Buffaloes (10-10, 0-7 Pac-12) this week, albeit without All-American forward Dillon Brooks, who sat out their last win against Stanford (11-9, 3-5 Pac-12) with a sprained foot.
Brooks has no timetable for an immediate return, so the Ducks turn to their strong guard depth and recent emergence of center Chris Boucher — who averages 13 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game — to continue to climb in the rankings.
The coming weeks offer the team an opportunity to build further chemistry and confidence on the court so that when Brooks returns, they are even more dangerous.
Trier’s Triumphant Return
Fresh off his suspension from a failed offseason drug test, Arizona sophomore guard Alonzo Trier made his long-awaited season debut Saturday against No. 8 UCLA. Coming off the bench to contribute 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes, Trier helped No. 7 Arizona stun the Bruins at home, 96-85.
Although the Wildcats were by no means struggling without Trier, he was a big part of their team last year, averaging 14.8 points per game and shouldering a large burden of offensive attention. Now, with the versatile all-around star available to pair with promising freshmen forward Lauri Markkanen and guard Kobi Simmons, the Wildcats deserve to be considered a legitimate Final Four contender and perhaps even the team to beat.
A win over a UCLA team (19-2, 6-2 Pac-12) that had been averaging a league-best 93.3 points and beating opponents by an average of 17.8 points per game goes a long way in bolstering that case. The team looks to focus on improving its chemistry as it enters the rest of the season at full strength, and although one game hardly ensures anything, Arizona has a lot of positives to take into its upcoming games against Washington (9-10, 2-5 Pac-12) and Washington State (10-9, 3-4 Pac-12).
West Virginia’s Turnover Problem
Known for their ability to turn over their opponents with their notorious full-court press, the No. 18 West Virginia Mountaineers have been given a sour taste of their own medicine over the past two games.
Back-to-back close losses to unranked Oklahoma (8-10, 3-4 Big 12) and Kansas State (15-4, 4-3 Big 12) has Bob Huggins’ squad on its first losing streak of the year, and West Virginia’s (15-4, 4-3 Big 12) inability to protect the ball is a big part of it. Despite averaging just about 11 giveaways per game and having a reputation for being careful with the ball, the Mountaineers have coughed up the ball 36 times in their past two games.
An upcoming date with No. 2 Kansas (18-1, 7-0 Big 12) at home on Tuesday may be the strongest indicator of just how much of a threat this team is in the Big 12 behind the Jayhawks and No. 5 Baylor Bears (18-1, 6-1). The Mountaineers continue to lean on a balanced attack led by senior forward Nathan Adrian and junior guard Jevon Carter — who average a combined 22.4 points per game — and hope that they can limit their mental mistakes in time to salvage their top-10 ranking.
Carter Owen is a freshman in the McDonough Scool of Business. Three-point Shootout appears every Tuesday.
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