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NCAA Basketball West: MWC Lacks Top Ratings, Arizona vs. UCLA Preview

In this week’s AP Poll, the #6 Arizona Wildcats (16-1, 4-1) and #10 Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0) represent the West in the Top 10, with #15 New Mexico (17-2, 4-0) and #16 Oregon (17-2, 6-0) rounding out the list.

On Wednesday, the Ducks defeated Washington State, 68-61 (10-9, 1-5), keeping their conference record unblemished. They have 9 to 1 odds to win the conference and on Saturday, they will play Washington.

On Thursday, Arizona will host the UCLA Bruins (15-4, 5-1). This is the first meeting between the two this season and the Bruins sit one game ahead of the home team in conference standings.

Lack of MWC in the AP Top 25

New Mexico coach Steve Alford

With only one team from the MWC conference, New Mexico, in this week’s Top 25, well, the coaches were not very happy about it. Showing they’re from a different generation, a few of them wrote to the Albuquerque Journal and expressed their displeasure with the way the AP had treated its conference.

New Mexico coach Steve Alford wrote in his letter, “I’m amazed with the rankings. Just looking at the rankings and we only have one team ranked. To be the third best league in the country (based on the latest RPI rankings) and only have one ranked team is bothersome, it really is.  Unfortunately when we do what other leagues are doing — beat up on each other — we seem to be penalized more.”

He added that four MWC teams should be ranked. While the AP rankings don’t get teams into the Big Dance, ESPN noted if the tournament started tomorrow, six of nine MWC teams would get at-large NCAA tournament bids.

In addition, per Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency-based rankings, the MWC is the fourth-best conference. Five teams rank in its top 50 and six in the top 60; no teams rank lower than 158.

Again, this has six teams going to the Big Dance.

Similar problems arise with NCAA football rankings but at the end of the day, that’s just system that again tends to exclude smaller teams.

By the way, New Mexico is 100 to 1 to win this year’s tournament.

Arizona vs. UCLA

The Bruins will enter Thursday’s game after a tough 76-67 loss against Oregon from last Saturday. This ended a 10-game win streak, their Pac-12 lead and a spot in the Top 25.

UCLA’s rookie Shabazz Muhammad has lived up to his hype but the Oregon game was an ugly one for him: he scored 10 points in the first half and zero in the second. The player has been averaging a team-high 17.9 points.

Not helping matters, Muhammed warmed the bench for the first five minutes of the game as punishment for being late to a practice.

Arizona guard Mark Lyons

For the Wildcats, Mark Lyons was the Pac-12 player of the week after tying his season-high 24 points last Saturday against in-state rival Arizona. In the 71-54 win, Lyons had 15 points in the second half along with three assists and three steals for the game.

But being recognized in conference play isn’t good enough for Lyons. He said, “I don’t want to be the best point guard in the Pac-12, I want to be the best in the country. I’m aiming for the moon, so I can be amongst the stars. I play every game as if it’s my last.”

In conference play, Lyons is averaging 19.4 points per game.

For the Wildcats, their only loss is against Oregon on the road back on Jan. 10. They are 9-0 at home this season while the Bruins have won only two true road games: at Colorado and Utah.

History isn’t on UCLA’s side as they’ve lost six of their last nine to Arizona; this included their last meeting–a 66-58 loss in the Pac-12 tournament.

In that game, Solomon Hill scored 25 points and 12 rebounds; he has a 16.7 point average from his last six games.

Looks like the win streak will continue for Arizona on Thursday (-8.5, 126 o/u).

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