Deandre Ayton finished with 23 points, 19 boards, three blocks and three assists to lead No. 17 Arizona to an 84-78 win over No. 3 Arizona State.
And with that, there are now no longer any undefeated teams left in college basketball, the first time since 1948 that we did not reach the turn of the calendar with a single undefeated team left. No. 1 Villanova and No. 10 TCU also lost today.
The Wildcats were able to push a lead out to 12 points on the Sun Devils twice in the final ten minutes, but ASU had an answer both times. Arizona State is the real deal, but you didn’t need this performance to tell you that; they won at Kansas and beat Xavier by 16 points on a neutral.
For me, the big question that we have yet to get a true answer to is whether or not Arizona actually is a national title contender. Personally, I believe that they are. When you have a talent like Ayton and a player like Allonzo Trier on the floor with him, you are going to have the two best players on the court just about every time you play.
That’s difficult to contend with.
But the issues that this team had in the preseason are still there. They don’t defend well enough, although the return of Rawle Alkins has helped in that area quite a bit. They also have bouts of forgetfulness, meaning that there are times that the Arizona guards seem to forget that Deandre Ayton is damn-near unstoppable and that Dusan Ristic is also in that front court. If Arizona is going to sacrifice some of their defensive solidity by playing those two 7-footers together, they should get a touch on every single possession in the post, particularly when the opponent is a team that is as small as Arizona State is.
The biggest question mark, however, is Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Arizona’s point guard play, and for my money, that position is why Arizona State was able to make their runs to get back into this game. Whether it’s his struggles on the defensive end of the floor, his lack of ability to breakdown a defense off the dribble or the issues he has finishing off a play when he does beat his man, PJC is the flaw in this team’s armor.
The last ten national champions have all had good to great point guard play, and the teams that only had good point guard play had two lead guards on the floor. The biggest question marks? Ryan Arcidiacono had his flaws, but he was an excellent defender, bigger than you realize and the heart and soul of that Villanova team. Kentucky in 2012 had Marquis Teague, but he was a first round pick that has played a number of years in the NBA. Duke in 2010 didn’t really have a true point guard on their roster, but Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith were NBA players that might still be on a roster if injuries hadn’t derailed their careers.
You probably have to go all the way back to Taurean Green and Florida’s back-to-back national champs to find someone on that level, but even then, Green was a markedly more talented player.
Hell, his limitations are what allowed Arizona to make their runs, whether it was Tra Holder scoring on him or Arizona turning the ball over against the Arizona State press because Sean Miller had to play someone other than PJC.
I think Arizona will be able to get it done.
I’m the only one that has Arizona currently ranked in the top five. I did before tonight’s win.
But the question marks, they are justified.