Arizona’s No. 1 ranking a well-deserved “compliment”

Arizona Athletics

The Arizona men’s basketball team is No. 1 in the country.  We haven’t been able to utter such words in a decade.

Let’s spare you the price of gas or Apple stock on March 10, 2003, the last time Arizona was atop the AP or coaches’ poll. But frankly, for such a high-profile program, you would have thought that somewhere between then and now the Wildcats would have received the most first-place votes in one of those polls.

[Related: 2013-14 Arizona men's basketball schedule]

The last No. 1 ranking came as part of the final poll of the 2002-2003 regular season. Loaded with talent and led by senior point guard Jason Gardner (with sophomore Andre Iguodala forced to play off the bench), the Wildcats were a top-seeded NCAA tournament team that advanced to a regional final where they fell to Kansas.

Since then, the Wildcats have had three seasons of 25 wins or more, reached the NCAA Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight twice, and also boasted six first-round NBA draft picks.

But they’ve never proverbially been the best team in the country until this week. Judge regular-season polls as you wish, but they’ll always serve as a barometer of success.

 “We know that being ranked No. 1 doesn’t mean we won a championship, or that the season’s now over. But I’m not going to play the negative card at all with that,” head coach Sean Miller said following the Wildcats’ victory on Saturday over UNLV at the McKale Center. “To be ranked No. 1 is maybe the greatest compliment that you can have.”

[Related: Highlights: Arizona men's basketball earns No. 1 ranking against UNLV]

Undefeated but imperfect, there is still plenty for fans to gush over the latest edition of Arizona basketball. From blue chip freshman Aaron Gordon’s ability to pick his spots and play within the team’s offense, to the steadfast consistency of sophomore Brandon Ashley and continued all-around improvement of junior guard Nick Johnson, it is evident the pieces are in place for a special season in Tucson.

And that alone is what fans should currently be most jazzed about. Because college basketball is a grueling regular season followed by a frantic sprint to the national championship game, all it takes is one blindsided upset to erase the memories of success and accolades earned between November and February. This reality is cruel, as conversely a mediocre regular season can quickly be swept under the rug if a team is able to make an unexpected deep run through the field.

So, regardless of how Arizona actually ends the 2013-2014 season – whether it be in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament or as a national champion – the Arizona personnel and fans should truly enjoy the early-season success as well as the unknown road ahead.

You’re a well-rounded team with talent in every position and class; a legitimate national championship contender that will be showered in praise from the media and booed and feared by opposing fans. Both are equally as complimentary. Enjoy the ride.

You can watch the Wildcats next on Pac-12 Networks when New Mexico State comes to Tucson Wednesday at 6 p.m. PT.


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