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November 1, 2012

Arizona edges UCLA as Pac-12 media favorite



Another ranking, another early Arizona "victory" over UCLA in what could be a tight race in the Pac-12 Conference.

The media had similar thoughts.

Already ranked ahead of the Bruins in both major polls, the Wildcats received first-place votes on 15 of 36 ballots and garnered 403 points to narrowly finish atop the Pac-12 preseason media poll released Thursday morning at the league's Media Day in San Francisco.

UCLA actually collected one more first-place vote but just 402 points to come in second place, while California (325 points), Stanford (296 points) and Washington (278 points) round out the top five. The Bears picked up three first-place votes while the Huskies earned the other two.

In order, Colorado was tabbed sixth followed by Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Washington State, Arizona State and Utah.

The Bruins were tabbed the favorites last year. However, Washington won the regular-season championship while Colorado, predicted to finish 10th, stunned many by claiming the conference tournament crown.

Slotted as high as 11th in the country by the coaches and 12th by Associated Press, the Wildcats will be led by a balanced mix of senior leadership and young, promising size. UA, which missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons last year, brought in the nation's No. 3-ranked recruiting class, trailing only UCLA and top-rated Kentucky.

Already, the 'Cats have watched the freshmen deliver a glimpse into the future for a team that was undersized against most opponents last season. Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett combined for 39 points and 23 rebounds Wednesday night in a 41-point exhibition win over Division II school Humboldt State.

In addition, Mark Lyons, a transfer from Xavier, proved he could transition to point guard after primarily starring off the ball for most of his career. He scored 15 points and added five assists.

The Bruins have just as much talent - maybe more - on paper. But, unfortunately for head coach Ben Howland, that remains where the most prized addition remains with the season just eight days away. Star freshman Shabazz Muhammad, Rivals.com's top-ranked player of the 2012 class, has yet to be cleared as the NCAA investigates possible recruiting violations.

Should Muhammad eventually be allowed to play, a shoulder injury suffered last week may sideline him for the Nov. 9 opener against Indiana State. Following an MRI, it was announced that the 6-6 wing would miss two to four weeks.

It also was not until Wednesday - long after the ballots for the poll were initially sent out - when fellow freshman and 6-9 point guard Kyle Anderson was cleared by the NCAA. In early September, freshman center Tony Parker was the first of the talented, investigated group to be deemed eligible.

The uncertainty surrounding key members of the team likely cost the Bruins a few more votes, and possibly the top spot for a second consecutive year.

Media have correctly picked the conference winner 12 times in 20 tries. Arizona has correctly been selected in seven of the previous 11 times it has been slated to win the league.

Following are the results of the preseason media poll (first-place votes in parentheses):

Pac-12 media poll results
1. Arizona (15), 403 points
2. UCLA (16), 402 points
3. Cal (3), 325 points
4. Stanford, 296 points
5. Washington (2), 278 points
6. Colorado, 262 points
7. Oregon, 217 points
8. Oregon State, 166 points
9. USC, 163 points
10. Washington State, 111 points
11. Arizona State, 107 points
12. Utah, 78 points

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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