College hoops thrives in AZ

By Jose M. Romero

In Arizona, major college basketball is poised for another big year. And league play is still weeks away.

The Arizona Wildcats are No. 14 in the nation (as of Dec. 2) and are a perfect 9-0. They haven’t been tested much in the non-conference season, but two of the next three games are against top-20 teams, Baylor and the always-strong Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Arizona State is 4-2, but head coach Bobby Hurley’s team doesn’t shy away from tough non-conference opponents. The Sun Devils went 2-1 on a three-game trip to the East Coast, with their only loss being 48-45 to defending national champion Virginia. Three quality opponents remain before the Pac-12 season starts, with Georgia, Saint Mary’s (CA) and Creighton still to come.

Grand Canyon can’t be left out, even if the Lopes are only 3-6. While it may end up being a transitional season for coach Dan Majerle and his program, there’s no denying that the atmosphere at GCU Arena is among the nation’s most electric.

There are two showcases to come this month in Phoenix — on Dec. 8 in the Jerry Colangelo Classic, GCU plays Liberty, with Saint Mary’s facing Dayton and St. Louis taking on Tulane.

On Dec. 18, Arizona State faces Saint Mary’s with Vanderbilt-Loyola-Chicago the other game in the Hall of Fame Classic.