ESPN's College Gameday crew won't have any trouble finding narratives to talk about when they stage their weekly Saturday morning show at Colorado's Coors Events Center, in preview to the prime time match-up between the Wildcats and Buffs.
Although it will be just the eighth time the two teams have met since Colorado joined the Pac-12, this is quickly emerging as one of the top rivalries in the conference. The fan bases certainly don't like each other and the players aren't too amicable, either.
Moments after Arizona convincingly beat Colorado in Tucson last month, the Buffs' Xavier Johnson told media that the Wildcats are “not that good” and that Colorado would win the rematch in a 20 point blowout.
Not only did the comments give Sean Milller bulletin board material; they also seemed preposterous. Colorado was reeling from the loss of star Spencer Dinwiddie while Arizona had just finished off its third consecutive double-digit victory.
Nine days later, the Wildcats suffered their own enormous injury when Brandon Ashley went down with a broken foot. Understandably, Arizona hasn't been the same since.
Johnson's comments aren't any less foolish. However, the Buffs should have a good deal of confidence, as they have shown tremendous resiliency in the wake of Dinwiddie's injury, winning five of their last six games.
Johnson has led the way, averaging over 17 points and eight rebounds during that span while Josh Scott continues to be a terror in the paint.
But what's steadied the Buffs' once-sinking ship has been the play of guys like Xavier Talton and Jaron Hopkins. The two guards have seen a major increase in playing time since Dinwiddie's injury and it has resulted in them playing with greater confidence.
On Wednesday, Talton was given the unenviable task of guarding Jahii Carson and he did an above-average job, holding ASU's point guard to 5-15 from the field. Meanwhile, Hopkins has shown he can do a bit of everything from the two spot – coming up with steals, dishing assists, and occasionally knocking down a three.
Miller has employed a similar strategy of going with a more guard-focused attack. Against Utah, Miller inserted Gabe York into the starting lineup and the sophomore responded with one of his best games of the season, scoring 15 points including three makes from outside.
Neither team has the athleticism or size to overwhelm teams down low so knocking down jumpers, and free throws, is vital.
This is where Arizona could have the advantage, as Colorado ranks 309th nationally in three point defense while the Wildcats continue to annihilate opposing perimeter attacks. In what is almost certainly going to be another low-scoring affair against the Buffs, York's three point shooting could be the difference.
The other big battle will be between Xavier Johnson and Aaron Gordon. The Arizona freshman is coming off an uncharacteristic outing in which he had more turnovers than points and fouled it with nearly nine minutes to go in regulation.
In a nationally televised showdown against another future NBA forward, odds are Gordon won't follow up one poor performance with another. Furthermore, Arizona needs Gordon to contain Johnson defensively and at least come close to matching his offensive output.