Shane Dale: abc15.com
The Arizona Cardinals’ promising season came to a resounding thud Sunday night in the NFC Championship game.
When football season is over, the natural instinct for most Arizona sports fans is to turn their attention to the Phoenix Suns. But the Suns are having, shall we say, a less-than-stellar season, leaving some fans to wonder: Is there anything to look forward to in the next few months?
The answer to that question: absolutely. Here are five things fans can get excited about now and in the very near future.
1. Coyotes are playoff contenders
The Cardinals’ neighbors just might be making a playoff run of their own. After finishing dead last in the Western Conference last season, the Arizona Coyotes are in the thick of a battle for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as we approach the NHL’s All-Star break.
The Coyotes ended a four-game skid with a huge 3-2 win over the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. Their next home game is Feb. 2 against those same Kings — and tickets are extremely affordable. Be sure to plan some trips to Westgate to help rally team captain Shane Doan and the Yotes to their first playoff berth since 2012.
2. New-look D-backs
The uniforms aren’t the only thing new about this year’s Arizona Diamondbacks. In fact, after the team made some key offseason moves, some experts believe this could be the year the team ends a playoff drought that dates back to 2011.
The D-backs shocked the baseball world by signing star pitcher Zack Greinke to a monster contract during the offseason, and they followed that up by making a trade with the Atlanta Braves for another potential ace in Shelby Miller. The D-backs’ new one-two punch in the starting rotation, combined with one of the best batting lineups in the league, should make Arizona a fun team to watch in 2016.
3. Spring training
Your first chance to see the new D-backs, along with 14 other MLB teams, is coming in five weeks when Cactus League play begins March 1.
Check out the D-backs, scout the opponents and sample some of the best ballpark food from around the country. The complete Cactus League schedule can be found here.
4. Competitive college hoops
As it turns out, we’ve got three pretty good college basketball teams here in Arizona — and the team that currently boasts the best record in the state isn’t one of the usual suspects.
Dan Majerle’s Grand Canyon Antelopes are 18-2 (5-0 in the Western Athletic Conference) and are riding an 11-game winning streak. If you haven’t been to a game, you’re missing out: The atmosphere throughout each game in GCU Arena is electric. Majerle is building something special in the Valley.
Arizona State is off to a rocky start in Pac-12 play, but first-year coach Bobby Hurley has already racked up some impressive victories, including a blowout win over No. 10 Texas A&M. ASU is one of 10 Pac-12 teams with a realistic chance of making the NCAA Tournament, and the Devils can use your support at home against Oregon State on Thursday and Oregon on Sunday.
And of course, if the Arizona Wildcats are your thing: UA is enjoying another top-25 season and hosts a couple of crucial conference games this week, against the Ducks on Thursday and the Beavers on Saturday. Sean Miller’s team has made back-to-back Elite Eight appearances and will look to finally get over the hump and advance to the Final Four this year.
5. Phoenix Open
We haven’t had much of a chance to talk about it yet thanks to the Cards’ playoff run, but the state’s premiere annual golf tournament comes to town next week. The Waste Management Phoenix Open will be held at TPC Scottsdale beginning Monday, Feb. 1, and will feature some of the world’s top golfers, including Sun Devil alum Phil Mickelson.