Refrain from reading past this sentence if, before the season, you were of the belief the Arizona Wildcats wouldn't make the tournament in 2012. In that case, I'd be telling you something you already knew.
I'm writing this because I didn't fall into that group of people. I'm hoping to flesh out what expectations were from the start and how blurred they were, or maybe I'll come to find Sean Miller's club really fell into the pit of a wacky year for the Pac-12 as a whole. Maybe both.
Let's start with where the Wildcats stand right now.
It's not a season-ending loss. Though it's looking pretty grim, Arizona still has a good chunk of the Pac-12 schedule left, plus a chance to thrust themselves into the NCAA tourney with a solid showing at the conference tournament in Los Angeles. The loss to CU simply acted as a litmus test to tell us where the Wildcats really are.
Well, that's hard to say considering how confusing the Pac-12 is, but either way, the answer is that we finally see reality.
Reality is where expectations weren't, for the most part.
Reality is where we realize Miller is only in Year 3 of the rebuilding process. Really, it should be Year 2, as the coup of his first recruiting class was simply a lucky haul of successes in Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, and most importantly Derrick Williams. With Momo Jones' transfer -- this is arguable, as they wouldn't have gone to the Elite Eight last year without him -- and Kyryl Natyazhko having little impact off the bench, those three really are the only players I'm considering as being impactful in the present.
And that brings us to Williams, who despite being a rookie for the Minnesota Timberwolves, still has his DNA on this year's team and beyond. It was Williams who led Arizona to the Elite Eight, went No. 2 overall in the past year's draft, and could be a huge selling point to future recruits.
Those recruits turned into the 2011 and 2012 classes,and the latter could be the final plateau in Miller's rebuilding process.
So yeah, the Wildcats don't even have the players who are part of that plateau on campus yet.
And thus, the reality of this year's team for Arizona is still dead-center in the rebuilding process. Williams is a piece of that in his current state of not even being on the team. His presence the last two years was, in fact, a ghostly misrepresentation that Miller had the Wildcats back to elite status in the realm of NCAA hoops. That's because until 2012, he's yet to compile a recruiting class that has panned out other than the first one.
And I'm not saying 2011 and 2012 won't pan out. In a game where experts say rebuilding takes around four years, it's taken Miller his fourth recruiting class to peak, and it could take that group a couple years to reach its potential.
These things take time.
An illusion has made us jump the gun.
Williams' impact made us believe Arizona was off to go 25 years without missing another NCAA tournament. In what was assumed to be a bad Pac-12, Arizona was supposed to romp through league play without Williams, without trouble. The 2011 class of four highly-touted players was supposed to make a huge impact. Hey, chances were that one of them would look like anything but a freshman.
Oh, how Derrick misrepresented luck.
And thus, reality was misrepresented as well.
Looking to the future, I'm not saying anyone should be disappointed in what Miller's done. Hype by way of recruiting services has a way of creating an illusion of how good a team should be as well.
This year's high expectations that haven't been met were because of that illusion. And it goes to show that winning consistently is so much harder without a little luck falling into a team's lap, even for a hard working coach like Sean Miller.