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No matter NCAA tournament chances for Arizona, this year matters

Losing to the Oregon Ducks on Saturday was a chilling reality check for the Arizona Wildcats.

Reality is that the Wildcats don't have the talent advantage they had with players like Derrick Williams, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. Nick Johnson has promise, Josiah Turner has light-years to go, and there's nothing talent-wise about Arizona's current roster that makes them a scary opponent for any team they'll face from here on out.

Reality is also that the Wildcats' roster lacks any sort of personality that could take them from good to great.

Is that something that Sean Miller can build in what remains of this season?

For sure, Arizona hasn't closed games well. Bruce Pascoe writes in the Arizona Daily Star that missing Williams in games decided by five points or less was a huge blow. But it's also a matter of why Miller's club was even in a deadlock with the Ducks coming down the stretch.

Prior to the final minute, where the Wildcats revealed their worst phase of being a three-faced team on Saturday, Arizona punched back after finding itself down by double-digits for half of the game.

Slow starts have and still are the killer for Arizona, and it's because this is a team without a substantial personality. Even the dearly-missed Williams was a cool, SoCal-born presence, but he gave Arizona a spark with his play. Covering the leadership responsibilities was Momo Jones, who as I wrote months ago would be sorely missed.

Simply put, Arizona doesn't have the player to verbally will his teammates out of a daze, nor do the Wildcats have the players with the skill to single-handedly avoid a double-digit deficit -- hence the lackadaisical first half.

And more than halfway through the season, it's questionable what else could come out of this Arizona team. Losing games in the Pac-12 is killer in the eyes of the NCAA tournament committee, and maybe with a few more losses we can resign to a failed season and begin looking toward the brighter future of next year.

But what should and still can change this season comes in how the culture grows in the locker room, regardless of wins or losses. Because waiting until next year for expected success would be a mistake.

How far the character of this year's team develops will be a sign of how many expectations next year's team deserves. Remember, a No. 1 overall freshman class doesn't mean much these days -- saviors in college basketball only come in once-in-a-decade type players like Williams.

Hype for next year should be measured in how the returning players mature as leaders and goal-oriented basketball players. Sean Miller's culture in the locker room is ever-developing, and to see Arizona fall flat should their NCAA tournament dreams be dashed would be a scary scenario, even with next year's talent coming in.