Many college basketball fans do not realize the prestige of this Arizona program and expect nothing worse than bringing home a championship. Of course, all Wildcat fans would love to witness Arizona coach Sean Miller lead his kids to the Final Four. That being said, it is much easier said than done.
"I’m not going to apologize for being 34-4," Miller said following the loss to Wisconsin. "I’m not going to apologize for not making the Final Four and neither should (these players.)
The problem was (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) can’t guard two people," he said when addressing Arizona’s struggles with Wisconsin.
"When Sam Dekker does what he did, and I think some of the shots were very well defended, with (Frank) Kaminsky, maybe Kentucky’s that one school that can beat them. I don’t know if there’s another one out there when they’re clicking with that one-two punch."
Miller’s most notable quote was one in which he urged the fair-weather fans to start rooting for ASU. Some fans may find that statement harsh. However, in thinking from Miller’s perspective, I believe he feels insulted when a fan gets disappointed from the outcome of the season.
It is as if Sean Miller has not done a good enough job, but that is complete nonsense. The Wildcats have gone 67-9 over the past two years and reached the Elite Eight both times.
The truth of the matter is Arizona ran into a well-equipped team that presented too difficult a challenge. Bo Ryan is one heck of a coach and has his team playing elite offense and defense. The Sam Dekker-Frank Kaminsky duo is extremely difficult to contain and, evidently so, it may not matter how strong a defender you put on one or the other.
The duo is similar to that of Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in a sense. While the two pairs do not play the same position, each player shoots the ball so well there is not much a defense can do but hope for the best and try its hardest.
People need to realize the true challenge of playing in the NCAA Tournament after a 30-plus game season. Being the winner is not easy, even if you’re considered a powerhouse school, as the field obviously includes 68 teams. Tournament games generally adapt to a more half-court approach. With that style of play, there are fewer possessions in the game, mathematically increasing the weaker team’s chance to win the game.
It takes patience as a coach to be as successful as you want to be and the same goes for fans. The school seems very well convinced Sean Miller is the right fit for this program for years to come. Miller took over six years ago and has been one of the top recruiters in college basketball since.
Arizona is in a position in which it could possibly lose all five starters. While that would certainly hurt its status for next year, there are positives to be aware of. Three players who got consistent minutes this year, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Gabe York and Dusan Ristic, will all return with even greater roles. Secondly, Miller brought in the second-best recruiting class headlined by five-star recruits Ray Smith and Allonzo Trier.
A lineup of T.J. McConnell, Stanley Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski is anything but easy to replace. McConnell was the floor general who made everyone stick like glue. Johnson was the all-around threat with All-Star potential. Hollis-Jefferson was the crucial lockdown defender. Ashley provided size and stretched the floor with his jumper. Tarczewski thrived as Arizona’s man in the middle.
As long as the sun remains bright in Tucson, so should the future of its highly regarded basketball team. Arizona has not lost a step as a powerhouse team and can still be put in conversations with teams like Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Michigan State. Arizona has plenty to offer historically and will continue to thrive as the elite basketball program it has become.