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Arizona basketball: Where next year is always the year

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There’s always an eye to the future in Tucson

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

“Next year is the year”

This is a common sentiment with many beleaguered sports fanbases throughout the world. Up until this year, it probably defined the Chicago Cubs fanbase the best, but in the world of college basketball, the Arizona Wildcats base is right up there near the top.

“Next year is the year”

Even with Arizona preparing for a Sweet Sixteen matchup, there was always an eye turned to the future among Wildcat fans. We posted stories about a 2018 preseason ranking and a potential 2018-19 transfer from Duke. Those were two of the most viewed and talked about stories we had all week. A week where Arizona was looking for its first Final Four since 2001.

With Arizona fans, next year is ALWAYS on the mind, no matter how good things are in the present, because that’s how it’s been programmed into the brains of those that love the Wildcats.

“This is THE year”

It’s the 20th anniversary of Arizona’s one and only National Championship team, and the Final Four is in freaking Glendale, Arizona. This was supposed to be the year. The year. This was it. Everything was lining up.

You had the comparisons to 1997 with Allonzo Trier coming back midyear much like Miles Simon did 20 years ago. You had a team finding its stride heading into March. The whole “Revenge Tour” aspect was all set with Gonzaga and possibly Wisconsin waiting in the next two rounds. This was it. It was finally going to happen, and it was going to happen in a way where Tucson people would only have to drive two hours to see it live.

“Sean Miller is finally going to breakthrough”

With Mark Few on the doorstep of his first-ever Final Four, Miller is likely to take over the throne of best coach to never appear in a Final Four. Even with his shortcomings we’ve discussed at length (zone offense, interior defense, recruiting elite point guards), he had shown in previous weeks that he had the ability to adjust on the fly in a game, something that had been missing.

But then all those shortcomings reared their ugly heads, all at once, as Xavier — an inferior team athletically and talent-wise to Arizona — erased an eight point deficit in the final three and a half minutes to earn a spot in the Elite Eight.

The thing that makes it sting more? That’s Chris Mack — Miller’s protege — showing Miller how to close out a game in crunch time. If it’s UNC or Louisville or Kentucky doing that, this one probably doesn’t sting as much for Arizona fans, and there’s probably not as much vitriol being sent Miller’s way. But it was Xavier, the second straight year Arizona’s season ended at the hands of an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“Next year is the year”

Once again, Arizona is slated to bring in one of the top three recruiting classes in the country. This will be the sixth time in the last seven years UA brings in a top three recruiting class. So it’s not like this is the first time Arizona will have high expectations even though the top player in the class is finding his way to Tucson for just the second time ever.

These highly ranked recruits have not really been developed in a way one would expect them to at Arizona, especially bigs. So sure, UA fans are always excited about the recruits, but will they develop and live up to the top three moniker they come in with?

“Next year...next year”

I’m not here calling for Sean Miller’s job. That’s not the answer at Arizona. The answer is Miller improving on the flaws that he now acknowledges that he has. He’s proven he can bring the elite talent to Tucson. He just hasn’t proven he can turn that talent into a team that can breakthrough in a single-elimination tournament that uses small sample sizes over three weeks to decide who the best team is (how ridiculous is that by the way when you step back and think about it).

With the Final Four drought expanding to at least 17 years, Arizona isn’t among the elite in college basketball. That’s just the fact of the matter right now. But if the elite recruiter — who always excites fans for next year — can improve on his deficiencies, next year will finally become this year.

Finally.