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Sean Miller throws shade as Arizona has chance to shine bright vs. Gonzaga

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats were days removed from their first loss of the season, a competitive defeat at Baylor, when Sean Miller was asked for his thoughts on ESPN color commentator Jimmy Dykes.

Dykes, you may recall, had some fairly critical words about Miller’s point guard, Nico Mannion, as well as the rest of the team throughout the game.

Miller, who smiled when the question was being asked, first noted that many people had asked him if he heard what was said, and then turned into the moon during an eclipse.

“Everybody I think has their opinion,” he said. “Obviously, if you look at his coaching record I think it speaks for itself. He’s a very knowledgeable guy so some of the things that I’m sure he criticized us on, we have to get better at.

“All you have to do is look at his track record coaching, like a lot of those guys, there’s a lot of evidence to support that they know what they’re talking about. “

Miller made sure to emphasize the word “coaching” because Dykes’ career record is 43-49.

For comparison, Miller is 394-137.

This is not the first time Miller has used his platform to throw some shade, as it was just a few years ago when he called a timeout toward the end of a Pac-12 Tournament win over UCLA and then went on to explain the “reason” behind it.

One thing about Miller is he is not one to waste words in front of the media.

Put another way, most everything he says is measured, calculated and often meant to support his players or try to impress potential recruits.

Given the amount of talent Miller has been able to bring to Tucson it is obvious his style works. While he is known to run tough practices and be hard on his players, they seem to not only respond to his coaching, but crave it in the first place.

It’s why this year’s team had so much potential going into the season and the reason for belief that it may yet reach it.

At 10-1 the Wildcats are ranked 15th, though as of Thursday they are 12th in the KenPom ratings. Offense has been their strength — the Baylor game excluded — and it’s precisely why it is fair to be excited about what this team can do.

According to KenPom UA’s adjusted defensive efficiency is ranked 34th, which is not up to the usual Miller-team standards and yet not bad. More importantly, it is likely to improve.

The Wildcats’ defeat in Baylor proved that they have the size and athleticism to play sound defense, and odds are they won’t shoot in the 20-percent range again this season (or, hopefully, ever).

The freshman class continues to impress, with Christian Koloko starting to remind people that not only is he part of the highly-touted group, but that he is also capable of making an impact this season.

Miller said after Arizona’s 99-49 win over Nebraska-Omaha Wednesday his team’s weakness is on the glass, which is an area Koloko could help in but also one that should not be a problem long term.

Again, Arizona has the size and athleticism to at the very least be a decent rebounding team. The fact that a young roster would need to improve at defense is not surprising, and that they must learn how to really crash the boards shouldn’t be, either.

Saturday’s tilt with Gonzaga would be a good time for them to show progress.

While Arizona will undoubtedly make the NCAA Tournament this season, a non-conference win over the 6th-ranked team in the country would bolster their resume. Maybe even more than that, it would help to allay any concerns over the lack of signature victories up to this point.

(Related: Illinois just beat No. 5 Michigan. The Illini are 7-3, with one of those losses being a 21-point defeat in the McKale Center).

The Bulldogs come to Tucson an excellent shooting and rebounding team. They’ve also already notched victories over Oregon and Washington, two of the teams set to battle Arizona for Pac-12 supremacy.

Like the Wildcats they score nearly 86 points per game. Like Arizona, Gonzaga is seen as one of the premier programs out west.

Of course, unlike the Wildcats Gonzaga has recently been to a Final Four — a national championship game, even — which is something Arizona has not done in nearly 20 years.

Are this season’s Wildcats the players who will end the drought?

A victory over the Bulldogs would offer no guarantee, but it would send a message. Only unlike the one Miller offered earlier in the week, this one would be loud and clear.