Where do we go from here? No, seriously, this is kind of unfamiliar territory for the Arizona Wildcats.
A five-game losing streak, their longest since 1983, and no realistic hope of making the NCAA tournament—face it, this team doesn’t have what it takes to win three or four games in as many days next month—means Arizona’s 2018-19 season is more or less over.
Sure, there are at least eight more games left, but for all intents and purposes this one is in the books. It will go down as arguably the most disappointing season since the start of the Lute Olson era some 35 years ago, much worse than the 2009-10 and 2011-12 squads who will soon be adding the current one to the short (but growing) list of Arizona teams not to make the NCAA tourney.
Thursday’s 67-60 loss to Pac-12 leader Washington was at least understandable. Some might say winnable if a few less turnovers were made and a few more shots went in. But losing 69-55, points to lowly Washington State, at home? That’s hard to come back from.
Even without getting into the potential impact all of the outside noise is having on this team, it’s clear that Sean Miller’s 10th go-around just isn’t good. And it doesn’t figure to magically get better anytime soon, which makes how these final few weeks play out even more intriguing than if the Wildcats were in their customary position of contending for a Pac-12 title and jockeying for a good NCAA seed.
Here’s what these latest two setbacks have taught us about Arizona:
Arizona’s injury luck has run out
When word got out just before Pac-12 play began that Justin Coleman had dislocated his shoulder, there was real fear that about what his potential absence would mean for an already thin team. Then the senior point guard somehow missed no time, and while that first game after the injury wasn’t great it’s easy to forget Coleman was ever hurt.
That hasn’t been the case with the injuries to Arizona’s two other starters. Having them come one right after the other, more or less overlapping, only exacerbated an already bad situation.
Chase Jeter’s absence against USC and UCLA was huge, and since coming back against ASU on Jan. 31 he hasn’t been the same. He had 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting against Washington but also fouled out, proving to be far less of a defensive presence than before the injury, then he went scoreless (and took just four shots) in 20 minutes against WSU.
Not having guard Brandon Williams for those games, as well as against ASU, because of knee pain was even bigger. And with the decent likelihood that he might not play again this season, it means a backcourt that should have been a strength is sorely lacking its most consistent contributor.
Injuries are nothing new for Arizona during the Miller era, but in the past its depth helped minimize their effect. Not anymore.
Free Devonaire Doutrive
Williams’ injury assured that Doutrive would see more court time by default, and the freshman has made the most of the extra minutes. Not necessarily in terms of raw numbers but by showing that he wants to contribute.
And while that hasn’t always looked pretty, it’s better than being timid and, well, like a 6-foot-5, 175-pound freshman who Arizona basically only signed last spring because it didn’t have many other options.
Doutrive recorded his first career double-double on Saturday, with 10 points and 11 rebounds, in just 17 minutes of action. He had six boards in 15 minutes against Washington.
Sure, those rebounding numbers are aided by the fact that ARIZONA CANNOT MAKE A LAYUP TO SAVE ITS LIFE and he’s been in the right place at the right time, but that’s worth praising. He had seven of Arizona’s 13 offensive boards against WSU, and before that game his 11.9 percent offensive rebound rate was tops among rotation players.
This season can’t be saved, which means looking ahead to the next one makes sense. If that stellar recruiting class still comes in they’ll provide a good portion of the production, but some holdovers have to be part of the mix as well. Why not give Doutrive a chance now to prepare himself for the future?
The administration is prepared to go down with Miller
Remember the scene in Titanic when, despite the massive ship quickly sinking into the frigid Atlantic and passengers scrambling to get into lifeboats, several band members calmly played music on deck while the chaos surrounded them?
That’s kind of what it felt like when Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke scheduled an impromptu press conference during halftime on Saturday. Though it was announced before the game began, its timing couldn’t be worse.
The fact that Heeke called his own press conference at halftime of the most embarrassing loss in 35 years to say this blows my mind https://t.co/YH0OhLQmLN— Jason Bartel (@jasonbartel) February 10, 2019
Heeke’s goal was twofold: first, he wanted to reaffirm his (as well as president Robert C. Robbins’) support of Miller, and second he wanted to try and steer the narrative about the basketball program and its connection to NCAA investigations and federal trials, something he felt had been compromised by national voices who weren’t plugged in locally. Instead it felt like he was announcing that the athletic department and the school were doubling down on their coach, despite what seems like a growing case against him and his staff.
While that’s admirable, for sure, it’s also incredibly risky. If it’s proven that the program has committed significant NCAA violations, instead of just Miller going down it could end up being the whole school.