All season long, as the Arizona Wildcats underachieved, the narrative was that the only thing that would matter is what they did in the NCAA tournament.
A tournament that won’t happen.
It has been a little more than week now since Arizona’s season ended and the idea that it’s over still seems a bit surreal.
Hey, all we’ve wanted is for Arizona to win its final game of the season. Mission accomplished?
Now Arizona, like every other program in the country, enters the offseason. For them it’s an offseason filled with questions. Some, like whether or not any of Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji will turn pro, will be answered shortly.
Others, like whether or not the program is moving in the right direction, will have to wait. Had Arizona been able to see the Pac-12 Tournament through and then get to the NCAA tournament we’d have a much better idea.
While the 2017-18 season was a disappointment and the 2018-19 campaign was understandable, it was this year that was supposed to see both the coach and program get back on track.
The team showed flashes of greatness but could not quite sustain, ultimately finishing unranked with a 21-11 record.
Is Sean Miller the right guy for Arizona? A tournament run (or flop) would have helped to answer the question.
We do know a few things, however.
From what we saw over the course of 32 games, Arizona was not as good as expected. The freshmen were not quite as good as advertised and the veterans struggled to find their roles.
Blame could be distributed to many people and you could claim the Wildcats were victims of some bad luck, too. Worse teams have made deep runs in the tournament, however, and a string of postseason victories would have done plenty to wash the bad taste the regular season left.
Would the Wildcats have used Pac-12 Tournament success as a springboard into the Dance, finally making good on their potential and tearing through the field? Probably not, but you can’t definitively say no.
Which is why if you are trying to determine if this season was a step in the right direction the answer is a solid maybe.
Instead of answers we are left with whatever we thought before the season got cut short.
If you believe after 11 years it’s time for Miller to move on, you have a reasonable take. It’s possible he was another early exit away from being done at Arizona.
If you are confident that this season was proof that the coach has rebounded from the lows of a couple years ago and has found his mojo, you have a reasonable take. After all, he was one deep tournament run away from showing he’s still got it, and this roster was plenty talented.
We will never know.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the program it is impossible to predict what’s next. Aside from the fact that the team may lose at least seven rotation players from last season, the cloud of NCAA sanctions has still not lifted. A new HBO documentary that is said to feature the coach will not help perception.
Arizona certainly has the vibe of a program in turmoil, and even if you disagree it’s undeniable the waters they are sailing are rather choppy.
That’s not to say land is unreachable.
While the Wildcats are bound to lose plenty from last year’s team, they have a pair of players in Jordan Brown and James Akinjo who were once elite-level recruits. They are now a little older and have spent time in Arizona’s system, meaning their learning curve should not be too steep.
Add in what figures to be another solid-if-not-great recruiting class as well as some key transfers (Arizona’s hitting the market hard) and you could have the makings of a good team.
In theory, at least.
Maybe everything will come together perfectly and next season will be the season. Until it isn’t, it most certainly could be. But as was the case this past season, all we can do is wait until March to find out.
If Arizona can win its final game of the 2020-21 season, we’ll have our answers.
Of course, it would be nice if the final game comes a little later in the calendar.