clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ranking each Arizona team from the Sean Miller era

New, 30 comments
Utah Valley v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With sports currently on hold across the globe due to the coronavirus pandemic, we thought now would be the perfect time to revisit and rank all 11 of Sean Miller’s teams at Arizona since he took over as head coach after the 2008-2009 season.

In that time, the Wildcats have a record of 285-100 (good for a 70% win rate) and have reached the NCAA Tournament seven of the 10 years that the big dance actually took place.

Make sure to drop your own rankings in the comment section below.

11. 2018-2019

Rotation Players: Justin Coleman, Brandon Randolph, Ryan Luther, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams, Ira Lee, Dylan Smith, Devonaire Doutrive, Alex Barcello

Record: 17-15 Overall, 8-10 Pac-12

Highest AP Ranking: Were never ranked in the AP poll.

NCAA Tournament: Didn’t receive invitation to NCAA Tournament or NIT.

The 2018-2019 season was always going to be a difficult one for Arizona due to the fallout of Miller being accused of paying Deandre Ayton $100,000 to come to Tucson just months earlier.

Multiple big name recruits decommitted from the program in the wake of the scandal, and the 2018-2019 Wildcats ended up being Miller’s worst offensive team since he came to Tucson — according to KenPom, the 2018-2019 Cats had an adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 105.5, easily the worst mark during his tenure.

They were also one of his worst defensive teams as well, posting a defensive efficiency rating of 98.2. When you consider those two stats, the fact that this team ended up being Miller’s only Arizona squad to finish the Pac-12 schedule under .500 isn’t too surprising.

Even though Miller’s first team at Arizona actually had a worse overall record, the fact that the 18-19 squad was swept by ASU (the only time this has ever happened under Miller) confirmed this team’s spot as the worst in the Sean Miller era.

10. 2011-2012

Rotation Players: Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry, Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom, Jordin Mayes, Brendon Lavender, Angelo Chol

Record: 23-12 Overall, 12-6 Pac-12

Highest AP Ranking: 15

NCAA Tournament: Didn’t receive invitation (Lost 65-54 to Bucknell in first round of NIT)

Probably the most disappointing Miller team, the 2011-2012 Cats came into the season with high expectations after a magical Elite 8 run the year prior and with highly touted freshmen Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson coming into the fold.

But, with their talisman from the season before, Derrick Williams, having departed as the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft — the Wildcats failed to live up to expectations pretty much immediately.

They lost their very first exhibition game of the year, 69-68 at home to Seattle Pacific (!), Turner never materialized as a positive impact player and Arizona ultimately needed to win the Pac-12 Tournament to end up having a shot at receiving an invite to the big dance.

After defeating UCLA and Oregon State in the first two rounds, the Wildcats reached the championship game, only to fall 53-51 to Colorado when a Fogg three to win the game didn’t go at the buzzer.

An embarrassing loss at McKale to Bucknell in the NIT was the cherry on top of a very forgettable season.

9. 2009-2010

Rotation Players: Nic Wise, Kyle Fogg, Derrick Williams, Jamelle Horne, Solomon Hill, MoMo Jones, Kevin Parrom, Brendon Lavender, Kyryl Natyazhko

Record: 16-15 Overall, 10-8 Pac-10

Highest AP Ranking: Were never ranked in the AP poll.

NCAA Tournament: Didn’t receive invitation to NCAA Tournament or NIT.

Miller’s first Arizona squad actually finished with the worst overall record since he came to Tucson — and was the program’s first not to make the NCAA Tournament in 25 years — but it is higher on this list than you might expect for the simple reason that the group was so much more likeable than the 2011-2012 and 2018-2019 teams.

Relying mostly on freshmen and senior point guard Wise, it wasn’t anywhere close to Miller’s best Arizona season, but it was certainly memorable as it featured Parrom’s “No Easy Buckets” play against ASU, Jones’ game winning shot off the glass at Stanford and some heroics from both Fogg and Wise in an epic double overtime game against USC on Senior Day at McKale. It planted the seed for what was a great 2010-2011 team as well.

However, this was one of Miller’s worst defensive teams in Tucson — with an adjusted defensive rating of 99.5, according to KenPom — and truth be told if it wasn’t for the heroics of Wise, the 09-10 team could have had a record under .500.

The point guard made 3 game-winning shots that season.

8. 2015-2016

Rotation Players: Gabe York, Ryan Anderson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen, Mark Tollefsen, Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Justin Simon, Chance Comanche

Record: 25-9 Overall, 12-6 Pac-12

Highest AP Ranking: 7

NCAA Tournament: 6 Seed. Lost 65-55 in the first round to Wichita State.

In 2015-2016, he Wildcats were super reliable on transfers that Miller had brought in, as Anderson, Tollefsen and Allen got a boatload of minutes for a team with a mostly new identity after the departures of T.J. McConnell, Rondae-Hollis Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Stanley Johnson from the year prior.

Behind seniors Anderson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York, Arizona finished 3rd in the Pac-12 regular season standings before falling to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament, when Tollefsen couldn't hit what would have been a game-winning free throw at the end of regulation.

They then went on to lose to Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, which to that point was Miller’s earliest exit from the NCAA Tournament at Arizona.

Personally, I will always remember this is as the season that York broke the Arizona record for threes in a game, with 9 triples against Stanford, but most people will always remember it as the campaign that ended when Miller profusely sweated through his shirt against Wichita State in the Cats’ first round loss in the NCAA Tournament.

What a shame.

7. 2019-2020

Rotation Players: Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Dylan Smith, Stone Gettings, Max Hazzard, Jemarl Baker Jr., Ira Lee, Christian Koloko, Chase Jeter

Record: 21-11 Overall, 10-8 Pac-12

Highest AP Ranking: 12

NCAA Tournament: NCAA Tournament cancelled due to the global outbreak of the coronavirus.

It’s hard to rank this team, simply because we will never know how the rest of the 2019-2020 season would have played out, but there is no doubt that this Arizona squad under performed based on the hype it was generating coming into the season.

The loss of Brandon Williams for the entire year was a massive loss, and with three freshmen leading them in pretty much every category, Arizona struggled to win close games throughout 2019-2020.

Despite a Pac-12 Freshman of the Year season from Nnaji, nobody will really remember this as a great or fun campaign and in all honesty, they really only get placed ahead of the 15-16 team because of that squad’s loss to Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

You can’t put them ahead of the 17-18 squad however, because despite losing to Buffalo in the first round of the NCAA’s, that particular team won both the Pac-12 regular season title and Pac-12 Tournament.

So, seventh seems fitting for Miller’s 2019-2020 squad.

6. 2017-2018

Rotation Players: Deandre Ayton, Rawle Alkins, Allonzo Trier, Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dylan Smith, Brandon Randolph, Keanu Pinder, Ira Lee, Alex Barcello

Record: 27-8 Overall, 14-4 Pac-12

Highest AP Ranking: 2

NCAA Tournament: 4 Seed. Lost 89-68 in the first round to Buffalo.

This team would be higher on this list if it hadn’t been absolutely blown out of the water against 13th-seeded Buffalo in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

That’s a fact.

Led by eventual No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in Ayton—the only time that’s happened in PROGRAM history, not just the Sean Miller era— the Wildcats won both the Pac-12 Regular Season Title and the Pac-12 Tournament, one of three Miller teams to win both.

They were one of Miller’s best offensive teams at Arizona according to KenPom, with an offensive efficiency rating of 118.0 and Alkins’ disembodiment of a USC player in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship Game will live forever in the minds of Arizona fans.

But, in the end, the bad taste of the route at the hands of Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament and of the potential of a pay for play scandal that rocked the program, means that this Miller team just can’t be higher than sixth on this list.

5. 2012-2013

Rotation Players: Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson, Mark Lyons, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, Kevin Parrom, Grant Jerrett, Jordin Mayes, Gabe York, Angelo Chol

Record: 27-8 overall, 12-6 Pac-12

Highest AP Ranking: 3

NCAA Tournament: 6 Seed. Lost 73-70 in the Sweet 16 to Ohio State.

After the disappointment of 2011-12, Miller and Arizona rebounded with a bounce-back season in 2012-2013.

Led by seniors Hill and Parrom, sophomore Johnson and transfer point guard Lyons, the Wildcats were one of Miller’s most efficient teams at Arizona — with an offensive efficiency rating of 115.4 and a defensive efficiency rating of 93.5, according to KenPom.

It’s a team that will forever be remembered fondly, and nobody will ever forget the ecstasy of Lyons’ game-winning layup to cap a remarkable comeback against No. 5 Florida, nor the heartbreak of LaQuinton Ross’ 30-foot game-winning three for Ohio State in the Sweet 16.

4. 2016-2017

Rotation Players: Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Dusan Ristic, Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Keanu Pinder

Record: 32-5 Overall, 16-2 Pac-12

Highest AP Ranking: 4

NCAA Tournament: 2 Seed. Lost 73-71 in the Sweet 16 to Xavier.

In my opinion, this is the great forgotten team of the Miller Era.

Featuring eight guys who would go on to play professionally in some capacity and led by Finnish prodigy Markkanen, the Wildcats won both the Pac-12 Regular Season Title and the Pac-12 Tournament before falling to Miller’s old school in the Sweet 16.

Considering that there was no great team in college basketball that season, I personally felt like Arizona could win the national championship going into the NCAA Tournament — before some poor late game execution against Xavier ensured that didn’t happen.

The Wildcats were up 71-64 with 2:40 remaining against the Musketeers, before being outscored 9-0 the rest of the game. Trier’s three-point attempt with less than 10 seconds remaining didn’t drop and the Musketeers grabbed the rebound and were able to run out the clock.

This was truly a sensational team, but because they lost before the Elite 8 you can’t put them higher on fourth on this list.

3. 2010-2011

Rotation Players: Derrick Williams, MoMo Jones, Jamelle Horne, Kyle Fogg, Jesse Perry, Solomon Hill, Jordin Mayes, Kevin Parrom, Brendon Lavender, Kyryl Natyazhko

Record: 30-8 Overall, 14-4 Pac-10

Highest AP Ranking: 10

NCAA Tournament: 5 Seed. Lost 65-63 in the Elite 8 to UConn.

My personal favorite of all Miller’s Arizona squads, the 2010-2011 Cats were the first Arizona team to win the regular season conference title since the Lute Olson days, and they reached the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament after a run of victories over Memphis, Texas and Duke.

While the last-second losses to Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship Game and UConn in the Elite 8 still hurt to this day, it was a super-memorable regular season that included Williams’ game-saving block against Washington, Jones’ clutch shots in a triple-OT win at Cal and D-Will’s dunk fest against UCLA.

Arizona’s NCAA Tournament run was absolutely insane too, with last second victories over both Josh Pastner’s Memphis Tigers and then Texas in the first two rounds, before the Cats pulled off a second-half demolition job of Duke in the Sweet 16.

Only Kemba Walker and UConn’s destined run to the national championship were enough to stop this Arizona squad — and the Wildcats gave them everything they could handle in their Elite 8 match up in Anaheim. Horne had an open shot at the buzzer to go to the Final Four, but it didn’t fall.

In the end, it was the squad that really put the Wildcats back on the college basketball map and I will always believe that if they had been able to beat the eventual national champion Huskies, they would have went on to win it all. Nothing can convince me otherwise. Horne’s shot really did look so good.

2. 2014-2015

Rotation Players: Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Elliot Pitts, Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright

Record: 34-4 Overall, 16-2 Pac-12

Highest AP Ranking: 2

NCAA Tournament: 2 Seed. Lost 85-78 in the Elite 8 to Wisconsin.

I really wanted to put the 2010-2011 team in this second spot simply because they are my favorite Miller Era team, but I just couldn’t do it based on the facts that the 2014-15 Wildcats had a better overall and conference record, sent more guys to the NBA and won both the Pac-12 Regular Season Title and the Pac-12 Tournament. The 2010-2011 team won just the regular season title.

A second straight loss to Wisconsin in the Elite 8 doesn’t undermine those accomplishments, nor the fact that the 14-15 Wildcats won the most games of any of Miller’s teams.

1. 2013-2014

Rotation Players: Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Brandon Ashley, Jordin Mayes, Elliot Pitts

Record: 33-5 Overall, 15-3 Pac-12

Highest AP Ranking: 1

NCAA Tournament: 1 Seed. Lost 64-63 in OT to Wisconsin in the Elite 8.

While the 2014-15 squad had a better overall and conference record than my selection for Sean Miller’s best ever Arizona team, the 2013-2014 Wildcats are still my clear choice for the top spot on this list.

That’s because, before Ashley broke his foot against Cal in early February, Miller’s 2013-2014 Arizona team opened the season 21-0 and were No. 1 in the country before that fateful night in Haas Pavilion. The Golden Bears ended the Wildcats undefeated start to the year and the UA was never quite the same after Ashley’s injury, losing two more times in the regular season and falling to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship and to Wisconsin in excruciating fashion in the Elite 8.

However, even with Ashley out of the lineup, the Cats were still able to win the Pac-12 Regular Season Title and secured a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament (the only time that’s happened under Miller).

Statistically, the 13-14 Cats were Miller’s best defensive team in Tucson, with a defensive efficiency rating of 86.4 — the best mark in the country by a long shot, according to KenPom.

Ultimately, I think when they look back at it, most Arizona fans would agree that this team had the most realistic chance of winning a national championship — especially had Ashley not gotten hurt, which is still considered one of the biggest what ifs in recent sports history.

In the end Arizona was 21-0 with Ashley in the lineup in 2013-2014 and 12-5 without him.