Why not now?
Following Arizona’s win over Cal Saturday, Tommy Lloyd provided a rare glimpse into how he views this season, which has seen his Wildcats win 28 games, claim the Pac-12 regular-season title and likely earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“From where we are started to where we are now, I didn’t expect that,” he said. “Pretty awesome. I’m happy for the guys. I’m happy for the staff. This is what I came down here to try to do.
“I didn’t have a timeline on it, but why not now?”
It’s a good question, albeit one nobody expected to be asked as recently as six months ago.
Even the most optimistic of Arizona fans likely didn’t have much issue with its fourth-place preseason ranking. There was a decent amount of talent coming back, but there were legitimate questions about how the players would fit into an entirely new system while led by a first-time head coach.
At the time it felt like Arizona would be good, but much would need to go right if the Cats were to be great.
Much went right. It’s happened before.
It is said that history has a way of repeating itself, and perhaps that is the case here. The last time Arizona had a new coach he guided the team to an excellent season ahead of schedule, though Sean Miller’s 2010-11 team was his second in Tucson. And although it won 27 games and the Pac-12, was just a No. 5 seed in the Dance.
That season, which feels like it was ages ago, had an Arizona team led by mostly sophomores. Four of its five leading scorers were in their second seasons with the program, and the team itself fit so very well together.
This year Arizona’s top two scorers, and five of its top seven, are in their sophomore campaigns. Combined with the team’s veterans, the Wildcats are a group that, you guessed it, fits so very well together.
Miller’s team reached the Elite Eight and just missed getting to the Final Four. Had the Wildcats knocked off UConn, there’s a decent chance they would have won the whole damn thing.
The fate of Lloyd’s team has yet to be determined. Unlike Miller’s second team, this one will enter the tournament with lofty expectations.
“Why not now” takes on an entirely different meaning when you are a favorite needing to take care of business as opposed to an underdog on a magical run. Reaching the Final Four would be nice, though, and winning a national championship would be a good idea.
Even as a top seed, both of those goals are difficult to attain; coming up short of a title will not make this season a failure for Lloyd, at least not in any kind of realistic sense.
However, the quick ascension to the top of the conference and rankings means from this point on the pressure to maintain this level will persist. Continued wins on the recruiting trail, such as the recent commitment from five-star PG Kylan Boswell, will only aid in the transition from “why not now” to “it better be now.”
That’s what Miller faced when a magical run that ended with Jamelle Horne’s fateful shot bouncing off the rim was followed by yearly loaded recruiting classes. At that time Miller seemed destined to get Arizona back to the Final Four for the first time since 2001 and, probably, bring the program its second national title. If not for a fluke injury to Brandon Ashley or seeing Wisconsin in their bracket, it most likely would have happened.
However, Arizona’s failure to reach the Final Four clearly weighed on that coach and, some would argue, helped create to the circumstances that led to his dismissal and eventually Lloyd’s arrival.
Ideally Lloyd won’t have to deal with any of that. His current team lacks for nothing and would appear to have all the ingredients necessary to make an historic run. The Cats could use a little luck in their effort and as we all know, they’re way overdue for some.
Who knows, maybe a month or so from now there will be a championship celebration in the Old Pueblo.
Don’t think it could happen?