The offseason is here, with all of Arizona’s sports done for 2021-22 and the 2022-23 campaigns still a little ways away.
Which makes this a great time to step back and see how all of the Wildcats’ programs are doing.
Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at each of the UA’s 19 men’s and women’s programs to see what shape they’re in and what prospects they have for the near future. We’ll break down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now while also looking at this season and beyond.
Next up: Tommy Lloyd’s men’s basketball team.
How it looked before
Sean Miller won 302 games in 12 seasons at Arizona, so to in any way consider his tenure unsuccessful is foolish. But the last few years of his run fell below expectations, with the Wildcats failing to play in the NCAA Tournament in his final three seasons. They would have made it in 2019-20 had COVID-19 not canceled the tourney, and probably again in 2020-21 had the program not self-imposed a postseason ban, but the fact remains the UA didn’t win an NCAA game in Miller’s final four seasons.
A fresh start was needed, and Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke pulled the trigger in April 2021 when he fired Miller and then a few weeks later hired Lloyd. An assistant for more than 20 years at Gonzaga, Lloyd had built a reputation as a great recruiter with incredible international connections, but there was great uncertainty about whether he could run a program.
Still, Arizona gave Lloyd a 5-year contract that would start him out at the same annual salary as Miller got in his final season.
Where things stand now
It’s hard to have had a better first season as a college head coach than Lloyd, who led Arizona to a 33-4 record and a Sweet 16 appearance after winning the Pac-12 regular-season title (with a conference-record 18 victories) and Pac-12 Tournament crown. That led to Lloyd being named Pac-12 Coach of the Year and earn three national coach of the year honors.
Admittedly, Lloyd was handed the nucleus of a very good team that ended up producing three of the first 33 picks in the 2022 NBA Draft, but his fast-and-loose playing style and (mostly) hands-off approach to the players when on the court was integral in the 2021-22 team’s success. The Wildcats averaged 84 points per game, the most since 2003-04, and led the nation in assists to establish a school record for dimes with 726.
Miller got Arizona to the Elite Eight in his second season, earning him a contract extension, but the Wildcats didn’t wait to beef up Lloyd’s deal. He recently had a new 5-year deal approved, one that will pay him an average of $3.8 million per season (tops in the Pac-12) and comes with a $12 million buyout if another program tries to lure him away.
One big question
Was 2021-22 a product of circumstances or a sign of things to come? In other words, okay, now what?
Lloyd far exceeded anyone’s outlook for his first season as a head coach, including his own, but in doing so that means the hopes for 2022-23 and beyond have immediately been jacked up. Much like Miller getting to the Elite Eight in year two and Rich Rodriguez reaching the Pac-12 title game in year three, a fanbase with already unrealistic expectations will consider anything less than going further as a failure.
Heck, we saw it during the NCAA Tournament when losing to Houston as a No. 1 seed was considered a choke by some. You’re never going to win with some people.
But the wonder if what Lloyd did in his first year is sustainable is a valid one. This season will feature a roster that’s almost all guys he brought to Tucson, as so far that’s been a mix of transfers and international or under-the-radar recruits. The latter looks to be changing with the 2023 recruiting class, where he’s already landed two top-50 prospects and has Arizona in the mix for 5-star forward Kwame Evans Jr.
We’ve seen what he can do with players he inherited, now we’ll see what he can do with guys he recruited.