Dane Miller: Arizona Basketball Will Weather the Storm

The timing of Sean Miller’s termination wasn’t ideal, but it opens the door to a new era

Posted on April 8, 2021

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

Two. The number of NCAA Tournament games Arizona has won since its 2015 loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight.

Over that stretch, the Cats were defeated in the First Round twice, missed the Tournament once, and self-imposed a postseason ban.

Future NBA players Lauri Markkanen and Deandre Ayton came and went during those six years, helping guide Arizona to two Pac-12 Tournament and Regular Season Championships.

But the period is marred by the 2017 FBI scandal and resulting fallout with the NCAA.

Miller

Still, there’s no questioning the winning legacy Sean Miller left in the desert: Five Pac-12 Regular Season Championships, three Elite Eight runs, 13 NBA Draft picks, and a 302-109 record.

Those are big shoes to fill—a tenure that will be viewed positively once the sting from the impending NCAA sanctions recedes.

But half a decade of shortcomings in the Big Dance and an earth-shattering scandal were too much for the Arizona administration to justify continuing the relationship. The timing of Miller’s termination wasn’t ideal, but it opens the door to a new era.

The next head coach in Tucson will initially be tasked with keeping together what some are projecting as a Top 10 roster for the 2021-22 season. Laden with returning starters and a recruiting class comprised of three 4-star guards, the pieces are there to challenge for another Pac-12 Regular Season championship.

The uncertainty of the penalties from the NCAA remain, as does the damaging effect it has on recruiting, but the tradition of the program can’t be discounted.

Even through the relative down years since the middle of the last decade, the Cats continue to lead the Pac-12 in attendance. And when UA goes on the road, it’s typically the most well-attended game of the season in whichever building they are playing.

Despite what some detractors so desperately want you to believe, Arizona remains one of the best jobs on the West Coast—and a recruiting force.

But who will lead the program now?

Gonzaga’s Tommy Lloyd on the sidelines Mark Few. | Hunter Lee/GU Athletics

Rumors linking Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd to the position have been swirling, and Pacific head coach and former Wildcat Damon Stoudamire is likely to get an interview. Yet, the immediate uncertainty remains.

In the long run, the choice to replace Miller arguably isn’t going to make-or-break the program.

Olson

The Arizona basketball brand was built by Lute Olson over 20-plus years, shaping the identity of the University and the City of Tucson itself. The entire town seems to revolve around the team, permeating every socio-economic stratosphere and touching every corner of the region.

One NCAA scandal, no matter how damaging, won’t stop UA basketball.

There’s too many alumni in the NBA circles and college coaching ranks to let that happen, too many wealthy boosters emotionally invested in the team’s success, and too many people clamoring to watch the games in person.

The foreseeable future may be as muddied as it’s been in the Old Pueblo since the end of the Olson Era, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. It could take a few more seasons to emerge from the mess, but the program can weather the storm.

McKale Center

And regardless of who is announced as the next head coach, McKale Center will be sold out for the season opener. And every game after that, for the remainder of the season—just like it has been for the last thirty-five years.

They say Arizona basketball never stops.

Why would it now?




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