It’s impossible to say the Arizona Wildcats basketball team did anything but overachieve in 2011. Sean Miller has the UA hoops program back on track and ahead of pace.
So where does that put Miller in terms of his biggest quest: Living up to the standard set by Lute Olson?
Back in November I would have been happy with something like 11-7 in the Pac-10, getting into the NCAA tournament as an 8-seed, beating the 9-seed, then putting up a good fight for a half against the No. 1.
Instead Miller bagged his first Pac-10 title and topped it off with three very exciting NCAA tournament wins. All told the Cats almost doubled their win total from the previous year, which is really hard to do unless you start with about seven.
Let the Lute comparisons begin.
Some may say it’s not fair to Miller but it comes with the territory. He didn’t take a job at Oregon or USC. As the McKale Center pregame video said before every home contest: This is Arizona.
And Miller’s fine with it. He wouldn’t let Olson flash his national championship ring before every game if he wasn’t comfortable under the spotlight of Lute’s accomplishments.
Miller is confident he’s going to win at Coach Olson’s level, and he’s off to a great start. Lute didn’t win a Pac-10 title until his third year at Arizona. He didn’t win his first tournament game until his fifth season.
Some may say Miller is taking advantage of a down Pac-10 but the league was even worse in Olson’s early years. In 1984, Lute’s first season in Tucson, the Pac-10 only got two teams into the Big Dance and they were both 6-seeds. In ’85 four Pac teams made it but none was seeded higher than 5 and they all lost in the 1st round.
Olson’s first Pac-10 championship team posted the exact same 14-4 record as the 2011 Cats and it only got them a 9-seed. Second-place Washington was a 12 and, again, both Pac teams lost in the opening round.
When Arizona exploded onto the national scene in 1988 it was the Pac-10’s first No. 1 seed since Oregon State in ’81 (and the Beavers lost their first tournament game that year).
So Miller doesn’t get docked any points for the level of competition. The big difference, of course, is Olson took over a four-win team that hadn’t been to the tournament in six years (with only three appearances total) while Miller inherited a program that had been built by Lute Olson.
You also can’t deny Miller got a boost from the Tim Floyd effect. Miller’s direct recruits from his first class, Kevin Parrom and Kyryl Natyazhko, were both contributors this year but they came off the bench. All three of Floyd’s recruits started, and Derrick Williams ended up being one of the five best players in the country. The only question is: Should Tim Floyd Day be April 2, the anniversary of his press conference announcing he was staying at USC, or June 9, the day he got fired? Maybe it should be a two-month-long celebration for Wildcat Universe.
(By the way, when Floyd was being interviewed for the Arizona job the rationale was that he could bring recruits with him. Jim Livengood managed to hire a better coach, and get Floyd’s recruits anyway. Coincidence or genius?)
With former UA assistant Archie Miller taking the head coaching position at Dayton the first nut from the Sean Miller Arizona coaching tree has been planted. Normally having someone work for you two years doesn’t make him part of your legacy but Archie has a slightly longer relationship with his big brother Sean.
Miller does have Chris Mack, who replaced him at Xavier, but he won’t help Arizona any. The only thing missing from Lute Olson’s 25-year tenure at the UA was a blue-chip heir. Many Olson assistants went on to run their own program – Kevin O’Neill, Jay John, Jessie Evans and more – but none had enough success to be considered as the top Wildcat. Josh Pastner is still out there (and he’s off to a strong start at Memphis) but he came in too late to be Roy Williams to Lute’s Dean Smith.
Could Archie Miller be Roy Williams? Are we crazy to think Sean Miller can be anything close to Dean Smith?
(Yes, we probably are crazy. But, for the record, it did take Smith six years to win the ACC and go to the Elite Eight for the first time.)
That’s how great 2011 was for Arizona Basketball. The sky is again the limit and every dream is allowed.
Even the crazy ones.
– – – – –