There’s nothing like Selection Sunday when your team is a no-doubt No. 1 seed. Instead of sweating out the last at-large bids you’re scouting out the teams that should be early-round fodder for the favorites.
It’s been a long time since the Arizona Wildcats sat in a region’s pole position. The expectation now is to win the race to Dallas.
For long-time Wildcat fans the years creep by and you don’t fully realize how prolonged the drought has become until you stop and do the math. Has it really been that long since Lute Olson last cut down the nets after a regional final?
But then you notice your most recent Final Four shirts look a little tattered, if they fit at all. Then you realize there are key players on this year’s team who were in kindergarten the last time Arizona lasted into the third weekend of March Madness.
Adding it up, it has been 13 years, four coaches, 10 NCAA tournament appearances, six Sweet Sixteens and three Elite Eights since the UA went to the Final Four.
It’s time for some new shirts.
This isn’t about the fans being “owed” anything or the program being “due.” It’s about a program finally having everything it needs to officially sit back down at the table among the game’s giants.
Earning the No. 1 seed in the West is a big key. At the height of the Olson era the Cats were a 1- or 2-seed 10 times in 16 years. All four of the school’s Final Four trips were made during that stretch and three of them were as a top-two seed. This season ends a decade-long wait to return to that status.
The reward is a proposed itinerary of four games in Southern California. No long flights, no time zone changes, no altitude. Outside of Phoenix (or back in Las Vegas) you couldn’t ask for better locations for the Cats and their passionate fanbase.
We said before the season this was the team for which Sean Miller was waiting and his players have backed it up. Now the moment has come to cash in.
You’re going to hear a lot about Miller never losing to a lower seed in the NCAA tournament but this is the first time he’s ever been seeded higher than a 3. A No. 3 seed says you should make the Sweet Sixteen and Miller has accomplished that four times. Now the stakes are raised.
As the pressure increases so do the spoils. Miller is four wins away from moving off the Best Up-and-Coming Coaches list and onto the active list of Best College Basketball Coaches, Period.
So why only focus on the Final Four? Why isn’t a national championship this tournament’s Line of Agonizing Disappointment?
Until you start collecting Final Fours I don’t think it’s fair to “demand” a team wins it all. The UA players certainly have the expectation of winning six straight games but if their journey ends in Dallas they can return home knowing they helped take Arizona to a level it hasn’t reached in a long time and a level Miller is trying to reach for the first time.
Final Four or Bust. Dallas or Desolation. The team is strong enough, the coach is hungry enough and the draw is good enough to make it happen.
It’s time. Even if these players weren’t old enough to remember the last time.
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