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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona fans need to back off of Sean Miller

Simon Asher

Sean Miller looks on to his team during the Arizona-UCLA game on Friday, March 10. 

The Arizona Wildcats were upset in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament by No. 11-seed Xavier last Thursday in San Jose, and the backlash from fans toward head coach Sean Miller has been nothing short of ridiculous.

Arizona fans have long clamored for a return to the Final Four, and with top recruiting classes and a wealth of success during the seasons, Miller, to some extent, has set himself up for failure. Such are the pitfalls of not meeting expectations at one of the West Coast’s best basketball programs. But to think that Arizona would somehow be better off without Miller is the epitome of fool’s gold.

Miller in his eighth season reached the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth time, reaching the Elite Eight three of those years. As this year went along, expectations grew higher as the Wildcats clawed their way to the Pac-12 Tournament Title and a share of the regular season crown. Couple that with a West Region in the NCAA Tournament that seemed ripe for the ‘Cats’ plucking. Understandably, the fans are discouraged.

However, Miller remains one of the premier coaches in the country, still widely considered to be the best coach to never reach a Final Four. Just a quick view around Twitter from analysts around the country will confirm that. But that isn’t enough for locals.

Miller has 220 victories and four conference regular season championships in his time at the helm of the Wildcats. Lute Olson had 190 wins and five championships in that same amount of time. The tournament is ruthless, and sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way, as Miller has seen time and time again.

Think about this: Kansas head coach Bill Self has been at KU for 14 years and has only been to the Final Four twice in that time. Self won the title in 2008, and all the while won 13 consecutive Big-12 regular season championships. Miller has six years to match those numbers, and I’d wager that he’ll do it.

If not Miller, then who? Do you think that some other upstart coach somewhere else in the country will come in and not only maintain the level of success, but expand on it? Please. What Miller’s done hasn’t been easy.

It is simple to forget the numerous names that were rumored to be targets like Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Tom Izzo and Mark Few, all rumored to scoff at the possibility of leading the Wildcats. None of them wanted to follow a legend like Olson, but Sean Miller, after some trepidation, did.

He saved, yes saved, a program on the verge of an utter meltdown. Just think where the Wildcats would be with a guy like Tim Floyd or Reggie Theus right now. Floyd is a coach that can’t even get his team to the top of Conference-USA, and Theus has 30 total wins in the past three seasons in the Big West Conference.

Would you really want Josh Pastner? Sure Pastner is a quality, young coach, but to think he could do what Miller has done after having solid talent flounder at Memphis is a bit absurd.

He couldn’t even live up to expectations at Memphis; how would he do it here? I’m sure that will boil the blood of Arizona fans to see Pastner get thrown under the bus, but college basketball is not for the weak.

It is easy to forget Olson had his struggles in various ways when comparing the two coaches. Sure Olson has a national championship, but he had to lose to Santa Clara and East Tennessee State in back-to-back years and in humiliating ways to figure out the road to the top. Olson reached one Final Four in his first 10 seasons, by that metric Miller has two seasons to match that feat. In 24 seasons at Arizona, Olson went to four Final Fours. I’d wager everything to say if Miller sticks around for 16 more years he’ll match that.

Lest we forget, even Lute was a mere College of Charleston jump shot away from possibly losing in the second round in 1997. Furthermore, that same team was upset by Utah the next year when they were considered to be the front runner for the national championship, boasting NBA prospects at nearly every position.

Miller will figure it all out, and when he does Wildcat fans will rejoice. So put down the pitchforks and go home; there is nothing to see here, just a man that is as desperate to win a national title as any die-hard Arizona fan. The difference being that he has the power to do something about it, which he will.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.

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