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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona near the top of college basketball royalty

ESPN+Basketball+Insider+Jeff+Goodman+%28right%29+poses+with+Logan+and+Bill+Murray+on+March+20.
Courtesy Jeff Goodman
ESPN Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman (right) poses with Logan and Bill Murray on March 20.

Yes, it’s true that the UA hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2001. And yes, it’s also true that there’s only that one national title hung in McKale—way back in 1997.

But it’s also accurate to say that Sean Miller has rebuilt the UA program into one of the best in America. It’s not Duke or Kentucky, but those two are on a different playing field than anyone else in the sport.

After that, a case can certainly be made that the UA is right there with everyone else—both on the floor and also in recruiting circles.

Let’s not forget: Miller took over a program that was a complete mess back in 2009. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. There were the health issues at the time surrounding Lute Olson that resulted in Kevin O’Neill taking the reins for a year. Then it was the duo of Russ Pennell and Mike Dunlap for a year.

It could have gone downhill, and it certainly appeared headed that way with a 16-15 mark in 2010. But then Miller, with Derrick Williams leading the way, took the UA to an improbable Elite Eight in 2011.

It would be the UA’s first of a trio of Elite Eight appearances in the past six seasons–something that only four other programs can claim: Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Florida (with Billy Donovan at the helm).

That’s living among basketball royalty.

If not for Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, the storyline would be different. There would be a Final Four on the resume if not for Wisconsin. Programs such as the UA’s are judged by Final Four appearances—and even national titles. Sometimes that makes it easy to overlook the consistency that the UA has had over the past few years. Georgetown, for instance, hasn’t been past the first weekend of the NCAA tourney since 2007. UA fans have had something to cheer about the second weekend for four of the past six years.

The talent level has been on par with just about anyone not named Duke or Kentucky. There have been a handful of first-round picks since 2011, and Miller has proven he can recruit against anyone—even John Calipari.

There has been consistency. the UA has been ranked in the polls for 78 consecutive weeks, which is second behind only Kansas. The last time the ‘Cats weren’t in the top 25 was back in November of the 2011/12 campaign.

The bottom line is that Miller gives the UA a chance every single year these days.

This year he brought in yet another strong class with a pair of top-25 recruits—Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins, as well as talented Finnish 7-footer Lauri Markkanen. He also signed Terrence Ferguson, who opted to play overseas instead of going to college. Miller and his staff have also began assembling another big-time class for next season, headlined by No. 1 overall player DeAndre Ayton.

Is UA basketball royalty on par with Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UNC? No, but Miller has made sure it’s not all that far off, either.


Follow Jeff Goodman on Twitter.


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