Arizona begins quest for first national title under Miller
An Arizona basketball booster donated a stock-based retention package for Sean Miller that will be worth an estimated $6 million if the coach remains in Tucson through the 2020 season.
But why would Miller wish to leave? The Wildcats have gone 124–23 the last four seasons, won three Pac-12 championships and again have recruited one of college basketball’s most coveted freshman classes. In addition, Miller was able to hire 15-year Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar as his lead assistant coach.
The fire still burns. “I think if you’re a team that is 32–5, you won both the Pac-12 regular season and Pac-12 Tournament championships and your journey ends at the Sweet 16, it’s hard to say you didn’t get it done, it’s hard to view it as failure,” Miller says. “But our goal is always to get to the Final Four.”
That again will be the backdrop to Miller’s ninth season at Arizona. The Wildcats have not won the Big One, losing in the Elite Eight in 2011, '14 and '15 and blowing an eight-point lead while losing to Xavier in last year’s Sweet 16.
Arizona suffered significant personnel losses, including NBA Lottery pick Lauri Markkanen and NBA early entry players Chance Comanche and Kobi Simmons (both of whom went undrafted), but Miller believes his 2017-18 club is likely Arizona’s best chance to get to the school’s first Final Four since 2001 under Lute Olson.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Sean Miller
2016-17 RECORD (PAC-12): 32–5 (16–2)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Xavier 73–71 in the Sweet 16
G Kadeem Allen (9.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
C Chance Comanche (6.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
F Lauri Markkanen (15.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
G Kobi Simmons (8.7 ppg)
Freshman DeAndre Ayton is one of the most highly rated prospects ever to enroll at Arizona. He’s a versatile and athletic player with 3-point shooting range and rim-protection skills. But it’s unlikely Ayton will be Arizona’s floor leader or top scorer.
He’ll first have to be evaluated by Miller and Romar to find his best position. Even though he’s 7'1", Ayton’s not a traditional center; that spot will be filled by 7-foot senior Dusan Ristic, a productive low-post scorer who has not been a reliable rebounder or defensive player. Ayton is more apt to be deployed in a stretch-4 role.
Senior Keanu Pinder is a strong rebounder and defense-first role player who is expected to be in the rotation. After that, frontcourt minutes seem to be available to freshmen Ira Lee and Emmanuel Akot, although Akot has said that his future is in the backcourt.
So many pieces, so many good players.
Junior Allonzo Trier, who surprisingly passed on the NBA Draft, was Arizona’s leading scorer (17.2 ppg) last season. He has yet to play a full season, benched by an NCAA rules violation (2016-17) and a broken hand (’15-16). Trier will be the go-to shooter and has the size to get to the rim and the range to shoot from deep.
Shooting guard Rawle Alkins, who withdrew from the NBA Draft, could emerge as an All-Pac-12 performer — assuming he makes a full recovery after undergoing surgery in late September to repair a fractured bone in his right foot. He is expected back in late November or early December. Freshman Brandon Randolph and UNC Asheville transfer Dylan Smith will be designated shooters.
Senior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and freshman Alex Barcello are expected to share minutes running the offense. Jackson-Cartwright, who is small at 5'11", 170 pounds, is a defensive liability but a capable 3-point shooter and a clever passer with 99 games of experience.
Miller’s charge will be to squeeze 10 or 12 talented players into a cohesive eight- or nine-man unit. His roster management skills will be under scrutiny. This is probably Arizona’s most talented roster in 10 or 15 years. If the Wildcats remain healthy, anything less than a Final Four will be viewed as a disappointment.