Sean Miller has finally made it. Arizona basketball is now fully comprised of his players and his philosophy. He can now say with full certainty that this is his team. Miller also shares many of the same philosophies the great Lute Olson did before Miller stepped in: fast paced play and athleticism over set plays–let the players’ talent run freely without much constraint.
There is, however, one philosophy of the new Miller era that I am not jiving with: scheduling.
The Wildcats are ranked in the top 10 this year, and unlike last year when they received a pre-season ranking of #17, they deserve a ranking this year. The problem, however, is that we will not get to see how good this team truly is until around December, when Arizona faces #10 Florida. Even more unfortunate is the fact that Arizona will not be as prepared as they could be to face such a premiere opponent. Teams like Charleston Southern, UTEP, Long Beach State, Nothern Arizona, Texas Tech, Southern Miss and Clemson are not competitive enough to give Arizona the experience they need–especially with the young talent on their team–to tackle a much, much tougher opponent. They may or may not get another chance against a ranked opponent in the non-conference schedule when they go to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic (Miami is a decent opponent, and #20 San Diego State sits on the other side of that tournament’s bracket). With what appears to be another down year for the Pac-12, there will be the slightest room for error once again.
Schedules are usually put together years in advance. Arizona would like a competitive and balanced schedule but has to be careful, according to Miller, because he does not know years down the road which underclassmen will still be around and which underclassmen will already be in the NBA.
Quite frankly, this is weak sauce.
Think Lute Olson didn’t have to worry about the prospect his players would be gone before their four year term ended? If you think that went into his scheduling analysis (even though his underclassmen bolted for the NBA on a regular basis), go ahead and look at Arizona’s non-conference schedules under Olson’s tenure. Before Miller, Arizona had a reputation for taking on the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, and the strategy worked. Olson’s teams were highly competitive and prepared come NCAA Tournament time. Not only that, their repuatation for taking on the best opponents in the nation gave Arizona a resume that impressed the NCAA Tournament Committee enough to give Arizona the bid over other teams for simply, as Nike would say, having the guts to “Just Do It.”
Why didn’t Olson worry, you ask? Because Olson knew he had one of the best programs in the country. He knew that when one of his underclassmen bolted, another top recruit would fill those shoes. That another top recruit would fill those shoes because he knew he was playing for a team that was not only excellent, but that would be seen on national television on a weekly basis against top notch competition. For that reason, that the top recruit would get a chance to play in the Big Dance every year.
Simply put, if Miller has the confidence he says he does when he assures Arizona will be a powerhouse once again, he needs to show it by having no hesitation in putting together a strong non-conference schedule even if they are years down the road–powerhouses last not just years, but years and years.
Welcome to Arizona Coach Miller, we ain’t in Xavier anymore.
Tags: Arizona Wildcats