Despite March Madness losses, Tommy Lloyd is still the future of Arizona Basketball

Two Sweet Sixteen exits and a stunning Round of 64 upset leave a bad taste, but Lloyd is the guy for the long haul.

Mar 27, 2024; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd during a press conference
Mar 27, 2024; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd during a press conference / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Youthful movements

With so much success and such a smooth transition from Sean Miller to Lloyd, it's easy to forget that this is not just his third year with Arizona, but his third year ever as a head coach. Between his age and track record early on, the best basketball under Lloyd has yet to come. Lloyd is a relatively young guy; he's the same age as Nate Oats (49) and was the third-youngest coach in the Sweet Sixteen after T.J. Otzelberger and Shaka Smart (both 46) and Jon Scheyer (36).

At a still-spry 49 years old and fresh off an extension through the 2029 season, Lloyd is poised to have a long and fruitful career down in the Old Pueblo. Though occasionally to a fault, Lloyd is a part of the new movement of being a player's coach. Instead of living and dying with results, Lloyd's focus is on creating a culture of success that will live longer than the result of any single game.

Titles are fleeting

You'd be hard-pressed to find people calling for UConn's Dan Hurley, Baylor's Scott Drew, or Kansas' Bill Self. The three of them have something in common: long waits for their first national title. It took Self 15 seasons and four stops, Drew took 19 years and two stops, and Hurley took an astounding 22 years and four stops to win his first title. Even the great John Calipari only has one title to his name after 15 years as the head man at Kentucky.

All this is to say that winning a national title is extremely difficult. All 351 Division I schools have dreams of a national title, and only 68 actually get their shot. Though losing in the Sweet Sixteen feels disappointing, Arizona being one of the top 16 teams out of 350+ in two out of three years is far from an indictment on Lloyd.

A true professional

Some coaches — like the angry little Mick Cronin — would rather throw their players under the bus than put their own necks on the line. This has never once been Lloyd's M.O.; he'd rather lift his players up in the public eye and not throw them to the wolves of the presses. No matter how bad a game Caleb Love, Kylan Boswell, Azuolas Tubelis, or Kerr Kriisa had, they were never scapegoated.

What may appear as an unwillingness to call it "like it is" in the eyes of external forces will actually be perceived as a staunch defense of his guys by the people on the inside. Not throwing a player out into the cold for one bad game/a string of bad games shows how much Lloyd cares for his players beyond what they can do on the hardwood.

The takeaway

Arizona Basketball is still in good hands, and it will be for a long time. Don't count the chickens before they hatch; Lute Olson took a little bit to settle in too. In Olson's first four years, Arizona made the tournament three times and was a first-round exit all three years. It's important to remember just why these Lloyd losses are so crushing: it's because he is a great coach and a leader of men.

He set the bar for excellence in his first year, and he's more than capable of reaching those heights again. It's as simple as not letting him get out of the building, and both Arizona Basketball and Lloyd will adjust and grow. By the time his tenure in Tucson is done, Lloyd will be very familiar with both the Elite Eight and Final Four, and Arizona will be a better program for it.

ICYMI. MMLoss. Arizona Basketball's March Madness run cut short by Clemson. dark

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