Now that I’ve had time to digest Arizona’s loss to Arizona State, catch up on my Olympic curling and have a couple of cups of coffee, here are five thoughts on UA basketball:
Derrick Williams was the lone UA player to speak to the media after the painful loss to Arizona State / Photo by Wildcat Sports Report
1. Don’t blame Sean Miller just because he sat at the table when the bill was due.
Players leaving early, lost recruiting classes, two years of interim head coaches, all kinds of off-court drama, four systems in four seasons … none of this is Miller’s fault.
Amid all the uncertainty, Arizona duct-taped together NCAA Tournament seasons in each of the past two years, thanks to NBA talents such as Jerryd Bayless, Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger.
Miller has a down-the-road NBA prospect in freshman Derrick Williams, who has to play out of position right now at center.
Take a look at an 18-year span of Arizona hoops, from 1987-88 to 2004-05. Amazingly, the Wildcats were no worse than a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament in all but two of those seasons.
Could Nic Wise have started for any of those teams? No.
Kyle Fogg? Definitely not.
Kevin Parrom? He’d probably be redshirting.
Jamelle Horne? He’d be a Gumby.
Derrick Williams? Yeah, he might have started for a few of those teams, but he mostly would have had to get behind a veteran in the frontcourt rotation.
Point is, let’s not kid ourselves about the talent Miller inherited.
2. Miller’s media policy needs tweaking.
Miller is definitely a “control the message” kind of coach, allowing no regular one-on-one interviews, very limited access to assistant coaches, no open locker room … with nearly everything funneled through those face-the-cameras news conferences that don’t inspire in-depth discussions.
I know, I know. This will come across as a media whine. But when only Williams, a freshman, is made available after Sunday’s loss to Arizona State, the real losers are the fans who might be interested in a range of emotions and explanations.
As it is now, pretty much everybody — from the Arizona Daily Star, to the TucsonCitizen.com Sports Network, to the local TV stations, to the websites — has the same audio and video in the same antiseptic environment.
Miller doesn’t have to open the locker room (although Lute Olson did for much of his time at Arizona, other than when he was mad at the media), but he also doesn’t have to insist on the press conference setting, either.
As was the case for years, several players could be made available on the court or in a room in McKale during weekly interview times, allowing for less-informal — and better — discussions.
In those cases, as a media member, you could work on stories or angles that didn’t have to be shared with all your competitors. And the fans received cumulative deeper coverage to help satisfy their passion.
3. I can’t hate Nic Wise.
He’s not the ultimate leader or the ultimate point guard. He’s not headed to the NBA.
In the past three seasons, he’s had to play minutes far above his skill level, and he hasn’t always made the play. But he’s certainly not afraid to take a big shot. He’s made a few of them, too.
Bottom line: The season would have been disaster without him.
4. Let’s put Arizona’s chances in the Pac-10 tournament at 14.3 percent.
I’m still bullish on UA’s ability to pull it all together and get hot in the Pac-10 tournament, where a championship would earn a ticket to the NCAAs.
Let’s break it down. USC is out because of self-imposed sanctions. Oregon isn’t good enough to compete. I don’t like Stanford’s depth or its road record.
That leaves seven teams of fairly equal ability, with the capacity to get hot or to really stink. Let’s give them equal 1-in-7 chances … or 14.3 percent.
5. It will once again be an Arizona-UCLA league.
Miller is lucky in this sense: He came into the Pac-10 not having to chase any program.
He doesn’t have to play catch-up on the court or on the recruiting trail to a UCLA program in the midst of three consecutive Final Four appearances. The Bruins have struggled right along with the Wildcats this season.
Arizona State should be more-than-solid for years to come, although the program has a lower ceiling than UCLA or Arizona. Washington hasn’t shown staying power. Cal might win its first Pac-10 title in 50 years, but will lose four seniors.
Other teams will rise and fall, but only UCLA and Arizona have dynasty potential. And they will go into next season neck-and-neck in the race to get back to the top.