Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In Which We Deviate from the Norm

Left Coast Bias was created and has been exclusively a blog about San Diego Padres baseball.

But today, we take a break from that to discuss one of this writers other sports passions. University of Arizona basketball.

For those who don't know, I graduated from the University of Arizona in 2003. Prior to that, I had lived in Tucson since 1990. And if there is one thing that all Tucsonan's agree on, its a love and passion for Wildcat basketball.

When you have the history of success this school has had in basketball, its easy to see why.

Lute Olson was hired following a disastrous 4-23 season in 1983. From the University of Iowa, Olson had taken the Hawkeyes to the Final Four in 1980 and a Sweet 16 appearance in 1983. When he entered the campus in Tucson, the Wildcat basketball program was nothing short of a joke. What followed was one of the most impressive coaching eras in college basketball history.

In 1986, Arizona won its first Pac-10 title. In 1988, with players like Steve Kerr and Sean Elliot, Arizona reached their first Final Four.

Then came the 1997 season. After finishing 5th in the Pac-10, the Wildcats received the 4th seed in the Southeast Region and went on to beat top seeded Kansas in the Sweet 16, #1 seed UNC in the Final Four and #1 seed Kentucky for the National Championship. To this day, the only team to beat three #1 seeds in one tournament.

In all, under Lute Olson, the Wildcasts made 12 Sweet Sixteens, 7 Elite Eights, 4 Final Fours, 1 National Runner Up and 1 National Championship.

And lest we forget the most impressive stat of all. Arizona made the NCAA Tournament 25 years in a row. A streak second only to UNC 27 straight appearances. Growing up, Arizona making the tournament was a foregone conclusion. It wasn't until recently that I experienced the stress and excitement of Selection Sunday like most fans.

Unfortunately, the Lute Olson era did not end in a clean way. During the 2007-2008 season, Lute Olson took an unexplained leave of absence, leaving Kevin O'Neill (current Trojan head coach) as the interim coach. A verbal succession agreement was reached with O'Neill, but pretty early on it was apparent that O'Neill's personality did not fit with the Wildcat program created by Lute Olson. Olson returned, briefly, only to take another leave of absence, leaving the team without a clear head coach or a succession plan if Lute Olson was unable to return. His age and health concerns* had been whispered about throughout Tucson for some time and it appeared that Olson's days as head coach of Arizona were numbered, if not already over. Kevin O'Neill having left for USC, Russ Pennel was brought in as the interim head coach for the 2008-2009 season, leading Arizona to a Sweet 16 as a 12 seed.

In all, Arizona lost commitments from three top recruits and forfeited an entire recruiting season as they held a nationwide search for a head coach.

Which they found in Sean Miller.

In 5 seasons as the head coach at Xavier, Sean Miller made the NCAA tournament 4 times, reaching the Elite Eight once and the Sweet Sixteen once. Sean Miller may not have been the big, flashy name many had hoped (among names publicly tossed out at one time or another: John Calipari, Jamie Dixon and Mark Few) but he came with a reputation for recruiting and winning in March.

"Whoever takes the Arizona job will have a 6 year rebuilding job ahead of him." - Andy Katz

Sean Miller was hired on April 7th, 2009. In his first recruiting class, he signed Derrick Williams, MoMo Jones and convinced Solomon Hill to re-commit.

On March 24th, 2011, Sean Miller will take his Arizona Wildcats into Anaheim and a Sweet 16 game vs Duke. The 6 year rebuilding plan being accomplished in 2 years.

Win or lose on Thursday, there is no argument that the 2010-2011 season has been successful for the Wildcats. Not only for their record, Pac-10 championship and tournament run, but for putting Arizona back where they belong. As part of the elite of college basketball.

But since we'll be in Anaheim anyway, might as well go ahead and beat Duke.


Tom said...

Thoughts on NC State luring Sean away? Personally I think it makes no sense (I'll save that for another post) but many NCSU fans are convinced...

JEMATZ said...

Sean's not leaving for NC State, I'd only worry if that Pitt job ever opens up (which shouldn't happen anytime soon). Love the blog name & the Andy Katz quote. Go Cats!

GTH said...

I cant imagine Sean Miller would leave for the NC State job, though I know there is a lot of talk in Carolina about it. Not sure what would be in it for Miller that he doesn't have in Tucson. While he has brought the program back in a short period, still a lot left to accomplish.
If Pitt opened up that may be a concern, but despite their lackluster tournament performances of late, can't imagine Jamie Dixon's job is in jeopardy.

Maddy and Geoff said...

BEAR DOWN Arizona!!!

GTH said...

@Tom Regarding Sean Miller leaving for NC State, per the Sporting News: http://aol.sportingnews.com/ncaa-basketball/story/2011-03-15/arizonas-sean-miller-unlikely-to-depart-for-nc-state
To much chance for success right now for Miller to leave to rebuild a program, despite his ties to that University.

Anonymous said...