The Arizona Wildcats’ season ended on Saturday in a premature fashion to Wildcats fans, falling in overtime to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight by a score of 64-63. While the loss felt like a swift punch to the gut, Arizona fans have nothing to be upset about. Sean Miller has elevated this team to truly elite status with his defensive wizardry and recruiting prowess. His Wildcats will have their names in the conversation for NCAA championship contenders for the foreseeable future.
It must not be forgotten that this season was just Sean Miller’s second with all of his own recruits, and fifth season overall. The drastic overhaul he has led this team on now has Arizona very much on a similar level as the ‘Cats that Lute Olsen led for decades. Arizona began the season 21-0 before finishing 12-5 following a crippling injury to Brandon Ashley, one of the team’s most critical players. His broken foot in hindsight likely threw far too big of a roadblock in the path of Arizona’s national title aspirations.
Without dwelling on the what-ifs, fans can take solace in a 33-win season. Dreaming about what would have happened with a healthy Brandon Ashley takes away from the fantastic season the team put together. The painful part is pondering what kind of roster turnover Arizona will have. Seldom-used point guard Jordin Mayes is the only graduating senior. Freshman Aaron Gordon has long been considered a one-and-done, but Arizona has his heir-apparent waiting in the wings coming in next year in five-star recruit Stanley Johnson, who just wrapped up his high school career by becoming the first player in California history to win four state championships, the third of which came on a victory over Aaron Gordon’s squad in the title game. Fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson may ride his strong tourney performance right into the NBA and could be followed by Nick Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski as well.
Arizona fans are hoping to keep as many of that group around as possible, but regardless of what happens the team is in great hands. Sean Miller is a beast on the recruiting trail and seemingly has the entire west coast at his disposal when it comes to high school talent. Miller has landed every five-star recruit from the state of California over the past four seasons by bringing in Gordon, Ashley, Stanley Johnson, Josiah Turner and Grant Jerrett. That does not include fellow five-star and No. 2 guard in the 2015 class Tyler Dorsey, also a future Arizona commit. Miller is still very much in the running for Ivan Rabb, the top overall recruit in the 2015 class who Johnson just beat in the California state championship.
The loss to Wisconsin was painful to say the least. That much was evident by the raucous riots on Arizona’s campus following the loss, but once the stench from the loss wears off it will become more clear that Arizona is once again a basketball powerhouse that will be a threat for a long time. Miller has a instilled fantastic ideologies into this program and has truly made it his own. He gets guys who fit his mold and are more interested in the team aspect as opposed to being a one-and-done. He will continue to bring in coachable and talented guys and fans can be sure that Arizona basketball will not be slowing down anytime soon.
Commentary by Justin Hussong