Final Four in Phoenix adds pressure to Sean Miller, Wildcats
Sean Miller will try to juggle injuries, academic issues and a suddenly thin roster to try and make it to the promised land—in Phoenix.
With the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Arizona men’s basketball national championship team in the presence of this year’s squad, there’s added pressure, which gives a vibe that this should be the team that takes head coach Sean Miller to the top of the college basketball world.
It’s not the fact that it’s a two-decade long drought since the Wildcats cut down the nets or even 16 years since their last Final Four, but the location. For once the Final Four is west of Texas since the 1995 Seattle Final Four and it’s a two-hour drive from Tucson at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
No pressure for Miller to make his first career Final Four appearance when it’s right up the road, right?
Every season under Miller, the expectations are always to make the Final Four, even if that’s a task he hasn’t been able to cross off his list during his time in college basketball. And a fanbase that stands behind Arizona basketball, it’s certain to be a special time in April if the Wildcats are playing in the valley of the sun.
“We have such a rabid fanbase in not just Arizona but throughout the nation and everybody is always excited about our season beginning and everyone has aspirations of it ending in the Final Four,” Miller said.
Miller already knows his job isn’t at stake if the Wildcats don’t make the Final Four, considering he’s maintained the reputation that Arizona is the west coast NBA factory by hauling in some of the nation’s best recruits.
For the Pac-12 Conference to move the tournament from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, that transition shows how beastly and chaotic Arizona fans are. During the 2015 Pac-12 championship against Oregon, when the Wildcats were placed on the biggest stage at that time, about 85 percent of the fans in MGM Grand Garden Arena were wearing an Arizona T-shirt and that’s being generous.
Just imagine what an NFL stadium would look like in Arizona if the Wildcats were playing. For the first time ever, the basketball team would have more fans at one game than the football team did all season. In a perfect world that sounds grand, but even Miller understands that his team has to win to get there.
“For us to really get ahead of ourselves and really talk that talk, that’s not going to get us there,” Miller said. “There’s a process in sports that it’s easy to cheat and it’s not the cool thing to talk about. The cool thing to talk about is the results. ‘Are you going to win the conference? How far will you go in the tournament? Will you be in the tournament? Will you be in Phoenix?’… All of these questions you ask, you don’t know the answers and in some instances I don’t.”
With a team defending outright conference champions and No. 5 ranked Oregon having high hopes for its season, the Wildcats have an unusual challenge in recent years to dethrone the top dogs. Don’t forget teams like California, Utah, Washington and UCLA have all caught up to the times with Miller in recruiting by bringing in potential NBA first-round talent, so this season will be an uphill battle.
For now, with a freshman class that is viewed to carry the load along with returning veterans, the team still has to find a way to gel this season, so fast-forwarding to April is not wise.
“We’re just taking it day-by-day,” Freshman guard Kobi Simmons said. “We got a whole season ahead of us and we’re just looking forward to the season so there’s nothing you can say less than that.”
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