The health of Arizona men's basketball still unknown despite Miller-Trier return

Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's Deandre Ayton (13) makes a face after a foul is called during the first half of the Arizona-Stanford game on Thursday, March 1 at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller returned to the team following a statement Thursday denying the ESPN report of an alleged fixed payment for the services of current freshman Deandre Ayton. Miller had been absent since Saturday, excusing himself from the team due to the distraction the news caused.

If the fans had anything to say about it Thursday against Stanford, they did. The Arizona faithful are all-in on Miller, cheering loudly as he took the court for the National Anthem and then again three minutes before tip. The student section chanted “Miller, Miller” and the cheers when Miller gave the traditional, “This is Arizona” line for pregame were deafening.

"For me it's kind of taking things one day at a time...tomorrow's a new day, what comes about you have to be able to handle and do things right," Miller said.

Much has been said about Miller in the past 5 days, but his return stabilizes a program on the ropes for the time being. But what is next for men’s hoops? Can the future of this program still be as bright with Miller at the helm? We take a look at what is next for the Wildcats.

Arizona's head coach Sean Miller gives a thumbs up before the start of the Arizona-Stanford game on Thursday March 1 at McKale Center.

Short Term

For now, Arizona has a real possibility of winning the Pac-12 regular season championship outright with a win over California at home Saturday after defeating Stanford Thursday in McKale. Doing so would give Miller and Arizona back-to-back regular season conference titles and four of the last five. A better span than any other power five conference team in the country outside of Kansas who just clinched their 14th straight conference title in the Big 12.

"I think we're ready to play our best basketball of the season," senior Dusan Ristic said. 

Allonzo Trier's return boosts Arizona up, at least in the national eye. For the rest of the country, having the conferences No. 2 scorer is huge, for Arizona, having Trier's late game ability is more important. Without Trier the Wildcats may not sniff a Final Four, with him the smell is a little more potent.

Arizona's Allonzo Trier (35) warms up for the game against Stanford on Thursday March 1 at McKale Center.

However, this won’t be a fight back against the resistance story if the Wildcats flame out in March. Another Sweet Sixteen exit or worse would be devastating considering the amount of talent on the roster, mainly Deandre Ayton.

Talents like Ayton don’t come along often, add in the controversy surrounding the ESPN article and his promise to take Miller to the National Championship, and it would be easy to feel depressed if Arizona comes up short. Lucky or not, a Pac-12 regular season title would likely put them in the West region of the NCAA Tournament. Meaning the road to San Antonio would begin in San Diego and travel through Los Angeles. Good for fans, not so much for UA. The Wildcats have yet to get past California in the previous five Sweet Sixteen appearances.

Long Term

Moving forward Arizona’s perception as a premiere power in college basketball has taken a hit. Four-star prospect Shareef O’Neal has already recommitted and joined the UCLA Bruins. There are no other commits in the fold for Arizona outside of guard Brandon Williams who reaffirmed his commitment on Twitter the past couple days.

Outside of that, there has been little to no news of the progress Arizona basketball on the recruiting trail. According to 247 Sports, the only player in the top 50 that is considering Jordan Brown, a 6’10 forward from Napa, Calif. The return of Miller and the vigor by which he approached the press conference should change this dynamic slightly. Though it remains to be seen just how much of an impact this will have.

It will be interesting to see how much progress Miller can make in such a short amount of time. Wildcat fans have been spoiled with top 10 recruiting classes for the most part under Miller, next year won’t be one of them. But the pieces in tow for next year and beyond are in place, assuming transfers don’t happen, which is always a possibility.

Arizona's Dylan Smith (3) grabs an offensive rebound during the first half of the Arizona-Stanford game on Thursday, March 1 at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Alex Barcello, Brandon Randolph and Dylan Smith will accompany Williams in the back court, while Chase Jeter, Ira Lee and Emmanuel Akot will be the only forwards or centers on the roster. The transfer market looks to be a key spot for Arizona to get quick help fast.

This is all under the assumption that Miller is still in Tucson to see all this through. There is still a very real possibility that the school moves on depending if any other issues come up FBI or otherwise. Miller’s admiration of support from University President Dr. Robert Robbins may also keep him in Tucson for the foreseeable future. However, there is also the possibility that Miller returns home to his alma mater Pittsburgh to save a riddled Panther program—but that’s a conversation for another day.

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