Hoops’ position a testament to Miller
No coach in the Pac-12 Conference has had to deal with more this season than Sean Miller.
And if Arizona’s third-year head honcho can sneak the men’s basketball team into the NCAA Tournament, he’ll deserve to take home Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors for the second straight season.
The fact that Miller even has Arizona on the NCAA Tournament bubble and in a position to make a run at the conference title is flat-out remarkable.
Before the season even began, Miller lost one of the country’s top players in Derrick Williams. Then point guard and fiery leader Momo Jones jettisoned to Iona.
Without his two best players from the past season to lean on, Miller was forced to retool a team full of role players and freshmen in hopes that they could make it out of a conference ridden with parity — the fancy word for bad basketball.
Then the pre-season challenges arose.
Kevin Parrom, who was expected to be UA’s second- or third-best player, went through a trio of tragedies, leading Miller to put on his father hat and help the forward through struggles of epic proportions.
While playing the role of mentor, Miller also had to play disciplinarian.
Sidiki Johnson, who figured to be a big part of Arizona’s current and future plans, proved ill-equipped to meet the demands of UA basketball, leaving Miller no choice but to give Johnson the boot.
After Miller dismissed Johnson, his highly touted freshman point guard needed a wake-up call. Josiah Turner couldn’t adjust to college life along with the demands of athletics, leading to two suspensions.
Then there are the injuries. On top of coaching a 22-year-old kid through life-changing events, dismissing a player and molding a young point guard into a student-athlete, Miller had to change up his rotations due to injuries.
With Kevin Parrom out for the year and Jordin Mayes out for one to three more weeks, Miller’s been forced into a seven-man rotation. He said on Tuesday that he might even have to play walk-ons Dondre Wise and Max Wiepking out of necessity against Colorado and Utah, which would have been unthinkable a year ago.
Miller hasn’t exactly been flying first class since the season began. For the last six months he’s been stuck in the last row of coach next to the plus-sized woman and her three screaming babies all while the turbulence refused to let up.
But take a look at the Pac-12 standings or Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology picks and you’ll see Arizona right in the thick of things.
With two starting freshman guards, a 6-foot-7 center, a small forward playing power forward, a former role player as the so-called go-to guy and only two bench players, this team has no business winning the Pac-12 or making the tournament.
But Miller is squeezing every ounce of potential out of this team. He’s molded the Wildcats into one of the better defensive teams in the country, which is always a direct reflection of the man in charge.
Sure, Lorenzo Romar’s done a nice job with Washington, which sits in first place. But he has the luxury of five-star guard Tony Wroten, proven guards Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox and defensive anchor Aziz N’Diaye.
Cal’s Mike Montgomery and his team are winning, but Miller bested the Golden Bears on Thursday with a team that has less than half the experience Cal does.
Colorado’s Tad Boyle has to be in the discussion, but Boyle and the Buffaloes haven’t faced anywhere near the number of obstacles Miller’s Arizona team has this season.
This isn’t a pity party for Arizona’s head coach — he makes a seven-figure salary for a reason. But to have a pieced-together Arizona squad in the conference race with a chance of playing in March shouldn’t go without notice.
If Miller can keep control of the plane and land in an NCAA Tournament destination in March, a Pac-12 Coach of the Year trophy should be waiting for him at baggage claim.
— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter via @WildcatHoops.