When you think of elite college basketball programs, there’s a few that come right to mind: Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Connecticut and Kentucky. You might be thinking of another few, but to dispute those five as elite in the current college basketball landscape probably means you aren’t watching.
Historically, other programs like UCLA, who bounced back this season after nearly 10 years of mixed results, Indiana, Michigan State and Louisville come to mind. Where does the Arizona program fit into all of this?
Historically, the Wildcats were not as nationally relevant as the teams listed until Lute Olson came along in the 1983-84 season. In Olson’s 23 years, the Wildcats won one national title and made the Final Four on four occasions. Still, schools like UNC, Duke and Kansas were a tier above the Wildcats.
So historically, the Arizona basketball program hasn’t quite been elite, but what about today? Have they been elite during the Sean Miller era?
Well, what is the definition of elite?
Winning national titles is hard. This year marks the 20-year anniversary of the Wildcats’ lone title in 1997, and since then, only 11 teams have cut down the nets after winning the final game. So if you base everything off of titles, the Wildcats certainly aren’t elite.
It’s been the same faces over the last 20 years. Outside of the University of Florida’s back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, when they boasted five players who would eventually be selected in the NBA Draft. Duke, UNC, UConn and Kentucky have won multiple national titles. The Kansas Jayhawks won the title in 2008 and have lost in the national final twice.
The next test to determine how elite a program is would be trips to the Final Four. Tucsonans know all too well that Miller has never made the Final Four. Until then, the Wildcats can’t be considered an elite program.
They are in the tier below elite status, however, with the likes of schools such as Villanova, Gonzaga and Syracuse.
Syracuse and Villanova both have their signature titles, the Orange in 2003 with Carmelo Anthony and ‘Nova won their first title since 1985. The Wildcats still have their 1997 title to rest on and have similar resumes as ‘Cuse and ‘Nova in the past 20 years.
Arizona has made the Elite Eight a staggering seven times in the past 20 seasons but reached the Final Four just once in 2001. Both ‘Nova and ‘Cuse have combined to make the Elite Eight seven times, but each school has multiple appearances in the Final Four during that span.
Until the Wildcats can break through and make the Final Four under Miller, they’ll only be considered as one of the best teams in the west. And with the Gonzaga Bulldogs breaking though and making the Final Four this year, the Wildcats will have to regain their status as the best out west in the coming seasons.
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