Can Arizona basketball have two historical seasons this year?
Sports editors Jack Cooper and Amit Syal give their opinions on the future of Arizona basketball, both men's and women's and what fans can expect for the 2019-2020 seasons.
Jack Cooper on Arizona men's basketball:
I’m not really sure what to expect this year for Arizona basketball. They’re in a very interesting position with everything that has happened over the last couple of years, with the NCAA investigation still going on, the FBI having an investigation and one of their former assistant coaches spending time in jail, and yet Sean Miller somehow still has a top 10 recruiting class, according to 247 Sports.
This is Miller’s 10th season as head coach at Arizona and he has a record of 264-89. While his overall record and winning percentage has been very good, the postseason success just hasn’t been there. Miller has been to seven Elite Eights and five Sweet Sixteens. He is one of the winningest coaches to have never been to a Final Four, and this year might be one of his best opportunities.
This year’s team has a top 10 recruiting class with Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Zeke Nnaji and Christian Koloko. Miller has also brought in transfers Jemarl Baker Jr., Stone Gettings and Max Hazzard. While the team from last year was nowhere near the standard that Miller has set, some of the most important players from that team are back for another year, as Chase Jeter, Ira Lee, Dylan Smith and Devonaire Doutrive will all play significant minutes.
When looking at teams that have made Final Fours in past years, the biggest thing all of them have in common is chemistry. Last year’s champion, Virgina, had guys who had all played together before. Chemistry is going to be the biggest thing for this Arizona team. While Lee, Jeter, Smith and Doutrive all played together last year, everyone else is new. There is some chemistry coming in with Mannion and Green. These two have played on the same U17 team and were both on the McDonald’s All-American Team together earlier this year.
I think Arizona will struggle a bit in the early season — maybe not struggle enough to lose games they should win, but I don’t think the margin of victory will be what people are expecting. Arizona shouldn’t face really any major problems until they face No. 16 Baylor on Dec. 7. A week later No. 8 Gonzaga will come to McKale for what could be one of the best games of the year in college basketball.
Once they get to conference play anything can really happen. I think they’ll finish the conference season around 14-4, which will keep them right around the top of the standings but not good enough to win the regular season championship. Once they get to the Pac-12 tournament, I think they’ll get hot and win that and be a two- or three-seed in the NCAA tournament.
I’ve watched Miller coach almost every single game since he took over in 2009 and I still don’t think he will get to the Final Four. They have all the right ingredients to make a run and get hot at the right time, but I don’t think they’ll get there. My prediction is they’ll lose in the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight; for some reason, I just don’t think they’ll be able to break through this year into the Final Four.
Amit Syal on Arizona women's basketball:
Arizona women's basketball is an interesting spot with the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season. The Wildcats won the WNIT bracket, but then again you have to take a step back and acknowledge the fact that they were in the WNIT to begin with.
Head Coach Adia Barnes had an interesting déjà vu last year beating the Northwestern Wildcats in the WNIT Championship game as a sophomore in college and again as the head coach. There is no doubt that Barnes' crew is a group of hungry and talented players, with players including Sam Thomas, Aari McDonald and Cate Reese.
Last year was a crucial year for the Wildcats. From this point on, they are only going in one direction: the right direction. This year, the women's basketball team will make a viable run to the post-season in the winner's bracket of the tournament. I believe they can make it to the Sweet 16 this year after taking home the WNIT championship last year.
Playing as many consecutive games as the team did last year in the post-season takes grit, something that the majority of the teams in the league don't have. Barnes and her crew will something inside of them burning so greatly after last season's historical win that can carry them far in the post-season.
Beyond the Sweet 16, there is a great deal of luck and factors out of Barnes' hands, but I think that the team will have what it takes to make a respectable run in the post-season. With dominant players such as McDonald and Reese having experience under their belts, there is absolutely nothing stopping them this year.
The WNIT Championship last season looked like only the beginning for UA women’s basketball and with Barnes at the helm for the foreseeable future, there’s no telling what or how many great accomplishments will be next.
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