The return to prominence of Arizona has been remarkable under second-year coach Sean Miller. The Wildcats, who were thought to have fringe NCAA Tournament chances, are now almost at lock status with a high seed.
Miller came to Arizona after a successful run at Xavier. He kept that program afloat after replacing Thad Matta, and now has Arizona back on top in the Pac-10 after years of turmoil at the coaching position.
The trouble can be traced back to the beginning of the 2007-2008 season when it was announced that legendary coach Lute Olson was taking a leave of absence from coaching for the season. Journeyman coach Kevin O’Neill replaced Olson on what he believed to be a promise that he’d be Olson’s successor.
That season, despite great talent, the Wildcats struggled. At a postseason press conference, Olson became very agitated with reporters and announced that O’Neill would not be returning to coach at Arizona in any capacity.
Olson was then set to return to the bench, but just before the season began, he abruptly retired; citing health concerns. Russ Pennell coached another Wildcat squad that barely made the tournament, but parlayed their selection to the Sweet 16.
Enter Miller. Anyone who knows college basketball knows that he was going to turn this program back around. He’s one of the best young coaches in the game and has great contacts.
Arizona is back and soon, so will the Pac-(12)10.
Stock Up: Princeton. The first-place team in the Ivy League looks poised to reclaim its dominant position as the class of the conference. Coach Sydney Johnson’s Tigers have performed very admirably for team out of the Ivy – already recording four RPI top-100 wins. It’s already beaten it’s primary challenger, Harvard, at home with a return trip set for later in the season. If this keeps up, the Tigers may be heading for a pretty nice seed in the tournament.
Stock Down: Maryland. Get ready to hear Gary Williams complain about more NCAA tournament berths for the ACC because his team didn’t get the job done on the court. Maryland has had golden opportunities to get quality wins, but just haven’t been able to do so. There’s no weight to Williams’ argument if he even has one this season. The Terrapins are just going to have to win the ACC tournament to get in.
Stock Up: Texas. Could this be the best team in the Country? It seems the chemistry problems that plagued last season’s uber-talented Longhorn squad are long gone. Rick Barnes has found a way to get his guys to play certain roles. It also doesn’t hurt to have a guy like Jordan Hamilton, who is one of the best players in the nation. Texas seems poised for a Final Four run reminiscent of its 2003 team.
Stock Down: Michigan St. I don’t like this team any more than Tom Izzo does. This is not the way Michigan St plays basketball. The Spartans are always tough and rugged. They kill teams on the glass and play in your face defense. This team lacks all that toughness and it’s very surprising. This is a veteran group that many saw as the favorite to win the national championship. At this point, this team might have to set its sights on winning the NIT.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: Gonzaga, Alabama, Memphis, Cincinnati
Last Four Out: Virginia Commonwealth, Baylor, Virginia Tech, New Mexico
Good for Games through 2/14
1.Texas16.Long Beach St/McNeese St Tulsa
5.North Carolina12.Memphis/Alabama Washington, D.C.
6.Kentucky11.Michigan St Charlotte
7.St. John’s10.Utah St Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Bucknell
5.Xavier12.Boston College Tampa
6.Missouri11.Colorado St Washington, D.C.
7.St. Mary’s10.Marquette Charlotte
1.Pittsburgh16.Murray St Cleveland
8.Kansas St9.Old Dominion
7.Florida St10.Georgia Denver
1.Ohio St16.Long Island/Texas Southern Cleveland
5.Texas A&M12.Missouri St Tucson
2.Notre Dame15.Florida Atlantic