Arizona basketball is back in the national spotlight for one reason: Wildcats coach Sean Miller.
Friday night's win over Duke in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off is another example of how well this program is doing, and Miller is the key to the program's success. What a job he has done with the Wildcats in a short period of time, as they're off to a 7-0 start entering Tuesday's game against Texas Tech.
For Friday night's NIT final, Miller developed a game plan to slow down diaper dandy Jabari Parker, who shot 7-of-21 from the field at Madison Square Garden -- well below the 60 percent he had been shooting from the field entering the game. Arizona trailed at halftime, but held Duke to 30 points after intermission.
Success starts with bringing in the right players, and Miller has done an incredible job in recruiting. He had a great class last season, and then added Aaron Gordon for 2013-14. Next season, he has a class rated No. 8 by ESPNU's recruiting gurus; that class includes Stanley Johnson, one of the top prep players in America. The Wildcats beat out Kentucky for the services of the star forward from Mater Dei High School in Fullerton, Calif.
Miller's passion for the game and personality stand out. It all started for him as a kid growing up in Beaver Falls, Pa., where his father, John, was a successful high school coach who taught his son the discipline of coaching.
It is a family affair for the Millers. Sean is doing a great job at Arizona, and his brother, Archie, has Dayton playing well. The Flyers beat Gonzaga and California out at the Maui Invitational, with a close loss to Baylor their lone blemish on the trip. Dayton also beat Georgia Tech earlier in the season.
Arizona will be heard from come March as the Wildcats have all the components to succeed come tournament time. Kaleb Tarczewski provides a presence in the post; he was a difference-maker in the Preseason NIT semifinals against Drexel, as the Wildcats rallied from a 27-8 deficit and showed heart and guts to come back and beat Bruiser Flint's team. That was not cupcake city.
Gordon is a special talent up front. He is more mature than your average diaper dandy and he has had a major impact already, scoring 10 points and pulling down seven rebounds against Duke.
Nick Johnson is one of the premiere guards in the country. He has been solid handling the ball, making shots and developing into a team leader off the court. He has been a combo guard because the point has been ably handled by T.J. McConnell, the transfer from Duquesne who had eight assists and just two turnovers against the Blue Devils on Friday. McConnell handles the ball and distributes the rock at the right time, setting up his teammates.
Brandon Ashley is a big-time player on the baseline who came through Friday with 13 points, making 6 of 8 shots from the field.
But it all starts with Miller at the controls. He is a winner and you can see why the fans in Tuscon were excited when he said no to NC State a few years back when they made a run at him for their coaching vacancy.
The Wildcats are the favorites in the competitive Pac-12, and Friday's win over Duke will provide a confidence boost for Miller's team.