It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. During the next few weeks, we will give you a peek of what’s ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: Arizona.
When last we saw him, Sean Miller was a human puddle and a meme waiting to happen, his sweat-through white shirt looking more fit for a wet T-shirt contest than a televised NCAA tournament game.
Despite losing three seniors who also happened to be three starters, Miller won’t have too much to sweat this season. The Arizona Wildcats will be 1 or 1A to Oregon in the Pac-12, a reloaded team ready to match or better last season’s 25-win campaign.
Since arriving in Tucson, Miller has made Arizona a destination program, rebuilding the team into national prominence with what looks like ease. It’s actually more like a relentless pursuit. Miller is equally both intense and tireless, on the sidelines and on the recruiting trail. The reward for that toil this year comes in the form of the No. 3 recruiting class in the country. But how Miller put that class together tells you how the man works. For months it didn’t look like much was happening for the Wildcats, a quiet summer leaving fans slightly unnerved. Miller signed Finnish big man Lauri Markkanen in October, and then came the flurry. First up -- Kobi Simmons, a terrific point guard from Georgia who also was seriously considering Ohio State. Then came Rawle Alkins, a Brooklyn wing who spurned hometown favorite St. John’s to head west even after Miller came to the party late.
Finally, on the first day of the April signing period, came the big prize -- Terrance Ferguson, rated the No. 13 player in his class. Originally an Alabama commit, the USA Basketball gold-medal winner spurned Kansas, Baylor, North Carolina and NC State in favor of the Wildcats.
But frankly the biggest -- and maybe most surprising -- news for Arizona came a week before Ferguson’s commitment. Allonzo Trier announced he would not even test the NBA waters but would instead return to school.
While every other school was still in a holding pattern, waiting for its roster to crystallize, Arizona knew immediately it had a go-to guy. Because that’s exactly who Trier will be. As good as that recruiting class is, as nice as it is to have Kadeem Allen, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic back -- and hopefully Ray Smith, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL -- Trier is the big fish. As a freshman, Trier averaged 14.8 points per game despite missing seven games with a hand injury. He has the ability to be one of the most explosive players in the country next season, and without York and Tarczewski will certainly see more of the offense run through him.
All of that (and maybe a decent undershirt) should reduce the workload on Miller’s sweat glands this season, though the coach does have one anxiety-inducing issue to deal with. Miller, who starred as a coach at Xavier before coming to Arizona, is becoming a regular on the ignominious list of best coaches not to make the Final Four. For all of that recruiting success, despite a gaudy 307-108 overall record as a head coach, Miller has never made it to the last weekend of the season. He has been tantalizingly close -- three Elite Eights with the Wildcats, one with the Musketeers -- and certainly has been the model of consistency, missing the NCAA tourney just twice in 11 years as a head coach, but he has never crossed the Final Four threshold.
Is it a fair barometer in a tourney that often is determined by squirrelly bounces, crazy shots and poorly timed injuries? Probably not. But it is the reality that Miller lives in and he knows it.
Does it bother the ubercompetitive coach? Probably, but he’s not going to ever admit it.
Never, after all, let 'em see you sweat.