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2017-18 Arizona Team Could Be Sean Miller’s Best Yet


Best Coach Yet To Reach Final Four?

Arizona’s Sean Miller is on any short list among the best NCAA basketball coaches in the country. Maybe not on the level of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Kentucky’s John Calipari or Kansas’ Bill Self as they each have won at least one national title, are Hall of Famers (or will be) and on a tier by themselves.

However, Miller is atop the next tier; his brother, Archie, could soon join him there as the new coach at Indiana. In his Sean Miller’s 13 combined season at Xavier (2004-09) and Arizona (2009-current), Miller has a record of 340-113 (.751). His Wildcats have been PAC-12 regular-season and tournament champions two of the past three years. Yet something seems to happen to Miller’s teams come NCAA Tournament time as he is the most accomplished coach to never reach a Final Four.

In 2014, Arizona was a No. 1 seed but lost 64-63 to No. 2 Wisconsin in the West Regional Final. That Cats squad was led by future NBA players such as Aaron Gordon, T.J. McConnell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The next year, Arizona was a No. 2 seed in the West and lost again to Wisconsin in the regional final, 85-78. In 2016, Arizona was a No. 6 seed and lost in the first round to No. 11 Wichita State, 65-55.

This past season, Arizona was the co-PAC-12 regular-season champion with Oregon at 16-2 in the conference. The Wildcats would beat the Ducks in the PAC-12 title game to earn a No. 2 seed in the West for the Big Dance. UA beat No. 15 North Dakota in the first round, 100-82. It handled a very good No. 7 Saint Mary’s team 69-60 in Round 2. However, the Cats were upset 73-71 by No. 11 Xavier in the Sweet 16.

That Xavier loss had to burn even more considering that was Miller’s previous job and the Musketeers are coached by his former assistant and good friend. Chris Mack. Arizona appeared to be in control after Allonzo Trier scored 15 straight points to help push the Wildcats' lead to eight with about four minutes left. But the Cats didn’t score over the final 2:52 of the game and Xavier closed on a 9-0 run.

Who Left, Who’s Back & Coming?

Arguably the best player on last year’s squad was Finnish freshman Lauri Markkanen, who averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds. He did declare for the draft -- totally expected -- and will be a lottery pick. You can get him at +4000 at BetOnline’s NBA odds to go No. 1 overall. That’s not happening. Miller also has lost guard Kadeem Allen, a good defender who averaged 9.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Chance Comanche and Kobi Simmons also left but weren’t major contributors.

So why will the 2017-18 Cats be potentially Miller’s best team and NCAA basketball betting favorites to win the PAC-12 again? Because of who is coming back and a stacked recruiting class.

Guards Trier and Rawle Alkins and center Dusan Ristic all considered the NBA but will return. Trier was ineligible for the start of last season but ended up leading the team in scoring at 17.2 ppg. Alkins put up 10.9 points and 4.9 rebounds as a freshman. Ristic, from Serbia, has improved in each of his three seasons, putting up 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds last year.

Arizona’s 2017 recruiting class is ranked behind only those of Kentucky and Duke. The crown jewel is center DeAndre Ayton (in video above), the No. 1 prospect in the country (by some services) and an early candidate to be the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Ayton, who attends Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix, is the highest-ranked recruit to ever commit to Miller. Ayton is a 7-footer from the Bahamas who has been compared to a young Kevin Garnett. In addition, five-star recruit Emmanuel Akot is reclassifying from 2018 to 2017 and will play for Arizona this season.

The Wildcats thus will become the first team in modern history to add a top-three recruiting class to a roster returning three of its top four scorers from a club that won at least 32 games in the previous season. Arizona is currently +1100 on 5Dimes NCAA basketball odds to win its first National Title since 1997. That’s great value.

Article by Matthew Jordan

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