Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats, Sean Miller can learn from Florida, Billy Donovan


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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)


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The sun came up and Arizona Wildcats basketball is a day closer to the 2014-15 season. How else should Arizona coach Sean Miller, his staff and returning players think about their situation a day after their 2013-14 season came to an end?

Sean Miller believes Arizona's Elite Eight run sets tone for future seasons like this

Sean Miller believes Arizona’s Elite Eight run sets the tone for future seasons like this (YouTube video capture)

Arizona can learn about overcoming Elite Eight heartbreak from Florida and its coach Billy Donovan, who because of his friendship with Miller, probably reached out to the Arizona coach last night. If not, Miller can certainly touch base with Donovan about NCAA tournament resolve as a member of Donovan’s Team USA staff this summer during the 2014 FIBA Americas Under-18 Championship.

Florida endured three straight Elite Eight appearances without a Final Four before finally breaking through yesterday against Dayton and Miller’s brother Archie Miller.

Miller is 0-3 in Elite Eight games dating to 2008 with Xavier. The Wildcats are 1-5 in their last six Elite Eight games dating to 1998. They have come up empty in four straight Elite Eights, including that numbing overtime loss to Illinois in 2005 when they were up by 15 with four minutes remaining in regulation.

“I think our guys, I told them we need to battle this,” Donovan said about previous Elite Eight failures during the post-game press conference yesterday. “You get to three Elite Eights and you’re back here. The past has nothing to do with it. It’s trying to move on and advance.

“There’s no easy way out this time of year. Each team is more and more invested. … I think those experiences (losing three straight Elite Eight games) maybe helped us be a better team this year than maybe we would have been if we’d have gotten to a couple of (Final Fours) earlier.”



Does not take into account potential early departures to the NBA by Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Fifteen players are listed. The NCAA scholarship limit is 13.
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The difference between Florida this season and Arizona in 2014-15 will likely be the core personnel.

Donovan has three seniors — Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Will Yeguete — who experienced the three previous Elite Eight setbacks. Another player, junior Jacob Kurtz, was part of the last two.

They became stronger to the challenge because of their experience. Miller may not have that experience to draw from next season.

He may only have four of his top seven players — Brandon Ashley, T.J. McConnell, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York — returning next season. That remains a talented core but the departure of Aaron Gordon and potentially Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Nick Johnson to the NBA means Miller and his staff must manufacture again the success he and his staff built this season.

McConnell and Matt Korcheck will be seniors. Elliott Pitts is a sophomore who gained valuable playing time, but not nearly enough to count on for another Pac-12 title run.

The Wildcats will not be void of players who have taken part in significant games, but the potential void left behind by Gordon, Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson will be difficult to replace.

Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson played their best basketball of the season in the NCAA tournament (except for the early stages of the Wisconsin game).

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Johnson was deserving of the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. His defense and clutch scoring are tremendous, but his leadership ability was paramount.

If Johnson resists the temptation of earning an immediate paycheck in the NBA and returns to Arizona for his senior season, Arizona’s status goes from a Top 20 team to a Top 5 program once again. With him not making the Final Four and unable to earn a spot in the national title game this season, Arizona’s Mount Rushmore remains Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire and Jason Gardner (in my opinion).

If Johnson returns and avoids the possibility of coming off the bench in the NBA or playing in the developmental league, his name will be among the elite in Arizona’s career totals for scoring, steals, games played and games started.

Johnson has 1,333 points, which ranks him No. 24 on Arizona’s career list. He needs 432 points to crack Arizona’s top 10 and 592 to reach the Top 5. Johnson had 618 this season. If he has similar production next season, he can reasonably become Arizona’s third player to crack the 2,000-point barrier, joining Sean Elliott (2,555) and Bob Elliott (2,125).

Ka’Deem Carey left to the NFL after his junior season although he could have competed for a Heisman trophy and Charles White’s Pac-12 career rushing record.

In this day and age, taking advantage of the opportunity for a pro career overrides collegiate honors. Carey and Johnson made their share of All-American teams. That may be enough for them. For personal reasons, they might need the financial assurances of an immediate pro career.

Carey may not be selected until the third round of the NFL draft. Johnson is forecast as an early second-round draft choice by

Hollis-Jefferson is not rated in the first two rounds by and He is a future pro. Will he resist the temptation to leave right away?

He told Steve Rivera of “It was a heck of a season and even though we didn’t make it all the way, we gave the fans something to look forward to.”

Gordon is a certain lottery pick, so his career at Arizona is for all intents and purposes, over after one season.

An influx of talent next season, most notably from four-time California state champion, Stanley Johnson of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, provides Miller and his staff an opportunity to regenerate Arizona’s success at a quicker rate.

When I covered the AAU summer tournaments in Las Vegas last summer, members of the Oakland Soldiers outfit, which included Gordon in the past, said to a man that Stanley Johnson was a better all-around talent at the same stage.

I unequivocally agree.

Stanley Johnson’s toughness, basketball smarts, versatility and winning aura are a sight to behold. For him to be an important part of Mater Dei’s four consecutive state titles at the highest level of basketball in California — a state rich with talent — says it all.

Miller will also gain a dependable reinforcement for McConnell at point guard with Parker Jackson-Cartwright, rebounding power inside with Craig Victor from Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep (the same institution that produced Nick Johnson and Ashley) and more size from 7-footer Dusan Ristic inside to challenge Tarczewski.


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If Ristic was on this year’s roster, his support may have been enough to subdue Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Two capable 7-footers are better than one.

Kadeem Allen, a prolific-scoring guard from Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College, figures to challenge York for substantial playing time. Allen scored 854 points and averaged 25.9 a game this season. He scored 276 of those points at the free-throw line with an incredible 371 attempts.

His fearlessness and aggressive style should bring out the best in York in practice. If Nick Johnson leaves to the NBA, Allen would challenge York for that starting shooting guard role.

Tough competitions in practice, for example between Tarczewski and Ristic and Allen and York, can only make those players better and improve Arizona as a team overall.

Billy Donovan told his team they need to battle through the difficult experience of three straight Elite Eight appearances to finally climb that Final Four mountain. Miller will require the same resolve from his group after two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in his first five years at Arizona.

Who ever is on Miller’s roster for 2014-15 will be led by a more driven coach than this season because of Miller’s competitive fire.

“I think, again, when you have a season like we’ve had it only sets the tone for future seasons like this,” Miller said in the post-game press conference last night. “I know I’m the coach that’s (lost) three Elite Eights, but I have been to three Elite Eights … I’m really proud of all three of them.

“It’s not easy to get to the Elite Eight. … We have to keep doing things the way we’ve been, and one day we’ll cross that line, I know it.”

[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.


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