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Sean Miller has rejuvenated Arizona’s program to the heights of the Lute Olson era but he has constructed winning teams differently.
In Olson’s time, one-and-dones and early entrants into the NBA were not as prevalent, thus allowing him to stockpile talent from one year to the next. In Miller’s case, the leading scorer can come and go from one season to the next.
This season will mark only the second time in the last 33 years — when Olson took over the program following the 1982-83 season — that Arizona’s leading returning scorer averages less than 10 points a game. That is Kaleb Tarczewski at 9.3 points a game, closely followed by Gabe York at 9.2. Gone are double-digit scorers from last year Stanley Johnson (13.8), Brandon Ashley (12.2), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (11.2) and T.J. McConnell (10.4).
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The only other time that happened was also in the Miller era when Kyle Fogg was the leading returning scorer at only 8.1 points per game heading into 2011-12 season. Derrick Williams, the lone scorer to average in double figures (19.8 points) in 2010-11, left to the NBA after that season.
Miller has done something Olson was unable to do as well — adjust without many leading scorers returning.
Hard to believe: Only once in the Miller era (from the 2009-10 season to now) has he had the luxury of coaching a team with more than one returning scorer in double figures. That was in his second season when Williams (15.7) and Fogg (11.1) returned.
In the last five seasons, including this one, Miller has only featured three returning scorers in double figures, one each in 2011-12 (Solomon Hill, 12.9), 2012-13 (Nick Johnson, 11.5) and 2013-14 (Ashley, 11.5).
He has one Sweet 16 trip and two Elite Eights in that span.
Olson, on the other hand, had only five times in his 24 seasons as Arizona’s coach in which he had only one returning scorer in double figures. In four of those seasons, Arizona could only go as far as the second round of the NCAA tournament. In the other season, in 1995-96 when Joseph Blair (12.0) was the lone returning scorer in double figures, the Wildcats were eliminated in the Sweet 16.
Olson had incredibly five scorers in double figures return for the 2000-01 season, the last time Arizona has made it to the Final Four.
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