Miller Time: Arizona Emerges As Title Contender Much Sooner Than Expected

Ezra AmacherContributor IIIFebruary 18, 2011

April 6, 2009.

That is the day when Xavier head Coach Sean Miller accepted the same position at the University of Arizona.

Many people thought he was crazy to leave his job as head coach of one of the top mid major programs in the nation. Miller had just finished leading the Musketeers to a Sweet 16 run and the year before, they had reached the Elite Eight.

Even Miller wasn't totally behind his decision at first, it took some heavy persuasion from former Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood (left) to convince Miller that the once powerhouse Wildcats were the team that Miller should be leading to a deep NCAA Tournament run.

But after originally declining the job, one that was first offered to Tim Floyd who now coaches at UTEP, Miller agreed to be the first permanent head coach at Arizona following Lute Olson's official retirement.

Miller knew the high expectations that Arizona fans had developed under the time that Olson was head coach but he also knew it might be a while before Arizona got back to the elite level where Olson's teams consistently played at.

Fast forward 670 days to February 19, 2011

Arizona is 22-4 and 11-2 in Pac-10 play, almost guaranteeing the 26th NCAA Tournament berth for the Wildcats in 27 years. Miller deserves a lot of credit for the amazingly quick turn around but there is no denying that without potential NBA lottery pick Derrick Williams, the Wildcats would not be where they are right now.

Regardless, Miller has placed himself in serious contention for national coach of the year, by not allowing Arizona's basketball team to collapse the same way as Indiana recently has done.

The Wildcats are currently ranked 13th and will most likely crack the top 10 if they can win a monster show down against Washington. Not even the most optimistic Arizona fans could have expected the Wildcats to be this far head of schedule.

The team is still young and it's not hard to pick out the most obvious flaw in their play. Arizona has consistently allowed their opponents to climb back into the game instead of pouring on the points.

Against Washington State on Thursday, the Wildcats once had a 17 point lead but let the Klay Thompson led Cougars close the gap all the way to six points before Arizona was able to put them away and win their seventh straight game.

Miller preaches defense over anything else and he cannot be thrilled by seeing his team keep blowing large leads. However, there is no denying the final result, which has usually been in favor of the Wildcats this season. Even in a down year, going 11-2 in Pac-10 play through 13 games is difficult and something that Olson coached teams could rarely accomplish.

Arizona is not only excelling on the court but also on the recruiting trail. Thursday, Miller landed the final piece of a top 10 recruiting class by receiving a commitment from forward Angelo Chol who was originally born in Sudan but has been playing basketball at Hoover High School in San Diego.

Chol is a nice addition to an already loaded class that includes Findlay Prep guard Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner who is considered a five star recruit by Along with the two guards, Arizona will be bringing in a forward from the Bronx, New York named Sidiki Johnson, who is worth checking out.

Back to the present, Arizona may not be considered a serious threat to make a deep tournament run this season but they are certainly a team to look out for come March. Arizona goes 11 deep which will give them a big advantage down the stretch.

Is Arizona back to the level they were once at with Lute Olson? Not yet.

But behind Sean Miller, the thought of a potential Final Four run in Miller's second season as head coach is not too far out of reach.