A first-round exit? Now we know Kevin O’Neill has what it takes to coach at Arizona.
But seriously, folks, I stand by what I said last week. This team endured a season unlike any we’ve ever seen so I’m not going to go into prolonged mourning over one more loss. Yeah, it would’ve been nice to shoot better, or to play a little defense on the perimeter, but when your last winning streak of any kind was in January it’s kind of hard to go deep into March.
I never expected a bunch of wins in this tournament. But I really need UCLA to win one more game for my sanity. Because if West Virginia ends up in the regional final, in Phoenix, against Western Kentucky…bless my snake-bitten heart.
After a second straight year of bad late-season basketball followed by an early flameout I took a look back to see how I was feeling 12 months ago. I had to laugh when I came across this part: “Purdue scored the first six points of the second half and we turned the ball over on three of our first four possessions, yet the game continued without interruption. Apparently we were saving our timeouts for April.” If we have learned one thing it is this: Not using timeouts wasn’t the problem.
Here’s an update on another bad memory from last year:
Senior Class, Record, Winning %, NCAA Tournament Wins
2003, 107-29, .787, 11
2005, 102-31, .767, 8
2006, 98-34, .742, 7
2007, 90-41, .687, 4
2008, 89-46, .659, 4
You want to make even sicker? Take a moment to think about how many tournament wins this year’s junior class has. That’s right, one. ONE. We’re about to graduate an entire class that has no idea that the NCAA tournament takes place in more than one gym.
So now Lute Olson resumes full-time control of the Arizona basketball program. If I’m Coach O the first thing I do is start recruiting. That’s right, I drive straight to Jerryd Bayless’ house.
I sit young Jerryd down and I tell him this:
Here’s the deal. You had an excellent freshman year. You played a lot more minutes that you should have, and you carried a much greater burden that you expected. And yet, you battled through it and impressed a lot of people.
We both know what the draft projections say. You’re a guaranteed lottery pick and probably in the top five. From a professional standpoint there is zero reason for you to stay in school. If you sign a couple papers you’re an instant millionaire and on the fast track to NBA stardom.
But I know that’s not enough for you. I recruited you for years because I see in you the same thing that drives me 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: Winning. You need to win. It consumes every ounce of your being.
If you go to the NBA this year you will play for a losing team. If you go to the NBA next year you will play for a losing team. Losing is going to be a big part of your early professional career. But it doesn’t have to define your college career.
If you stay at Arizona for another year we will win. Big. You will be the focal point of a fast-paced, high-octane offense. You will play with two high-quality point guards who will ensure you face single coverage every game, and you will dominate it.
You will be the Pac-10 Player of the Year. You will be on the short list for national player of the year. You will be on magazine covers and headline SportsCenter. You’ll get your own video game.
And you’ll win. We will win together. I will stop at nothing to reclaim my throne at the top of the college basketball world and you hold the key.
The money will be there. The NBA glory will be there. But you have one chance to conquer the college game and make it your own. Rule with me, Jerryd Bayless. WIN.
Anyway, how are you doing? You need some laundry done or anything? Fendi, get in here!
Arizona Basketball has a lot of problems right now. Yes, Lute needs to get the O’Neill situation figured out. Yes, he needs to make sure he has enough help from his assistant coaches. But he could add John Wooden, Vince Lombardi and Albert Einstein to his staff and it won’t make a lot of difference if he doesn’t have enough good players.
There’s only one sure-fire superstar in this next recruiting class. Brandon Jennings will have a Jerryd Bayless-like impact. But after that the rest of the star power has to come from existing players. Every guy that Lute can convince to stick around is a significant victory.
But it’s not all bad, Wildcat fans. At least we still have our streak of 21 straight 19-win seasons.
I was going to tell you to jump into baseball season but suddenly that’s not going very well either.
The week started competitively enough with a one-run non-conference defeat at Arizona State. We fell behind in the first inning, battled back early on, fell behind again by the one run and just couldn’t get it back. We got our leadoff man on in four of the final five innings but were not able to bring him in.
Things went downhill from there as the Cats’ quest for a Pac-10 championship took an early hit with a series loss to a USC team that, frankly, isn’t that good. The Trojans have played a solid schedule but they have more losses than anyone else in the league and they were barely above .500 before facing us.
The good news is the last five conference champions have lost a league series at some point during the year. The key is making it up with sweeps along the way. Last year ASU lost one series but swept four other series. In 2006 OSU lost two series but had three sweeps. The ’05 Beavers lost one and swept four.
Since the two halves of the conference merged nine years ago the league champion has averaged six losses. It’s not exactly wise to burn two the first weekend, but it can be done if you win every other series and pick up three sweeps along the way. That means dominating at home, and that starts this Friday against UCLA.
The other thing to keep in mind is a hot start doesn’t guarantee anything. Remember last year’s squad started Pac-10 play at 6-0 and 8-1 (including a sweep of eventual national champion Oregon State), and the Cats faltered at the end.
Maybe this year’s team is just pacing itself.
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