Has Sean Miller Been a Success or a Failure at Arizona?


The Arizona Wildcats, bounced from the NCAA Tournament by underdog Xavier, once again fell short of expectations. Thanks to his former team, Sean Miller is once again in the crosshairs of those who want to question his ability to win the big one.. His track record is one of a guy who can lead his horses to water, but can’t get them to go any further.

2017 – Sweet 16 loss, Xavier
2016 – 1st round loss, Wichita State
2015 – Elite 8 loss, Wisconsin
2014 – Elite 8 loss, Wisconsin
2013 – Sweet 16 loss, Ohio State

Miller took over the reins in 2009. His first season was rocky (16-15) but the next saw Arizona make it all the way to the Elite Eight. In total, he’s been at the helm for eight years. The Wildcats have made five Sweet 16s and three Elite Eights in that time.

At most other schools, that would be a fantastic yield on investment. The standard is higher at Arizona — and should be. Miller, to his credit, has been a monster on the recruiting trail. The third-ranked class coming in next year will be the seventh straight in the top-7 nationally, per ESPN.

That talent hasn’t translated to a single Final Four trip. The program hasn’t been there since 2001 under Lute Olson. The frustration is understandable.

Miller is not doing himself any favors by making a habit of losing elimination games as a favorite. He’s also not doing irreparable harm to himself by getting bounced early in the tournament.

Based on seed, Arizona’s expected tournament win total during Miller’s tenure is 11.8. In reality, they’ve won 13. In the last four years, though, Arizona’s 8 tournament wins fall short of the 9.4 expected.

On paper, Miller looks like a success. When the numbers are crunched and cooler heads donned, he looks to be getting the job done. But when the eye test is employed and emotion enters in, it’s tough to passionately defend Miller. His teams have gagged under the bright lights — and this year’s failure stings the most as the Wildcats would have been favored in every game up to — and possibly including — the championship.

Xavier is good but they are an 11-seed. Gonzaga has lost just once all year but appear beatable. The East Region winner won’t be a juggernaut. The path was clear.

Miller is in the squishy middle. Like Steven Koren in Seinfeld, he’s doing enough to get by, but not applying himself to his full potential. He’s right in that meaty part of the curve.

There’s no intellectually honest hot take to be given. Miller deserves to stay. The fans also deserve a trip to the Final Four sooner, rather than later. What Miller accomplishes the next few years will dictate his future.

The situation isn’t totally hopeless. As mentioned, he’ll bring in more prized recruits. Plus, history is dotted with coaches who took even longer than Miller to get to the promised land. Jim Calhoun didn’t take UConn to the Final Four until his 13th year on the job. The same for Bo Ryan at Wisconsin.

Will Miller be given that much slack? Probably not. He can’t stay in this squishy place forever.