Are the Arizona Wildcats Dunzo as a National Powerhouse?

Jay Pryce

Thursday, May 17, 2018 1:49 PM UTC

Thursday, May. 17, 2018 1:49 PM UTC

No elite college basketball program has taken the brunt of the ongoing FBI investigation into illegal recruiting practices harder than the Arizona Wildcats. Is the program done as a national title contender? You bet.

No elite college basketball program has taken the brunt of the ongoing FBI investigation into illegal recruiting practices harder than perennial national title contender Arizona. In addition to the arrest of former assistant Book Richardson, head coach Sean Miller fought off allegations of a pay-for-play scheme involving star freshman Deandre Ayton. Although forced to sign an amended contract, the university found the charges against the 10-year coach “false and unfounded” in an internal investigation. For now, Miller survives. Nevertheless, the program has taken a hit, and forced changes will likely see the Wildcats slip out of national title contention for years to come.

Talent Drain

The fallout from the FBI corruption probe and Miller’s illegal recruiting allegations blew up a once-stellar incoming 2018 class. Five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly (Villanova) and highly-touted forward Shareef O’Neal (UCLA), son of NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille, decommitted in the wake of the current scandal. This left Miller scrambling for talent, including chasing graduate transfers from Samford (Justin Coleman), Pitt (Ryan Luther) and now Cornell (Stone Gettings).

The recruiting isn’t all bad, however. Miller was able to lure point guard Brandon Williams back from decomittment. The four-star recruit from Los Angeles rejoined the Wildcats after flirting with offers from Oregon and Gonzaga. He accompanies shooting guard Devonaire Doutrive and small forward Omar Thielemans, also a four-star talent, into the freshman class. The signings have inched the Wildcats into 247 Sports’ Top-25 recruiting classes, but it’s a far cry from the group initially lined up by Miller.

In the future, rivals will use the cloud hanging over the program as ammo in recruiting top talent. The FBI investigation needs to end and Arizona come out of the investigation unscathed for the program to attract personnel needed to compete for a national title. Until then, it will continually suffer talent drain. A proper litmus test will be the pending decision of five-star forward Jordan Brown. He is deciding between Nevada, Cal and Arizona currently. The kicker is Brown is undecided if he’ll even take final official visit to Tucson. Miller will know in a week or two. Recruits would have jumped at the opportunity in the past.

Change in Attack

The loss of recruits is also affecting Miller’s system and plan of attack. The Wildcats will enter this season minus true go-to big men. Miller usually possesses a pair of near 7-footers who can make a difference on his roster. This is not the case in 2018. Of the incoming talent, only Luther (6-9) stands taller than 6-foot-7. The consensus is Miller will have to transition to a more perimeter-oriented attack. Expect growing pains.

Market Jitters

Overall, NBC Sports and ESPN place Arizona outside of the Top 25 in their way-too-early college basketball polls. It has not tipped off a season unranked in preseason polls since 2010. The Wildcats are +10000 to win the 2018-19 national title at 5Dimes. Forty-four other programs have shorter odds. To put this into perspective, only once in at least the last 12 years have the Cats tipped off the season at +3300 or higher (+6600 in 2010). Arizona is all but finished as a national title contender.

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