When Florida enters the McKale Center Saturday, they’ll be the first ranked opponent on Lute and Bobbi Olson court since the 2010-11 #21 BYU Cougars, uhhh, beat Arizona. I was at that game and vomited four times. Literally.
Alright so I had food poisoning and that shall not be the premise of my Florida-Arizona commentary. No, I’d like to revisit the upset surrounding scheduling. How the departed Jim Livengood, knowing full well the program was in moderate shambles could arrange for such a home-and-home to happen. To allow a mid-major to embarrass the Wildcats in McKale – then a year later on the road.
I’m not pointing a finger at Livengood. He wasn’t dribbling or shooting or letting Jimmer to the rack at will. No, it was a strategic lapse, on to the next. And what’s next has been the Sean Miller show with guest appearances from Derrick Williams, Josiah Turner, Kyryl Natyazkho and Lamont Jones. With special contributions from Tim Floyd.
But this Saturday marks the end of guests and special contributors. This is year four and Miller hand picked this team. He’s built them and developed them and, if we’re to believe he’s as good a coach as we want to, he knew what he was doing. And that’s why he has Florida coming to town. That’s why next year marks the beginning of a home and home with Michigan followed by a home and home with Missouri with rumors of Gonzaga sprinkled in and visits to NYC (preseason NIT) and Maui. It’s the model Lute followed and if you’ll recall his twenty-five seasons in Tucson, it worked pretty well, right?
So what of these Gators? The first top-10 showdown in McKale in eight years? With respect to the aforementioned build up to this crowning season of the Sean Miller era, this is the marquee game. This is the coming out party. This is the how you like me now moment. For all of the cupcakes and walkover games previously scheduled and played, the ones built to set these developing Wildcats up for success, this is the one built to lead them to success. The kind that puts tiny numbers next to your name and the kind that puts you in the national conversation. The kind that makes programs not seasons and the kind that puts rings on your finger and banners in your rafters.
For all the talk of SOS, RPI, etc. this is Miller’s first flash of SOP – Strength of Program. And that’s not to say this is a must win. Arizona could very well lose this game and carry on to have tremendous success; win a billion games and twelve titles. But for the first time, by program design, Arizona will work to assert itself nationally, not just the best amongst a meddling Pac-12.
Now when discussing this stance I’ve put forth, my buddy Jamie (who once unofficially procured a triple-double in HS) was quick to cite my hyperbole. And he’s got a point. This is a scheduled contest, part of a contract signed maybe two years ago. How could anyone have known Florida would be a sultry 7-0 in 2012? I see his point. Big schools schedule big schools. This is just another in a series of games that will be added to the schedule.
But just ask Tom Crean about the three years of beatings he took from Kentucky before finally dropping them last year. Think that meant something to him? Think that meant something to Hoosier faithful? How about this year’s team? WE ARE INDIANA HEAR US ROAR!
Maybe I get a little carried away in the magnitude of this game, swept up in the romanticism of perhaps getting to witness a catapulting victory. But you can’t tell me there isn’t something bigger than Gators at Wildcats here because it’s been a spell since Tucson could taste it. There was that moment in Anaheim but it never quite felt real, lasting. Don’t get me wrong, taking Duke to task was remarkable but deep down there it was all too unexpected. Special to be sure, but this is the time. This is why players come to Arizona. It’s why Sean said yes and it’s why there will 15,000 people inside that arena just off Campbell Ave.
So yeah, Jamie, I’m swept up in it. But I just think we’re supposed to be.