Sean Miller has former Arizona team as a Final Four pick

Mar 15, 2022, 2:19 PM | Updated: Mar 16, 2022, 12:06 pm

Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts on the sidelines of the game against the Gonz...

Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts on the sidelines of the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at McKale Center on December 14, 2019 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Sean Miller knows the core group of Arizona Wildcats who under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd prepares to make an NCAA Tournament run as the top seed in the South Region.

He recruited the entire starting lineup to Tucson in the past several years before the university fired him in April 2021 during an NCAA investigation.

So take his potentially biased word for it: Arizona should come out of their region to make the Final Four.

“I have the ‘Cats. I think they’re the best team in the tournament right now, they’re the most consistent team, and I’m banking on Kerr Kriisa returning to their group,” Miller said on The Field of 68 podcast with brother Archie Miller and reporter Jeff Goodman.

Miller believes that Kriisa, who sprained his ankle last Friday, will return in time to make a difference. The Wildcats will open Friday against the play-in victor between Wright State and Bryant, then face the winner of a first-round series between TCU and Seton Hall.

In fact, Miller thinks Kriisa’s injury has already helped Arizona grow.

In his place, senior Justin Kier has stepped into the starting role, Dalen Terry has added more point guard duties to his plate and Adama Bal, a freshman who saw only garbage time this year, earned significant rotation minutes over the weekend as the Wildcats won the Pac-12 Tournament.

“The best thing that happened to Arizona in the last week is that they had to overcome some adversity,” Miller said after watching Arizona drop Colorado and UCLA without Kriisa. “They had pretty smooth sailing when it comes to COVID, when it comes to injuries, other than Azuolas Tubelis who sat out and had to play through an ankle situation … they’ve been pretty much the same from start to finish. And now they get hit with this untimely injury.

“How they responded I think says it all. Oftentimes when that injured player returns, he often returns to an overall deeper and better team. I like Arizona getting to the Final Four.”

First-year coach Tommy Lloyd can thank Miller for some of the success.

Lloyd re-recruited Miller’s players and got the current starting lineup to return. Lloyd also kept highly rated commit Shane Nowell on board and added his own recruits.

Arizona has relied heavily on backup center Oumar Ballo, who followed Lloyd to the desert from Gonzaga. The Wildcats also grabbed Kier and Utah transfer Pelle Larsson from the portal, then recruited Bal, a young but highly rated prospect out of France.

Those players make up the depth behind the five starters: Kriisa, Terry, Tubelis, Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko.

While Miller believes in that group, his podcast co-hosts see it another way.

Goodman doesn’t believe Kriisa’s injury outlook is good and that fourth-seeded Illinois will come out of the South Region.

Archie Miller likes No. 3 seed Tennessee to beat Arizona in the Elite Eight. That’s fair considering the Volunteers have a home win over Arizona on their resume this year and cruised through a tough SEC.

Sean Miller would like to see a Villanova-Arizona matchup to see two very different styles of basketball clash. If he ends up being correct with the Wildcats coming out of that quadrant of the bracket, it would be the first Final Four appearance for the team since 2001.

Miller went 13-7 in NCAA Tournament games as Arizona’s head coach with two Elite Eight appearances. He thinks this team gets over that hump.

“I think those guys play for each other, I think they have a style and a system that has beaten teams with their defense and their offense,” Miller said. “I think they have as much firepower as anybody in the tournament and I think they’re tremendously confident.”

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Sean Miller has former Arizona team as a Final Four pick