Team preview: Arizona
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
It's been 23 years since Lute Olson coached his first game on the Arizona sideline. Having accepted the job after five straight 20-win, NCAA Tournament seasons at Iowa, Olson, then 49, was supposed to be in for a rebuilding project.
And while that first season, 1983-84, was rough at 11-18 that was the extent of the reclamation. Arizona went 21-10 and earned an NCAA invitation the following season. The run hasn't been interrupted since -- the Wildcats own the nation's longest streak of NCAA appearances (22) and 20-win seasons (19). Both of those marks were seriously challenged last season, though, with Arizona suffering through, statistically-speaking, the worst shooting year in the Olson era, at .446 from the field and .319 from three-point range. It also ranked last in the Pac-10 in opponents' field-goal percentage at .453. Toss that into the mix of a brutal non-conference schedule that included Kansas, UConn, Michigan State and North Carolina, and it's a testament to Olson's leadership the Wildcats managed to win 20 games and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Behind one of the country's strongest schedules and an 11-7 finish in the Pac-10, Arizona earned an eighth seeding and certainly proved worthy, defeating Wisconsin by 19 points before almost knocking off No. 1 seeded Villanova, falling 82-78.
Olson could have easily made excuses for last season, including his expected leading scorer playing just 45 minutes the entire year, but he chose not to. "One of our major problems last season was that we didn't have consistent leadership," Olson said. "As far as the shooting thing, I know it was the lowest percentage and all, but it really wasn't the shot selection. Early in the season, the shot selection wasn't great, but once conference play started, I was fine with the shots we were taking. We just weren't making them."
While the Wildcats lost two starters in shooting guards Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers, Arizona appears significantly improved this season, with the addition of two of the nation's top freshmen and the return of three seniors and several experienced underclassmen. Several Pac-10 coaches think the Wildcats rank right there with UCLA.
As for Olson, he's optimistic.
"No question, we should be better than last season," Olson said. "We have better leadership, we have experienced depth, which is helpful -- we didn't have that last season -- and our freshmen should have an immediate effect on our team."
Expect the dynasty to continue this season, and into the foreseeable future. Olson turns 72 in September and recently signed an extension through the 2010-11 season.