College hoops insider: Preaching unselfish play works for Miller, Arizona
Sean Miller's share-the-wealth philosophy works so well because, well, that's how things are done at Arizona.
To those who fancy college basketball as a one-and-done assembly line for kids with their eyes firmly on the prize — the lure of large NBA paychecks — meet Miller, the former Pitt and Blackhawk standout who gladly will explain why the Wildcats enjoy sharing the basketball, as well as the glory.
“Not everybody can be the man. Not everybody can be your team's leading scorer. We talk a lot about with great team success, individual accolades follow,” said Miller, a member of the 2012 WPIAL Hall of Fame who's in his fourth season at Arizona.
The Wildcats bolted to a 14-0 start this year before losing two of their next four games against Oregon and UCLA. Win or lose, Miller's insistence on a balanced attack doesn't change.
Three Wildcats average double figures in scoring, led by senior point guard Mark Lyons. Two other players average just less than 10 points.
Lyons leads five players who average at least two assists. Four Wildcats average at least five rebounds.
Miller goes into overdrive when discussing Arizona's playing style, which, given the program's storied history, is predicated on unselfish play meshing with a talented roster.
“At Arizona, we have an incredible statistic,” Miller said during a Pac-12 conference call. “I believe that our alumni who have played in the NBA have earned over $800 million. Almost 75 percent of that $800 million came from players at Arizona who played on at least one Final Four team during their career.”
Arizona played in the Final Four in 1988, 1994, 1997 and 2001, winning the national title in 1997 under Lute Olson.
All told, Arizona has won 12 conference titles and four conference tournament championships.
Miller, who led Xavier to four NCAA tournament appearances in his five seasons, led the Wildcats to the West Regional final two years ago. Sophomore Derrick Williams, the Wildcats' star player, was the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft that year.
“You can clearly say the better players take teams to a Final Four,” said Miller, one of two coaches to win 36 Pac-12 games in their first three seasons. “But no question, when you advance deep into March and have those magical seasons, role players or glue guys sometimes get the credit they deserve. That's what you talk about and sell.”
Fab Five revisited
Michigan made news last week after being ranked No. 1 for the first time since December 1992. That was the sophomore season of the Fab Five. Later that week in '92, Michigan lost at No. 4 Duke but went on to finish 31-5 and play in the national championship game.
Coincidentally, the Wolverines' best player this season is another sophomore, point guard Trey Burke, who leads the team in scoring, assists, steals and minutes played.
On a team featuring players with famous fathers who played in the NBA (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III), Burke stands out because of his own merits.
“Every day, there's some things he does in practice that the truly great college players do,” Michigan coach John Beilein said during his weekly conference call. “I'm not talking about some incredible one-on-one move. I'm talking about leadership, focus, emphasis on defense, emphasis on picking up his teammates.”
In a 74-60 win at Illinois that propelled Michigan to the top spot, Burke led all players with 19 points and five assists while adding five rebounds and three steals.
Burke was Big Ten freshman of the year last season in addition to helping Michigan to a share of its first league title in 26 years.
“Trey is playing as well as anybody in the league, if not the nation,” said Beilein, who coached five seasons at West Virginia before taking over at Michigan. “He really has things in great perspective (about) what's most important, and that's the team. As a result, his numbers are really incredible because of his focus on his teammates. That's more junior-senior type of attitude. For someone to do that as a sophomore tells a lot about who he is.”
Around the country
What goes around comes around: Ten days after ending Creighton's 11-game winning streak, Wichita State lost to Indiana State, snapping a 19-game home winning streak. ... Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel established a school record with 12 blocks at Mississippi. It matched the most blocks in Division I this season. Dikembe Mutombo and Shaquille O'Neal also recorded 12 blocks in college. ... Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas has scored 28 percent of his team's points this season. He scored 25 points in the Buckeyes' 58-49 win over Wisconsin. In that road loss, Wisconsin failed to shoot a free throw for the first time in school history. ... Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, who starred at Chartiers Valley, will replace departing Arizona senior Mark Lyons at point guard next season. McConnell and Lyons are both products of the Atlantic 10; Lyons, a transfer, played at Xavier, the former school of Arizona coach Sean Miller. ... No conference has suffered more than the Colonial Athletic Association, which endured the loss of Virginia Commonwealth to the Atlantic 10 and coach Jim Larranaga leaving George Mason for Miami. Only three CAA teams had winning records, and no team had fewer than seven losses entering last week's games. ... The Big 12 has six teams ranked in the Top 44 of the latest RPI, tied for the most of any conference. The percentage of Big 12 teams (60 percent) leads the nation.