Before I potentially get into a lot of trouble with Wildcat fans, I'd like to remind everyone that I'm a University of Arizona graduate. I'm the first to defend UA against Arizona State alums (including my parents) and will always proudly stand by my school.
Having begun with that disclaimer, I'm going to venture where it gets a little murky. I'm going to question Lute Olson because I think he's slipping as a coach.
I know, I know. And I call myself a Wildcat.
Because of everyone's respect for his incredible achievements that no one is going to question the struggling UA basketball program. Some might say that another 20-win season and a 23rd consecutive NCAA tournament appearance isn't exactly struggling.
That is all fine and true, but as a diehard fan with the knowledge of what the team should've achieved the past two years, I can't help but be disappointed.
This is UA basketball after all -- one of the elite programs in the country.
I'm sure Duke fans have empty feelings about their season this year, too. Winning is the name of the game for programs such as these.
I'm not challenging Olson's right to remain the coach. Nor am I trying to disparage his remarkable career or question his impact on UA basketball, or college basketball in general for that matter. It goes without saying that he is a phenomenal coach, one of the best ever.
But one tournament win in the past two years, with the talent Olson had, is unacceptable.
The players stand to benefit nothing from not playing hard. It's their future that will directly suffer, and it isn't as if UA's team has been comprised of a bunch of hacks the past two seasons. There is just as much talent in Williams, Shakur, McClellan, Radenovic and Budinger as there was on any of Olson's previous Final Four teams.
Besides, isn't it a coach's job to ensure that his players excel to their utmost potential?
It's not as if the competition is getting better either. In every one of Olson's previous 23 seasons at UA, there were 15 great teams around the country. It never stopped the Cats from being at the top.
I'm left to think that the coaching is responsible for the mediocrity.
The absolute debacle that was the Cats only tournament game this year is proof. UA played the most lackluster game I think I've ever seen against a Purdue team that wasn't as talented and that was playing just as pitifully.
There is no way the Cats ever should have lost that game. No way.
The main six (Budinger, Radenovic, Williams, Shakur, McClellan, Brielmaier) were getting out-rebounded by 18 at one point (if my memory serves me correctly), committed 17 turnovers, couldn't buy a basket and yet were only trailing by three, with four minutes to play. Even with terrible play, they weren't out of the game.
Olson should've won this game by out-coaching his opponent, instead of giving his incredibly athletic and hungry subs, Onobun and Hill, who would've mended the nonexistent inside game and at least attempted to grab some boards -- any court time. He continued with the same six players and watched, befuddled, as the game slipped away.
What the Cats needed most was something different. A spark. An attitude. Someone willing to play with hunger. An inside presence. What's the worst that could've happened if Olson would've tried something unorthodox? They lose the game?
I could reference countless games where Olson should've done something to fire up his team, but didn't. I could bring up the fact that Olson placed too much weight on an 18-year-old Shakur when he first arrived at UA, causing a chafe among the team and turning him into a bumbling head case the next three years of his college career, instead of giving the veteran Salim Stoudamire the reins like he should have.
I could mention the lack of excitement in the players' eyes -- something I haven't seen since Luke Walton and Jason Gardner left.
Any one of these reasons would suffice for my theory that Olson is slipping and perhaps needs to think about stepping aside.
I hope for the sake of Wildcats everywhere that I'm wrong.