Arizona’s problems are many

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2017, file photo, Arizona head coach Sean Miller gestures in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game against Northern Arizona, in Tucson, Ariz. Miller’s second-ranked Wildcats open play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Wednesday against North Carolina State in the Bahamas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)
Rick Scuteri/AP
Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats started last week ranked No. 2 in the country. This week they’re unranked.

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Trying to find a reason for Arizona’s unexpected and complete collapse in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Thanksgiving can quickly become almost an existential question. There are many theories but seemingly no real answers.

Last Wednesday, Arizona was ranked No. 2 in the country and ticketed for an eventual meeting with Villanova in the final in the Bahamas. Instead, the Wildcats lost consecutively to North Carolina State (90-84), SMU (66-60), and Purdue (89-64) to finish last in the tournament.

‘‘I wouldn’t have predicted we would come down here and finish 0-3,’’ coach Sean Miller told reporters. ‘‘That wasn’t the goal. But nothing’s ever as bad as it seems. And certainly we probably weren’t nearly as good as everybody thought we were before we traveled down here.’’


It’s the first three-game losing streak for Arizona since February 2010, during Miller’s first season in Tucson.

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Theories abound:

 Everyone in the program is worried about the fallout from the FBI investigation into college basketball, which resulted in Arizona assistant Book Richardson being charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, solicitation of bribes, wire fraud, and even more charges too complicated to get into. He could be facing a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

 Senior forward Keanu Pinder and another assistant, Mark Phelps, have been suspended for unspecified NCAA violations.

Miller tried to deflect all of that, saying “our focus is just on the season right now.’’


 There’s a key injury to forward Rawle Alkins. Miller told the Tucson Daily Star that the Wildcats wouldn’t have lost all three games if Alkins had been able to play. It’s not known when he will return from a foot injury.

 There are some real basketball issues. They can’t shoot. On 3-pointers in the Bahamas they were 2 for 17 vs. N.C. State, 5 for 20 vs. SMU, and 3 for 17 vs. Purdue. Defense is a problem too; they gave up too many points and too many easy baskets vs. N.C. State and Purdue.

Right now, it doesn’t sound as if any of the problems will be solved soon. The upcoming schedule isn’t easy. After Long Beach State in Tucson (a victory for sure), there are consecutive games at UNLV, against Texas A&M in Phoenix, vs. Alabama, and at New Mexico.

A look back at last week in college basketball:

Elevator going up:

Albany: More Sully’s Court love for the Great Danes, who won at Holy Cross and are 6-0, the program’s best start since 1985-86.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils, coached by Bobby Hurley, the former star point guard at Duke, are 6-0 after winning the Las Vegas Invitational with a notable victory over Xavier, 102-86. The Sun Devils, led by senior guard Tra Holder (23.3 ppg), are averaging 95.7 points per game. Looks like there might be something else as interesting as the Curtain of Distraction in Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.


Baylor: Perennially overlooked, the Bears won the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City by beating Wisconsin and Creighton on consecutive nights.

Central Michigan: The Chippewas beat Cal State Bakersfield to win the Great Alaska Shootout. It was the 40th and final Shootout, which was the first eight-team tournament to be played around Thanksgiving. Now that ESPN has developed tournaments all over the United States for Thanksgiving weekend programming, the Shootout can’t compete for the best teams. The lower quality of competition produced less revenue and was the reason for the tournament’s demise.

Nevada-Las Vegas: The Rebels looked like a program that was headed for ruin when you consider Chris Beard was the head coach for about two minutes (coming from Arkansas-Little Rock) and left for Texas Tech (which he obviously thought was a better job. Hard to believe, I know). Beard is doing well at Tech, as BC found out Nov. 18, but Vegas (6-0) is looking pretty good after winning the MGM Grand Event in its own city, beating Utah, 85-58, in the championship game. Brandon McCoy, a 7-foot freshman from Chicago, was the MVP of the tournament and is averaging 20.2 ppg and 13.0 rpg. Marvin Menzies, who was at best the third choice and maybe even sixth or seventh for this job, has made some quick progress.

Notre Dame: The Irish had a gritty, determined comeback to beat Wichita State and win the Maui Invitational. Bonzie Colson was his usual great self with 25 points and 11 rebounds in the final. The Irish showed some toughness on defense and they have a bunch of offensive options besides Colson.

Valparaiso: This surprised me: Valpo is 7-0 for the first time since 1966-67. I thought a program with such a strong winning tradition would have done it more recently. This is a big year for Valpo as the Crusaders (every school called the Crusaders should switch to Knights) have stepped up in competition, moving from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference. Maybe they’re ready for it.

Notre Dame’s do-it-all star Bonzie Colson led the Irish to the championship at the Maul Invitational.
Marco Garcia/AP
Notre Dame’s do-it-all star Bonzie Colson led the Irish to the championship at the Maul Invitational.

Escalator going down:

Arizona: See above.

California: In the opening game of the Maui Invitational the Bears looks sensational for a half against Wichita State, but they couldn’t sustain it . . . for the next 2 ½ halves. The Bears collapsed against Wichita, blowing an 18-point lead; then they got beat decisively by Virginia Commonwealth, 83-69; and finally they totally surrendered and got swamped by Division 2 Chaminade (the tournament’s host school), 96-72. Hard to figure.

George Washington: The Colonials are having some trouble (much like a lot of teams in the Atlantic 10), but they had bad loss to Rider (67-65) then got smushed by Xavier (83-64) in the Las Vegas Invitational and finished the week with a 67-59 loss to Kansas State in the consolation round. Their only two wins are over MEAC opponents Howard and Hampton.

New Mexico: The Lobos can’t even depend on The Pit to help them anymore; they lost at home to Tennessee Tech, 104-96, then got beat by TCU and Maryland in the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida to fall to 2-4.

Pitt: A home win over Lehigh can’t erase what happened earlier in the week, so the Panthers remain on the escalator. Stunningly, they got blasted by Penn State, 84-54, a loss that had second-year coach Kevin Stallings saying he was caught off guard by his team’s effort and execution. That wasn’t an issue against Oklahoma State, but the Panthers still lost, 73-67.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels cost themselves a national ranking by going 1-2 in the Disneyland tournament. The Gaels were outhustled and lost to an underwhelming Washington State team, then failed to bounce back in the consolation round and lost to Georgia in overtime.

Santa Clara: Coach Herb Sendek is not turning things around at Steve Nash U. The Broncos finished last in the Great Alaska Shootout, a tournament they should have been more competitive in. They’re now 1-5.

Back-to-back losses for Emmett Naar and his Saint Mary's squad came as a surprise.
Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP
Back-to-back losses for Emmett Naar and his Saint Mary's squad came as a surprise.

This week’s Final Four: Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Wichita State. I didn’t want to put Duke in because I still think a team that starts four freshmen will find it hard to win four straight games in the NCAA Tournament to reach the semifinals, but victories over Michigan State and an excellent Florida team (in the PK80 Tournament final) force my hand. Florida is also a contender. I’m forgiving Wichita’s loss in the Maui final; a weird late turnover prevented the Shockers from winning. Michigan State returns to this list after an impressive victory over North Carolina (who drops off).

This week’s national champion: Kansas. Mike Davis, Texas Southern’s coach, knows an excellent team when he sees one since he was the head man at Indiana when the Hoosiers went to the Final Four in 2002. Here’s what he said after his team lost to Kansas: ‘‘I’ve never seen a team pass the ball and shoot the basketball as well as they do.’’

Joe Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan