Despite losing heartbreakers in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments, the Arizona Wildcats might be in the midsts of one of the program’s historic runs.
Since Lute Olson took over in Tuscon before the 1983-84 season, the Wildcats have been one of the most consistent programs in the country. It’s been a remarkable run over 30 years in the making.
The achievements for Arizona have been quite extensive. The program has not only made the NCAA Tournament in 29 of the past 32 years, but won the national championship in 1997, made the Final Four four times, and won 14 conference titles.
That’s quite a storied history.
Still, even with all this success, the Wildcats have seen an incredible amount of success over the last three seasons and could be set to continue that success into the upcoming season. If so, where would this run sit in historically for Arizona?
The last few years for Arizona have been particularly interesting. The Wildcats have easily been one of the nation’s top teams, but because of mixed results in the postseason, it seems like much of this success has been overlooked. The postseason certainly is important, but when a team has the success that Arizona has seen the last few years, it’s easy to see why some may be overvaluing its importance.
Perhaps the best place to start is with Arizona’s record over the last few years. Over the last three seasons, Arizona compiled an impressive overall record of 94-17 (.847) and 43-11 (.796) record during conference play. Each season has topped 25 overall wins and had at least 12 conference wins with the last two years having over 30 wins a piece.
Those numbers may not seem significant on their face, but those are incredibly impressive stats. In fact, the last two years were the first time Arizona ever had back-to-back 30 win seasons. Remember, this is a program that has missed just three NCAA Tournaments in the last three decades. Just 10 teams in the entire country had 30 overall wins last season and Arizona just did it two years in a row.
On top of just the sheer wins, Arizona has added some hardware as well. The Wildcats won the Pac 12 in each of the last two seasons. This was the first time Arizona won regular season titles in back-to-back years since 1994 and only the seventh time in program history. Last year also included a Pac 12 Tournament title for just the fifth time in program history.
Of course, even though Arizona has not had the NCAA Tournament success to match its excellent overall success, there has still been a lot to show for the Wildcats. In fact, Arizona not only qualified for the big dance in each of the last three years, but also advanced to the Sweet 16 in each season and the Elite Eight the last two years.
The last three years was just the third time Arizona has ever made the Sweet Sixteen three years in a row and just the second time Arizona has ever made the Elite Eight twice in a row. Maybe the trips to the Final Four and the title game were lacking, but those are still pretty big numbers.
So where does that leave Arizona’s last three years historically?
Even with the impressive win totals, conference titles, and NCAA Tournament runs, it’s hard to claim this has been the single best period in Arizona history. After all, the runs from 1996 to 2001 and from 1988 to 1991 were pretty incredible. Each featured multiple conference titles and at least one trip to the Final Four.
Still, to even be in consideration with those runs is impressive. The lack of a trip to the Final Four has led many to question Arizona’s recent run, but don’t be fooled. It’s been a remarkable period in Tucson. Plus, with Arizona coming in at No. 13 in the Today’s U preseason top 25 rankings, perhaps the run isn’t over for the Wildcats either.
If so, maybe Arizona will finally get the attention it has deserved over the last few years.