He doesn’t wear the expensive suits that his predecessor, Sean Miller, preferred for games days. But no one is likely to complain, based on the early results the new head coach for the University of Arizona men’s basketball team is posting.
Tommy Lloyd prefers slacks and a pullover, but as long as he’s winning, who cares?
The Pac-12 program is anxious to put the past behind it, particularly the stench of an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations that has hung over the program for several years now. It was Miller’s link to the accompanying FBI corruption probe into college basketball that resulted in his departure from the program last April.
During his 12 years running the Pac-12 program, Miller kept the Wildcats in the national spotlight, picking up from where hall of famer Lute Olson left off. His recruiting classes were consistently ranked among the nation’s top 10 and that kept the Wildcats near the top of the national rankings on a regular basis.
But Lloyd is beginning to convince Wildcat Nation that there is life beyond Miller.
Lloyd has never been a college head coach, so there was understandably some doubts about his ability to lead a Power Five program like Arizona, which is also rich in tradition. However, 20 years as an assistant who helped build the Gonzaga program into a national power is obviously paying dividends.
Arizona is putting up big numbers, literally dominating in most of its games as it climbed the national rankings to No. 11 and started the season undefeated at 8-0.
Yes, it’s still early and the non-conference part of the schedule isn’t over. But consider that these Wildcats took down the Michigan Wolverines when they were the No. 4-ranked team in the country. Not just squeezing past the Big 10 power during the Roman Main Event Tournament in Las Vegas, but beating them by double digits, 80-62,
The Wolverines got off easy. Arizona has been averaging a winning margin of almost 30 points a game (29.6, to be exact). The only team that has taken them down to the wire was Wichita State, also during the Las Vegas tourney. That game went into overtime before the Cats claimed a 82-78 victory.
Arizona is averaging almost 60 points a game (59.5, to be exact), are shooting almost 50 percent from the field (.496, to be exact), and they have four players who are averaging in double digits: Bennedict Mathurin (17 ppg), Azuolas Tubelis (15.8), Christian Koloko (14.4), and Kerr Kriisa (11).
Lloyd has used the same starting five for all seven games, but has not hesitated to go to his bench — often. Every player on the roster has seen playing time so far; all but one has appeared in seven of the eight contests.
And the Cats have out-rebounded their opponents by nearly 12 boards a game.
This unit has the shooting, the rebounding, and the depth to hold its own in the rugged Pac-12 Conference.
Oh yeah…they also play solid defense. Arizona holds its opponents to an average 59 points a game. The Cats are ranked No. 2 in the nation in field goal percentage defense, third in defensive rebounding, fourth in assist/turnover ratio, and fifth in blocked shots per game.
This team is built for the long haul.
Arizona’s athletic director, Dave Heeke, went out on a limb in hiring Lloyd. The last time the basketball program brought in someone who has never been a head coach was in 1972 when it hired Fred Snowden.
Snowden enjoyed moderate success that included an Elite Eight appearance during his 10 years on the bench before resigning after three straight losing seasons.
There’s no telling whether Heeke’s gamble will pay off over time. It’s way too early to tell.
But right now he’s got to be breathing a little easier.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)