Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller

Arizona head coach Sean Miller waves the remains of the net at the fans as the Wildcats celebrate a win against Oregon in the championship game of the Pac-12 Tournament, Saturday, March 14, 2015, Las Vegas, Nev.

Viewed through a rearview mirror and put into 50 years of perspective, the decade of Arizona basketball under Sean Miller has been three things:

1. As good as Arizona could’ve expected.

2. As good as Arizona can expect the next 10 years.

3. As good as any Pac-12 team can expect in any 10-year period for the next 50 years.

As Jack Nicholson said in a 1997 movie, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

At Arizona, it probably is.

Maybe one of these years when Arizona gets back to the Elite Eight, a last-second jumper by the next Jamelle Horne or Nick Johnson will fall. The basketball gods surely owe the Wildcats a buzzer-beater after those 2011 and 2014 NCAA Tournament heartbreakers.

Realistically, few schools can expect more than Miller has delivered since he was hired on April 6, 2009, as Lute Olson’s permanent replacement. Here’s a list of NCAA Division I schools with the most wins in that period:

Kentucky: 305

Gonzaga and Kansas: 304

Duke: 299

Wichita State: 280

North Carolina: 277

Michigan State and Villanova: 270

Arizona: 264

Who wouldn’t take being part of that list over the next 10 years? It’s a Hall of Fame pace.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller doesn’t think his Wildcats picked up a defensive foul on a 3-point shot by Houston Baptist in the first half of their NCAA basketball game at McKale Center, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, Tucson, Ariz.

In the last 50 years of Pac-12 basketball, 10 men have coached at least 10 seasons in the league. Half of those men have been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Here’s how those Hall of Famers (and Miller) did in their first 10 seasons in the conference:

Lute Olson, Arizona: 238-80 (.748)

Sean Miller, Arizona: 264-89 (.747)

Ralph Miller, Oregon State: 172-103 (.625)

Mike Montgomery, Stanford: 181-110 (.621)

Marv Harshman, Washington: 164-105 (.609)

George Raveling, Washington State: 143-130 (.523)

To many UA followers, the crushing disappointments of being eliminated by Buffalo in 2018, Xavier in 2017, Wisconsin in 2015 and 2014, and UConn in 2011 define Miller’s decade at Arizona.

That’s to be expected in any basketball-crazy precinct like Tucson. The losses linger much longer than the monumental victories and all the weeks in the Top 25.

But if you further examine Miller’s numbers, you find that his 10-year period — it’s a decade on Saturday — stacks up with any in league history. Here are the winning percentages from a coach’s best 10-year period over the last 50 years:

.812: Lute Olson, Arizona, 268-62 (1988-1998)

.791: Mike Montgomery, Stanford, 250-66 (1994-2004)

.747: Sean Miller, Arizona, 264-89 (2009-19)

.721: Ralph Miller, Oregon State, 214-83 (1979-89)

.685: Ben Howland, UCLA, 233-107 (2003-13)

.670: Lorenzo Romar, Washington, 227-112 (2003-13)

Arizona hired Sean Miller as its men’s basketball coach on April 6, 2009 — 10 years ago on Saturday.

In recent years, Oregon’s Dana Altman, on the job for nine years, has gained acclaim as the master coach in Pac-12 basketball. Much like Miller, Altman inherited a national recruiting platform; the Ducks had gone to Elite Eights in 2002 and 2007 and have a brand identification — thanks to Nike — that Arizona can’t touch.

Altman has won 71 percent of his games in his nine Oregon seasons (235-96). The Ducks have advanced to the Elite Eight twice during that time; Arizona has made it three times under Miller.

Amid much praise, Altman has lost 26 games the last two seasons. Miller has never lost more 23 games in consecutive seasons.

This isn’t meant to be a cleansing, all’s-good-with-Arizona-basketball treatise. We all know how the UA basketball program has been ruptured the last 18 months, and that further discord may lie ahead.

It can’t be much, if any worse than Olson’s tangled exit — three head coaches in three years — when Arizona lost an unthinkable 44 games in three seasons. Miller restored the program to such a level that no Pac-12 program can match Arizona’s numbers of the decade.

Here’s how it went:

Arizona: 264-89 overall, 129-51 in conference play. Ten NBA draft picks. Seven NCAA Tournament berths, with 13 NCAA Tournament wins. All-conference picks: 15. Highest AP ranking: No. 1. Regular-season conference titles: five.

Oregon: 251-112 overall, 112-68 in conference play. Five NBA draft picks. Six NCAA Tournament berths, with 13 wins. All-conference picks: six. Highest AP ranking: No. 4. Conference titles: two.

UCLA: 215-126 overall, 109-71 in conference play. Thirteen NBA draft picks. Six NCAA Tournament berths, with seven wins. All-conference picks: 13. Highest AP ranking: No. 2. Conference titles: one.

Washington: 201-137 overall, 95-85 in conference play. Four NBA draft picks. Three NCAA Tournament berths, with three wins. All-conference picks: 11. Highest AP ranking: No. 4. Conference titles: two.

Colorado: 204-139 overall, 88-88 in conference play (includes two years in Big 12). Five NBA draft picks. Four NCAA Tournament berths, with one win. All-conference picks: eight. Highest AP ranking: No. 15. Conference titles: none.

Arizona State: 198-150 overall, 82-98 in conference play. One NBA draft pick. Three NCAA Tournament berths, with one win. All-conference picks: five. Highest AP ranking: No. 3. Conference titles: none.

Cal: 186-148 overall; 92-88 in conference play. Six NBA draft picks. Four NCAA Tournament berths, with two wins. All-conference picks: 10. Highest AP ranking: No. 13. Conference titles: one.

Stanford: 184-150 overall, 85-95 in conference play. Four NBA draft picks. One NCAA Tournament berth, with two wins. All-conference picks: 10. Highest AP ranking: none. Conference titles: none.

Utah: 172-146 overall, 89-87 in conference play (includes two years in Mountain West). Three NBA draft picks. Two NCAA Tournament berths, with three wins. All-conference picks: six. Highest AP ranking: No. 8. Conference titles: none.

USC: 165-166 overall, 72-108 in conference play. Three NBA draft picks. Three NCAA Tournament berths, with two wins. All-conference picks: five. Highest AP ranking: No. 10. Conference titles: none.

Oregon State: 154-169 overall, 67-113 in conference play. One NBA draft picks. One NCAA Tournament berth, with no wins. All-conference picks: five. Highest AP ranking: none. Conference titles: none.

Washington State: 148-188 overall, 51-129 in conference play. Two NBA draft picks. No NCAA Tournament appearances. All-conference picks: five. Highest AP ranking: none. Conference titles: none.

Sean Miller has amassed wins and conference titles at a Hall of Fame pace in his 10 years at Arizona.

What comes next? Will Miller be in Tucson to coach what some say is the nation’s top recruiting class of 2019?

We should get clarity this month. The best indicator that Miller will begin a second decade at McKale Center is when — or if — the school announces he has hired an assistant coach to replace Mark Phelps.

If Arizona can punch up another decade of basketball to match the one just completed — if the basketball gods offered UA fans that deal today — they should sign up for it without hesitation.


Check out these photos of Sean Miller through the years:

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or ghansen@tucson.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711

Columnist

Greg graduated from Utah State, worked at two Utah newspapers, the St. Petersburg Times, the Albany Democrat-Herald in Oregon and moved to Tucson to cover UA football and baseball. He became the Star's sports columnist in 1984.