The Arizona Wildcats were riding high after a run through the Pac-12 tournament last week, changing the narrative that the FBI investigation and the Sean Miller story were a distraction. Prognosticators around the country had visions of a team loaded with NBA talent, including the presumptive top pick in DeAndre Ayton, making a deep run.
Well, the narrative just got dunked on, driven repeatedly down the lane on, and embarrassed. Arizona lost to Buffalo, which in and of itself might be something. The way it happened, though, is pretty rare. The #4 seed got absolutely run off the court and a team with two 7-footers gave up 89 points to the MAC champions. The Bulls are a fast-paced team, but what they did to an Arizona team that looked disinterested in defense was embarrassing.
Upsets happen. They usually happen with late game heroics from the small school. They don’t typically happen with the mid-major pulling its starters and holding the ball and celebrating at the end as the clock ticks away. The final margin could have been worse but for a late “run” by Arizona in the final two minutes. Here are the largest margins of defeat in the first game for a team seeded 6 or better in the last 30 years (via sports-reference.com/bb):
- 2018: #4 Arizona by 21 to Buffalo
- 2008: #4 Vanderbilt by 21 to Siena
- 2013: #6 UCLA by 20 to Minnesota
- 2000: #6 Indiana by 20 to Pepperdine
- 1991: #5 Mississippi State by 20 to Eastern Michigan
- 2014: #6 Massachusetts by 19 to Tennessee
- 1990: #6 New Mexico State by 19 to Loyola Marymount
- 2011: #6 Georgetown by 18 to VCU
- 1995: #6 Oregon by 17 to Texas
- 1991: #6 LSU by 17 to Connecticut
Combined with the FBI investigation and pressure on Sean Miller, and top recruits abandoning Tucson in the wake of the same, this feels like the end of an era. Arizona is nouveau-riche by college basketball standards. They’ve been every bit the top program of the blue bloods like Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, and Kentucky in the last 30 years in terms of NBA talent, top seeds, and Final Fours. Prior to Lute Olson heading West, though, it was a school without any significant basketball history. They appeared to weather Olson’s retirement with Sean Miller–but it’s a stretch that has produced no Final Fours, and now, controversy and embarrassment. There will be some hard times in the short term, and there’s no guarantee they get back to the heights they knew before, again.