Ex-Arizona Star Simon Gives March Thoughts
Former Arizona guard Miles Simon forever will be a part of March past and present for his role in the Wildcats’ 1997 national championship. It was the lone title in the history of Arizona, which slayed top seeds and college hoops blue bloods Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky on the way.
Simon, who teamed up with current NBA players Mike Bibby and Jason Terry on that team, was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and then had a brief pro career. He is now a college basketball analyst for ESPN.
He also has returned to the March stage by working with Allstate on “Team Mayhem,” a collection of broadcasters and former players who have been a part of iconic tournament moments. “Team Mayhem” will be in New Orleans for the Final Four.
We asked Simon to break down the 2012 NCAA tournament, while taking a look back at his one shining moment 15 years ago.
Miles Simon: Always exciting, as usual. At the end of the day (Thursday), I would have to say Wichita State-VCU (was the most compelling game), which kind of messed up my bracket because I had Wichita State - a team that I covered earlier in the year - going to the Sweet 16. But I feel that the top teams throughout the season ... you’re looking at the one, two and three seeds in the NCAA tournament were pretty much the strongest teams throughout the season.
And I think it’s going to end up playing out that way. You’re going to see a lot of the top seeds in the Elite Eight and the Final Four.
LL: One of those top seeds, Syracuse, had a near loss on Thursday. Many people have pointed to the blunders by referees in that game. Do you think the Orange can use that as an us-against-the-world type thing to get them going without Fab Melo?
MS: Whatever happened with the referees, that’s out of the players’ hands. They shouldn’t even worry about that. You have to remember that a game is not won or lost, usually, on one call or one play. There was many other plays where ... Syracuse scored. Syracuse still has to put the ball in the basket. And they still have to get stops on Asheville on the defensive end. I don’t think that’s as much of a factor.
Syracuse may have played a little tight, not their best game (Thursday), as they’re still adjusting (to being without) Fab Melo. I think they have a nice core of veterans with Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, so I think Syracuse is going to be all right.
LL: Another team in the Big East, Connecticut, came in as the defending national champs but never was able to come together and fill the void left by Kemba Walker. What was the problem with UConn this season that manifested itself in a loss to Iowa State?
MS: They just didn’t jell as a team. They didn’t have the chemistry as needed. They didn’t have the star power - a guy like Kemba Walker who can hit game-winners, carry a team on his back and get 25-30 on a consistent basis. (Jeremy) Lamb and (Shabazz) Napier were solid. (Andre) Drummond probably didn’t affect the team as much as probably people that he was going to be (able to) for a guy that’s possibly a Top 5 or Top 10 pick in the draft.
Not having your coach for X amount of games is always a tough thing when you have a Hall of Fame, champion-type coach in Jim Calhoun. But also, you have to give credit to Iowa State, they were tremendous. I’ve covered them three times; I didn’t think that UConn could beat Iowa State in that (second-round) matchup anyway.
LL: As someone with experience beating Kentucky in the 1997 national championship game, I have to ask about the Wildcats. They have been an incredible powerhouse this season. Will John Calipari get over the hump and win his first national title?
MS: I think it’s obviously his best chance to do it. Personally, I have UNC beating them in the finals. Obviously, I’m predicating that on a healthy John Henson, a full roster. You got to remember that Carolina lost to (Kentucky) by one point at Rupp Arena, when Anthony Davis saved the day with a blocked shot.
But Kentucky is so good defensively - No. 1 in the nation in field-goal percentage defense. It’s so hard to get freshmen, not only to learn but buy in defensively. A lot of them think about offense first. But John Calipari has done a great job of molding this team into a mirror image of himself - toughness, play hard, grind it out a little bit, and I think they have a great chance to win it.
LL: You have experience beating Kentucky in 1997, when you were a No. 4 seed. Is that something you think about often, especially around this time of year?
MS: I think people remind me more than I think about it. I still remember how fun it was and what a great accomplishment it was obviously being the only team to beat three No. 1 seeds and to win the only national championship in the storied Arizona basketball program for Lute Olson, a Hall of Fame coach. ... It’s obviously a great accomplishment that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.