Xavier coach Chris Mack didn’t spent time thinking of a diplomatic or clever way to respond to the awkward situation of facing his predecessor and former boss in the NCAA tournament.
“Honestly, it stinks,” the Musketeers coach told the Turner crew.
This Tournament has had a funny way of setting up matchups that are just as notable for their backstory as the action on the court.
The semifinal in Los Angeles is no exception as Mack and Xavier take on Sean Miller and Arizona. Miller coached at Xavier from 2004-09, taking the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in his final two years.
When Miller was promoted to replace Thad Matta, Miller hired the former Xavier player and assistant Mack. When Miller left for Arizona, Mack took his place. Between Matta and Mack, Miller his facing his predecessor and his successor in back-to-back games.
If it doesn’t stink for Miller, he’s certainly conflicted.
For both of these programs, a Final Four appearance would be monumental. Between Miller and Mack, they’ve been to the Sweet 16 nine times. Miller has been to the Elite Eight three times.
For either of them to continue this run, they’ll have to go through one of their closest allies in coaching.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 2 Arizona
Region: West (Los Angeles)
Time: Thursday, approx. 10:17 p.m., ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner
Line: Arizona by 11
Matchup to Watch: Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook vs. Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski
The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Stainbrook hasn’t encountered too many players who can match up with him. The defensive-minded seven-footer Tarczewski is one of them. Stanbrook leads Xavier at 12.1 points per game, but the Musketeers have four guys averaging 9.9 or more. Stainbrook is an effective passer (2.4 assists per game), and the Musketeers have other scorers up front. Jalen Reynolds scored 21 against Georgia State, and wing Trevone Bluiett is capable of going of for 15 or more.
Tournament Surprise: 3-point shooters off the bench
Gabe York has been giving Arizona a lift of the bench for two years now, so it’s not a huge surprise to see him hit five 3s against Ohio State. For Xavier, Myles Davis is 7-of-13 from 3 in two tournament games. Davis hit eight 3s in the final six games of the regular season.
Xavier will win if...
Dee Davis can keep the offense moving. With a team effort, the Wildcats were able to shut down D’Angelo Russell from the field. Russell finished 3-of-19, but he also had six assists and one turnover. In Dee Davis, Xavier has a pass-first point guard (six assists per game, 2.4 assists per turnover) who can get the ball to the weapons around him.
Arizona will win if...
T.J. McConnell runs the show. Arizona is a great defensive team and has a few future pros, starting with freshman Stanley Johnson. But this is McConnell’s team to run. There’s no reason why McConnell shouldn’t be able to pick apart a team that ranks 216th in effective field goal defense.
Athlon Staff Predictions:
David Fox: Arizona 73-69
Braden Gall: Arizona 68-58
Mitch Light: Arizona 63-56
Jake Rose: Arizona 74-64