Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller and Ohio State’s head coach Thad Matta go back nearly 20 years.
The year was 1994, and the two shared an office as assistants at Miami University of Ohio in Oxford, Ohio. Their head coach? Current Arizona State coach, Herb Sendek.
The coincidences don’t end there. The two were also on the staff that upset the No. 5 Arizona Wildcats led by Lute Olson in the 1995 NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed in Dayton, Ohio.
They both departed Oxford after that season searching for greener pastures, and when Matta was named the head coach at Xavier, the first call he made was to Sean Miller, who was at North Carolina State with Herb Sendek.
Miller was hired on as an associate head coach at Xavier and coached with Matta until 2004, when Matta left for Ohio State. Miller, then coached the Musketeers for five more years with four NCAA tournament appearances, three Atlantic-10 regular season championships and one Atlantic-10 conference tournament championship.
Miller has only the best things to say about Matta:
[Matta is] certainly my best friend in coaching and a guy that means a lot to me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. He’s one of the best, if not the best, right now coaching. I think his team really reflects that.
He goes on to say:
Thad [Matta] is just a very unique person. He has that quality where you want to follow him. I think that’s one of the many reasons why he’s such a great coach—the players on his team love to play for him. He has a way of making things fun. He’s also one of the most competitive people that I’ve ever met.
- Region: West
- Date: Thursday, March 28
- Time: 4:47 p.m. PT
- Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, Calif.
- Television: TBS
- Radio: KCUB 1290-AM The Source in metro Tucson / WBNSFM 97.1, AM-1460 in metro Columbus
Playing at a Different Level
The Arizona Wildcats cruised in their first two games against No. 11 seed Belmont and No. 14 seed Harvard, winning by an average of 20 points per game. The ‘Cats hardly broke a sweat in Salt Lake City, while Ohio State needed last-second heroics from Aaron Craft to seal the victory over Iowa State in Dayton.
The team, including Grant Jerrett, is fresh, healthy and ready to win this game on the national stage and avenge Coach Miller’s loss to Thad Matta’s Buckeyes in 2007.
The Buckeyes (28-7, 13-5 Big Ten) will be the biggest challenge for the Arizona Wildcats (27-7, 12-6 Pac-12) since they defeated the No. 5 Florida Gators back in December. They have only played two teams ranked in the AP Top 25 since then and went 1-1.
Conversely, Ohio State has battled in the trenches, playing 10 teams ranked in the Top 25 in 2013, finishing with a 5-5 record, and winning the Big Ten Conference Championship.
This is Matta’s fourth consecutive Sweet 16, and Miller is hoping to return to the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons.
Junior forward DeShaun Thomas is a first-team All-American that leads the Big 10 in scoring with 19.5 points per game. He is 6’7″ and a prolific three-point shooter that also leads the team in rebounds. The Buckeyes play him at the four, so matching up with him could be difficult for Miller’s talented freshman big three.
Coach Miller said about Thomas:
Throughout the game it really has to be a team effort as a team guarding Thomas, because he sets so many ball screens. He’s such an incredible offensive player and a great three-point shooter. We have to rotate to him and do a great job as a team. The thing that’s different about him is that he’s too big and physical for guards.
Junior point guard Aaron Craft is on a high right now. After shooting only 40 percent from the field against Iowa State on Sunday, he made his only three-point attempt with 0.5 seconds left on the clock. Craft has only shot 30 percent from beyond the arc this season but nailed this one with his foot dangerously close to the line.
Craft is No. 2 in the Big 10 in assists, averaging 4.6 per game, and steals with 2.0. Arizona’s point guard, Mark Lyons trails Nick Johnson in both assists and steals. Johnson is fourth in the Pac-12 in steals and assists.
Coach Miller said about Craft:
Part of what makes him such a special basketball player is who he is as a person. He’s a 4.0 student, an incredible leader and as good of a competitor as you’ll find. He puts a lot of emphasis and plays hard on defense, but he’s also talented there. There are a lot of guys who play hard, but they’re limited. He has exceptional quickness and quick hands and he is strong. His anticipates really well. On offense, he runs the show. It’s not about scoring points for him it’s about being a point guard, and he is an extension of the coach. All of the things that you can say to give him incredible respect, that’s where I’m at.
The Wildcats are playing their best basketball right now, and they need to be running on all cylinders for this highly-anticipated matchup. The Buckeyes have won 10 in a row, play in the highest-ranked conference in the nation and won their conference championship.
The Wildcats’ kryptonite is the Pac-12 Conference. They are 14-0 against non-conference teams including wins over two other teams currently in the Sweet 16—Florida and Miami.
It is possible for the ‘Cats to meet up with conference foe Oregon in the Final Four and exact revenge for snapping their 14-game win streak.
Who knows? Stranger things have happened.