Looking at this year’s bracket, if Miller isn’t being completely honest he has to wonder if the committee isn’t either.
The way coaching trees grow, with assistants of successful coaches going on to run programs of their own, it’s impossible to avoid student / teacher matchups. But when you dig into the West region you find an Arizona path that contains nothing but Sean Miller storylines.
Miller could conceivably face Ohio State and old friend Thad Matta in the round of 32, Xavier and former assistant Chris Mack in the Sweet Sixteen and Kentucky and family friend John Calipari in the Final Four.
It’s as if they built the bracket from Miller’s phone contacts.
The theme continues what has already been a month of personal milestones for the Arizona coach. Miller unloaded two monkeys from his back in Las Vegas, the first being the hard-fought semifinal win over UCLA. The Bruins had eliminated the Wildcats in three of Miller’s first five appearances in the Pac-12 tournament, including the first two years after the event moved to the MGM Grand.
The second primate was jettisoned when Arizona finally brought home the precious silver sphere that is the tournament trophy. Miller had seen his squad falter in the Pac-12 final three of the previous four seasons.
His reward? An NCAA tournament draw that forces him to lose early or send his friends packing.
Even if the head-to-head matchups don’t come to pass Arizona can’t get to the Final Four unless Matta and Mack lose first. Miller can’t win a championship this year unless Calipari’s dream season goes up in smoke. That can’t make Miller happy.
The bracket isn’t emotionally pleasant for UA fans either. Seeing the Buckeyes conjures up thoughts of the buzzer-beater loss at Staples Center in the tournament two years ago. Wisconsin sits as the top seed in the West and last season’s overtime heartbreaker remains fresh in the minds of Wildcat faithful. The only way the region could carry worse memories would be if you crammed Illinois and UNLV into it.
This is the world of college sports. Friends and family members compete and battle to the final buzzer then embrace as friends once again. Fan bases clash with familiar foes until one side celebrates while the other prepares for an offseason of internet ridicule.
March Madness is business, even when it’s personal.
Especially when it’s personal.
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