Sweet 16 preview: Arizona Wildcats take on Xavier Musketeers

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Arizona coach Sean Miller and Xavier head coach Chris Mack face off in the Sweet 16 once again. (Source: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) Arizona coach Sean Miller and Xavier head coach Chris Mack face off in the Sweet 16 once again. (Source: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Coaches

Nine years ago, Sean Miller lead the Xavier Musketeers to Phoenix for the Sweet 16. Chris Mack was his top assistant. The duo led the Musketeers to within one of the Final Four.

The video proof from the NCAA Vault is on the NCAA On Demand's YouTube channel.

On Thursday in San Jose, CA, Arizona Wildcats Coach Sean Miller faces his old team in the Sweet 16.

"It's really improbable that we've met twice in the Sweet 16," Miller said. "You can't get too caught up in it because the game is really about the team."

Miller refuses to call Mack his "protege," instead saying he's one of the "game's great coaches."

Arizona beat Xavier 68-60 in the Sweet 16 in 2015, the first matchup between the two coaches and friends.

"My players don't care about Sean just as Sean's players don't care about me," said Mack, who took over for Miller at Xavier in 2010. "It's about our teams. Each of us have [sic] a few calls from each other's playbook but other than that players are going to have to execute and get the job done [Thursday] night."

[RELATED: Miller and Mack still close after time together at Xavier]

Confidence

Both teams say they expect a "battle."  Xavier is an 11 seed, but the team's performance against Florida State has Miller concerned.

"They dismantled their bracket(last weekend)," the Wildcats coach said. "It wasn't even close against Florida State and FSU is one of the more talented teams in this tournament."

Xavier's run to the Sweet 16 is a surprise. The Musketeers lost 13 games this season and star point guard Edmond Sumner tore his ACL on Jan. 29.  Xavier battled confidence issues and lost six in a row in February. So, the Musketeers made a bold move, burning the February calendar.  The team carries the ashes of the burned calendar with them on the road.  Xavier responded by beating  No. 18 Butler in the Big East Tournament to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona has its own story to tell.

[WHERE TO WATCH: TBS after Gonzaga vs. West Virginia (4:30 AZ time) ends]

The Wildcats lost Ray Smith to a torn ACL in the preseason. Star scorer Allonzo Trier was sidelined for half the season for a mysterious suspension.  Even after Trier returned, the Wildcats struggled, losing to Oregon  85-58 on Feb. 4. Miller's team also lost at home to UCLA on Feb. 25.  The Wildcats avenged both losses, beating the Bruins and Ducks in consecutive days at the Pac 12 Tournament. 

Recognition game

Miller says Xavier plays three different defenses. For the Cats to score, they need to recognize which defense the Musketeers are in and attack quickly. 

The Wildcats coach is also concerned about Xavier's ability to rebound.

"They might be the best rebounding team in the country," he said. "We're going to have to be able to answer the bell in that one area."

[SPECIAL SECTION: Final Four]

Trevon Bluiett presents the biggest challenge for the Arizona defense. The junior guard is averaging 25 points a game in the NCAA Tournament.  J.P. Macura's "knack" to knock the ball away on defense scares Miller, along with the trio Tyrique Jones, Kaiser Gates and Sean O'Mara in the paint.

The Cats need their stars to show up in San Jose, CA. Lauri Markkanen scored 16 points against St. Mary's but the 7-foot freshman from Finland looked tentative in the early going. Trier was scoreless in the first half against the Gaels, but finished with 14 and sparked the Cats run. 

As our sports producer, Joe Farris, pointed out, the Cats usually start slow, get screamed at, play better defense, get screamed at again, and then go on an offensive run to separate themselves in the second half.

Prediction: Wildcats 76, Xavier 74 in OT.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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