Arizona Wildcat head coach Sean Miller and Ohio State head coach Thad Matta go back a number of years. Back as far as 1994 when they first broke into coaching as assistants under current Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek at Miami of Ohio.
There they were roommates, shared as Miller put it, “a tiny office,” and became friends that would continue to grow more and more over time.
“Thad Matta is probably my best friend,” stated Miller at his press conference on Monday. “Certainly my best friend in coaching. He’s a guy that means a lot to me and I wouldn’t be here today if not for him.”
Oddly enough that same season they met, Miller and Matta while at Miami (OH) were a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament and upset 5th seeded Arizona led by Lute Olsen.
“Probably one of the biggest set-up’s in NCAA Tournament history,” Miller joked. “I think we played Arizona at 9 am which would have been pacific time and all they way across the country…We had a really good team and I think we played 30 miles from campus. So I am sure Coach (Lute) Olsen thinks about that even to this day.”
Miller went on to join Sendek at North Carolina State and Matta went to Butler where he eventually got his first head coaching gig. In 2001, they joined forces again as Matta was named the head coach at Xavier and hired his old friend Miller to be his associate head coach.
Three years later in 2004, Matta received the head coaching job at Ohio State paving the way for Miller’s first opportunity as head coach as he took over the Xavier program.
Miller and Matta have faced off against each other in the NCAA Tournament once before. Back in 2007, ninth seeded Xavier and number one Ohio State led by Greg Oden and Mike Conley met in the round of 32. Xavier led for most of the game until Ron Lewis of Ohio State knocked down a big three-pointer for the Buckeyes before the end of regulation which sent the game into overtime. Xavier went on to lose the game 78-71.
“It was probably one of the great games in the NCAA Tournament over the last ten years,” Miller explained. “I really thought it would have been Greg Oden’s last game. It looked that way and they made an incredible shot. We moved on and they moved on and almost won the national championship.”
Fast forward to March Madness 2013. Sean Miller now in his fourth season as head coach of the Wildcats gets another shot at his best friend. He and Matta spoke before the tournament began and talked about that this is something they hoped might happen.
“I learned a lot from him,” Miller said. “We had a great time together but certainly because of that, I know, we know Ohio State very well.”
“With that friendship and respect that they have for each other, I think coach will prepare us even more for Ohio State,” added Arizona senior forward Solomon Hill.
Miller wouldn’t venture to say he wouldn’t mind losing to Matta but did say that if Arizona does come up short, he will still “pull for him and hope he does well.”
Miller’s Cats and Matta’s Bucks face off in the sweet 16 on Thursday at 4:47 p.m. Arizona time from Staples Center in Los Angeles.