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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Padawan becomes the master as Mack and Miller match up

Kyle Hansen

Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller calls a play during Arizona’s 57-34 victory over Oregon State on Jan. 30, 2015 in McKale Center.

For the second straight round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, Sean Miller’s Wildcats have a matchup with an old friend.

Last week, it was Thad Matta’s Ohio State Buckeyes, which the Wildcats defeated 73-58 to advance to the second weekend of postseason play. This week, Miller and the Wildcats have a matchup with Xavier coach Chris Mack and the Musketeers in the Sweet Sixteen.

Before coaching Arizona, Miller was the head man at Xavier for five seasons and guided the Musketeers to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances with Mack as one of his assistants. The two men developed a close relationship, and Mack was tagged as Miller’s replacement after the 2008-09 season.

“Sean’s been instrumental in my career,” Mack said. “He’s always been a mentor, whether it was when I was working for him, with him or now that he’s a couple thousand miles away. There is not a challenge that I don’t bring to him if I’m struggling with something.”

Mack has gone on to win 134 games at Xavier in the six seasons since and has led the Musketeers to five NCAA Tournament appearances in that time. Meanwhile, Miller has won 162 games at Arizona and guided the Wildcats to the same amount of NCAA Tournament appearances over the six-year stretch.

“I’m just so proud of just watching Xavier and Chris,” Miller said in his NCAA press conference on Wednesday. “I mean, this is their third Sweet Sixteen since I left. They’re now in the Big East Conference. And if anybody thought that trajectory was going to stop in terms of Xavier continuing to elevate itself in the world of college basketball, they’re obviously wrong. I’m proud of just looking at where their program is.”

Mack said coaches like Miller helped make Xavier into the program it is now.

“Guys like Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean, carried the torch and simply elevated the program to new heights,” Mack said in his NCAA press conference on Wednesday. “Our fan base has come to expect getting to the NCAA Tournament, and that not even being acceptable, but to advance.”

While they won’t physically take the court, the two men will face off on one of the biggest possible stages: Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Since the Wildcats and Musketeers are in Hollywood, look at the “Star Wars” movies as a point of reference.

One of the major takeaways from the “Star Wars” movies is the Padawan becoming the Master. Anakin Skywalker overtakes his own Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to become a Sith Lord in the prequel portion of the two trilogies.

In the original portion of the two, Obi-Wan and the newly dubbed Darth Vader fight in the Death Star. Darth Vader utters the famous line, “The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now, I am the master.”

It may be overly dramatic, but in many ways, this is the relationship between Miller and Mack.

Miller is the wily old Master, and Mack is the Padawan looking to overtake him. Mack may not strike Miller down with a lightsaber on today, but it’s safe to say sparks will fly in the City of Angels.


Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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