In a script of true Shakespearean proportions, the Xavier Musketeers head coach Chris Mack will come full circle on Thursday night when his team bumps heads against the #2 in the West Region, the Arizona Wildcats, coached by his mentor, Sean Miller.
From 2004-2009, Miller was the head Musketeer. Leaving for a more prestigious job out in the desert, the move has paid off for not only both men, but also both programs.
The Wildcats just finished off winning, not only the Pac-12 regular season title, but also the postseason tournament. While the Musketeers fell short of capturing Big East glory against Villanova, only one of those two teams are left standing after the first weekend.
What do Arizona and Sean Miller bring to the table? A brilliant team, for one. They've won 33 games to this point, having dropped only three. The good news? Those three losses came to subpar competition on the road. And while Los Angeles is much closer to Tucson than Cincinnati, the ‘Cats have had a history of slipping up on the road this year.
While their three losses have come by a combined nine points to UNLV, Oregon State, and Arizona State--three teams not in the field of 64--they're blemishes nonetheless.
The one constant in the three losses the ‘Cats have suffered this year has been foul trouble to their mountain of a center, seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski (side note: would you rather have to spell Tarczewski or Arcidiacono in the finals of a spelling bee contest?). Luckily for Xavier, they have one of their own in Matt Stainbrook. Winning the matchup down low will be crucial to Xavier pulling what amounts to a bigger upset than a normal #6 vs. #2 seed matchup.
What makes Arizona so dangerous is their depth. And not depth in the sense that they just haphazardly throw a bunch of players on the floor, but everyone who sees minutes has a specific purpose, and executes their role flawlessly.
Their leading scorer is super frosh Stanley Johnson, who the Musketeers can only hope is looking at the clock until the NBA Draft when he will surely be a lottery pick, and forgets about his March obligations. What hampered the ‘Cats last year on their run was the injury to Brandon Ashley, another huge body who stretches the floor at the power forward position. With him back, it seems Arizona may have one too many pieces to have to match up against.
You would be behooved to mention the Arizona Wildcats and not talk about T.J. McConnell. He can be described in a multitude of fashions: glue guy, pesky gnat, "you love to play with him, but hate to play against him," but what cannot be denied is that he is the heart and soul of the Wildcats monster. Take out the beast's heart, and there's a chance.
On paper, Arizona is a juggernaut. On the court, Arizona may be an even bigger juggernaut when you consider the hot shooting of marksman Gabe York so far in the Tournament. But it truly does take only one night, and one perfect game to swing the narrative.
Xavier is the Big East's last hope with Butler, Villanova, Providence, St. John's, and Georgetown all bowing out before the first weekend was let out. It's not like anyone expected them to be the last team standing anyways, so why stop now?