One coach hires another as an assistant, helps him build a track record and maybe even get his own head coaching position.
Then, the two are pitted against each other. It’s not quite teacher vs. student. Maybe more like mentor vs. mentee.
So it is for Xavier’s Chris Mack and Arizona’s Sean Miller, whose teams meet Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 (10:09 p.m. ET, TBS) in San Jose.
Miller was an assistant coach at Xavier before taking over the program when Thad Matta left for Ohio State. Miller then brought back another former Xavier assistant who had departed for Wake Forest with Matta’s predecessor, Skip Prosser. That was Mack.
Miller’s five years at Xavier with Mack resulted in 120 wins and four consecutive NCAA bids. And then off Miller went to Arizona. Mack replaced him at Xavier. His Wildcats entered this year’s tourney as the No. 11 seed and promptly upset Maryland and Florida State. Now the Musketeers have the No. 2 seed Wildcats in their sights, with a place in the Elite Eight at stake.
Miller takes no credit for Mack’s successes or the growth of Xavier’s program.
“Chris Mack is one of our game’s bright coaches, great coaches,” Miller said on Wednesday. “He’s not my former assistant. He stands on his own two feet and his record and what he’s done speaks for itself.”
In Mack’s eight years, Xavier has only missed the NCAA tournament once. The Muskies finished ninth in the Associated Press’ final poll for the 2015-16 season.