Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ex-Pack aide Miller faces alma mater in Sweet 16

BOSTON - Former N.C. State assistant coach Sean Miller has one of the most intriguing matchups in the Sweet 16.

Miller, who coaches Xavier, meets his alma mater in Thursday’s 7:27 p.m. opener at the East Regional. He played and has been an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, which is the No. 1 regional seed.

He graduated from Pittsburgh in 1992 and is a member of the school’s All-Centennial team, which honored its best players from 1905 to 2005.

“Pitt has (been) a special place for me,” said Miller, who was the first coach at the podium during Wednesday’s interview sessions. “. . .Like so many former student-athletes, you look back at your experience and mine was amazing. Some of my strongest relationships, including my wife, stem from my time at Pitt, and several of my teammates will be at the game. What side they will be on, I don’t know, until the tipoff.”

Xavier has made steady improvement under Miller’s guidance. After failing to make the NCAA Tournament in 2005, the Musketeers have reached the first round in 2006, the Sweet 16 the following year and the Elite Eight last year.

Miller credits that to the balance in Xavier’s classes, as steady groups of seniors have led the team each season. He said the team’s success in the NCAA Tournament has opened doors to recruits of a quality Xavier would not have been able to approach in the past.

He said he believes the Musketeers have shed the label of “mid-major” that comes from their association with the Atlantic 10, which doesn’t get as much exposure as conferences such as the ACC and Big East.

“It’s about the NCAA Tournament,” Miller said. “Can you get there? Can you advance?. . .We can recruit a high-level student-athlete right now.” – Ken Tysiac