Sean Miller talks Sweet 16, Chris Mack, and Lauri Markkanen with Jim Rome

Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack and current Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller have a pact. Mack said on The Jim Rome Show on Monday that since Miller’s Wildcats beat his Musketeers two years ago in the Sweet 16, that Miller will allow Mack’s team to win this Thursday’s re-match between the two schools.

Miller said Mack, who was his former assistant at Xavier, must have still been sleeping and chuckled at the possibility of playing each other again in the Sweet 16.

“And Chris rolled over on his pillow, right, and woke up,” Miller laughed about Mack’s pact. “I look at it a couple ways, first of all, we did this a few years ago, and it’s really improbable that we’ve met twice in the Sweet 16, especially us being out here in the west at Arizona and him being in the Big East, but it is what it is.”

Now in his eighth season at Arizona, Miller downplayed the popular narrative of many making the game about two close friends.

“I think the thing you find as a coach, there’s relationships and story lines throughout the tournament, and you can’t get too caught up in the emotional aspect of it, because at the end of the day, it’s really about the team,” Miller said. “The group of kids that are playing on our team this year, and the team and group of kids playing on Xavier’s team this year. None of which I’ve ever coached. Those guys in many ways have never met me, so although there’s a story line between Chris and I, the bigger picture in this game is about Arizona and Xavier.”

Much of Arizona’s success this season could be attributed to freshman Lauri Markkanen. Miller raved about the 19-year-old big man and his continued development this season.

“He’s not just a terrific player and one of the best freshman in our country or one of the best freshman in the tournament, he’s one of the best players,” Miller said. “He can really shoot the basketball, and for somebody who is seven feet tall, there aren’t many of those guys walking around. But to Lauri’s credit, what he’s done a great job of is improved the other aspects of his game and that’s really helped our team. A big reason why we beat St. Mary’s is we shifted him to guarding (Jock) Landale, their really good low-post center, and Lauri two months ago probably wouldn’t be able to do that, but when called upon him in the tournament he delivered. And same thing whether it be scoring around the basket, being more comfortable inside the arch, and as he’s improved the other aspects of his game, our team certainly has followed.”

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