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A look at what to expect from the coaches and a predicted outcome of Thursday’s game (at approximately 6:45 p.m., Tucson time) at Anaheim between No. 5-seed Arizona (29-7) and No. 1 seed Duke (32-4) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament:
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski vs. Arizona’s Sean Miller
Sean Miller‘s unsuccessful first opportunity to coach against Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as a head coach was two seasons ago. His next chance tonight has similar circumstances. Heading into a made-for-TV showdown against the Blue Devils at the Meadowlands on Dec. 20, 2008, Miller’s Xavier team was making a claim to be considered a national power. The Musketeers, who advanced to the Elite Eight the previous year, were trying to match their best start in school history (the 1996-97 team opened 10-0). Their No. 7 ranking matched the highest in the program’s history. Xavier came out of the gate as if it did not hear the gun. The sixth-ranked Blue Devils charged to an 18-1 lead and it was light’s out from there en route to an 82-64 win. “At the first timeout, I tried to remain positive, but I told the kids that at this pace, they could score 190 and I really thought it was a possibility,” Miller told the media afterward. The loss was the second-worst during Miller’s five years as Xavier head coach (ASU beat the Musketeers 77-55 in 2007).
Only two seasons later, Miller has Arizona on solid ground, it appears, as the Wildcats return to the Sweet 16 for the 14th time after failing to make the NCAA tournament field last year for the first time since 1985. Arizona guard Lamont “MoMo” Jones said this week that the Wildcats’ program is “iconic” similar to the Duke masterpiece Krzyzewski has built and maintained. Miller again is leading a program trying to prove itself on a national stage. Every national media talking head is taking Duke, which is a decisive 9-point favorite in Las Vegas. Will Arizona fail to hear the gun like Xavier did 28 months ago against Duke and Krzyzewski? Will Arizona get a reality check like Xavier enured or will the Wildcats answer the bell and come out nasty like Miller desires?
Comparing the two coaches is unfair to Miller, because he is only 42 and barely in his seventh season as head coach with an overall record of 165-69. His biggest accomplishment is the Elite Eight appearance in 2008. Krzyzewski, 64, is two victories shy of Bobby Knight‘s career-record of 902. He has four national titles at Duke. He will likely win his second gold medal as the Team USA Olympic coach in 2012.