Thad Matta

Thad Matta and Sean Miller put friendship on the line in Sweet 16

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The most intriguing part of the matchup between No. 2 seed Ohio State and No. 6 seed Arizona has less to do with the Buckeyes and the Wildcats that will be on the court than the ones that will be stalking the sidelines.

Thad Matta and Sean Miller are good friends with a coaching connection that dates back two decades. Back in 1994, Matta was hired as an assistant coach at Miami (OH), where Miller was already a member of the staff. While their career paths separated as both bounced between assistant coaching gigs over the next few years, when Matta was hired as the head coach at Xavier, he scooped up Sean Miller from NC State to be his lead assistant.

He even let Miller live in his house, with Miller’s pregnant wife and two sons, while they went house hunting.

That decision led directly to Miller’s first head coaching gig, as he was hired to replace Matta when Matta took over at Ohio State in 2004.

It gets better: this isn’t the first time the two have met in the NCAA tournament. The last time? 2007, when Ron Lewis hit this memorable shot and with Gus Johnson calling the action:

Perhaps the strongest indicator of how close these two are is that, despite regaling the media with stories about the pranks that they’ve pulled on each other, Matta still doesn’t bring up this win with Miller:

As a result of how that game unfolded, it’s one of the few subjects neither Miller nor Matta bring up with one-another. In addition to the heartbreak of wasting a late nine-point lead for Xavier, the outcome was controversial because referees opted not to call an apparent intentional foul on Greg Oden for shoving a Musketeers player out of bounds with 10 seconds left in regulation.

“That was as big a heartbreaker as I can remember,” said Xavier director of basketball administration Mario Mercurio, who worked under both Matta and Miller as well. “I’ve never watched a tape of that game. I’ve never seen Ron Lewis’ shot except for when it was live. I would say that not many people at Xavier acknowledge that game’s existence. I don’t know if Sean and Thad talk about that game much, but I know this. I never talk to Sean about it.”

Hopefully, we’ll get a game that’s just as exciting tonight.

And I doubt that another heart-breaking loss would hurt their friendship.

“When you lose the game —and hopefully that won’t be me — it’s a little bit easier, I believe, to deal with because no matter who Ohio State plays, I always cheer for them because of my relationship with Thad,” Miller said.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.