© 2014 Robert McKercher. All rights reserved.
Serendipitous Sweet Sixteen
The sporting world is a small one, with six degrees of separation often being an overly generous budget for making connections among teams, coaches, and fan bases. Case in point, the University of Arizona men’s basketball team has history and/or an intriguing relationship with all of their remaining 15 potential opponents in the 2014 NCAA Division One Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Sweet Sixteen

No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs
Arizona’s next game is a rematch of an early season road win over a tough team that went deep in the 2013 NCAA tournament. The November win provided the first solid evidence that Arizona would end up as one of the elite teams this season.

Elite Eight

No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers
If Arizona reaches the Elite Eight, Wisconsin could be the opponent. The schools have played twice in the tournament, splitting the series, but Wildcats fans remember the second round loss to the Badgers in 2000 that derailed a top-seeded Arizona team loaded with talent like Jason Gardner, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright, Loren Woods, and Luke Walton – or essentially the same team that would be championship runner-up the following year. However, the more relevant story for the current teams is that Arizona’s Sean Miller and Badgers’ Bo Ryan are among a handful of coaches generally regarded as the best to have never reached a Final Four. If they meet in the Elite Eight, one will spoil the other’s chance to shed that dubious distinction.

No. 6 Baylor Bears
If Arizona were to play Baylor in the Elite Eight, it would be the two schools’ first ever meeting in the tournament. Like Miller and Ryan, Drew is another highly respected coach who has yet to reach the Final Four despite considerable tournament success. The two coaches also have a personal connection. Miller was an assistant coach for Thad Matta; Matta and Drew are both Butler alums.

Final Four vs. Midwest Region Winner

No. 2 Michigan Wolverines
The Wildcats could face a rematch against Michigan, who they beat in December on the road. The win against the Wolverines, who were unranked at the time but a Top 25 team for all but eight weeks of the season, was Arizona’s first real test after securing the consensus number 1 ranking. Arizona and Michigan finished ranked numbers 4 and 7, respectively, in the polls.

No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers
The Arizona and Tennessee programs have no real history, but Miller and Vols Cuonzo Martin coached against each other a handful of times while they were with Xavier and Purdue.

No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats
Beyond having the same mascots, Kentucky was the team Arizona defeated for the school’s only national championship in 1997. Defending champion Kentucky was the third number one seed the Wildcats beat on their path to capturing the title.

No. 4 Louisville Cardinals
Arizona has played and lost to the Cardinals twice in the NCAA tournament; the most recent meeting was a 103-64 blow-out in the 2009 regional semi-final, the year before Miller accepted the Arizona job. However, the fun story here is that current Louisville coach Rick Pitino was both Kentucky’s coach in their 1997 championship game loss to Arizona and one of the rumored candidates for the Arizona coaching job eventually won by Miller.

Championship Game vs. East Region Winner

No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers
The Wildcats and the Virginia Cavaliers have played each other once in the tournament – a second-round win by Arizona in 1994. Neither current coach was with their respective teams in 1994, and although current Virginia coach Tony Bennett coached Pac-12 opponent Washington State for three years, he left the school before Miller came to Arizona.

No. 4 Michigan State
Arizona has played Michigan State once in the tournament, beating them in a 2001 Final Four game.

No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones
Arizona and Iowa State have never played each other in the tournament, but Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg beat Miller to win the 2011 Shots from the Heart free-throw shooting contest among head coaches. The contest was a charity event for the American Heart Association.

No. 7 Connecticut Huskies
Eventual 2011 champions Connecticut brought the Wildcats back down to earth from their Sweet Sixteen trouncing of Duke by beating Miller’s first Arizona tournament team 65-63 in the regional final.

Championship Game vs. South Region Winner

No. 1 Florida Gators
Arizona and Florida have no tournament history, but Miller and Gators coach Billy Donovan have split two neutral court regular season games since Miller came to Arizona. The Wildcats won the most recent matchup in 2012, beating then-number 5 Florida by one point on a Mark Lyons jumper with seven seconds left.

No. 4 UCLA Bruins
With all due respect to Arizona State, UCLA is Arizona’s true conference basketball rival. The two programs have won 22 of the last 30 Pac-10/12 regular season conference championships. Arizona has won 13, UCLA 9 in that time, including last season. And UCLA was the last team to beat Arizona, a 75-71 win in the Pac-12 conference tournament championship game.

No. 10 Stanford Cardinal
Another Pac-12 Conference rival, Stanford lost both regular season games, but the bragging rights of having both finalists from the same conference and the familiarity between the two teams would make for an entertaining game.

No. 11 Dayton Flyers
Sean Miller and Dayton coach Archie Miller have already made history as the first brothers to ever coach in the same Sweet Sixteen. Like the Harbaughs in the Super Bowl two years ago, there will be at least as much coverage about brothers coaching against each other in the championship game as there will be about Xs and Os and matchups. All the beat reporters, columnists, and bloggers probably already have their human interest pieces written.