GREENSBORO, N.C. — Xavier coach Sean Miller still squirms when he thinks about the last time — the only time, actually — he has coached against his alma mater.
Miller, a Western Pennsylvania native and former point guard at Pitt, last faced off against the Panthers in 2009 in what would turn out to be his final game at Xavier before leaving for Arizona. The Musketeers had a good team and took 1-seed Pitt to the wire in a Sweet 16 showdown, only to see their tournament dreams end in a 60-55 loss.
Fourteen years later, Miller is in his first season back at Xavier, and it’s that sting of a loss that means more entering Sunday’s matchup against 11-seed Pitt, far more than any affinity for his alma mater.
“I’m much older [now],” Miller said of this weekend’s rematch with Pitt. “I would say as much as I love Pitt, it’s about winning the game and getting to the Sweet 16. I have a soft spot for them, and I’m sure it’s no different for them, but you get to this round, the prize is so significant for your team and your university that that’s my focus.”
Miller played for Pitt from 1987-88 through 1991-92, averaging 10 points and 5.8 assists a game during his career and assisting on one of the school’s most iconic plays, a massive dunk by Jerome Lane that shattered the backboard against Providence in 1988.
“The one thing about that play,” Miller said, “is no one can ever accuse you of not playing. Every [January] you remind them that you at least could dribble and pass.”
Miller actually attended a ceremony to induct Lane into the Pitt Hall of Fame last year, he said, and he has remained close to the university — though he said Saturday he had never come close to taking a coaching job there.
Miller met his wife at Pitt and still has numerous family and friends in the area, but he said Sunday’s game is all business.
Xavier won its first-round game against Kennesaw State after erasing a 13-point second-half deficit, while Pitt battled through a First Four game before stifling Iowa State on Friday. Miller said his team will need to shoot far better than it did against Kennesaw State if it wants to avoid the upset.
“My hope is we can play better and be more consistent,” Miller said. “We had some really good moments [against Kennesaw State] but we weren’t as consistent as we wanted to be.”
Xavier hasn’t made it beyond the second round of the tournament since 2016-17, which is also Miller’s last trip beyond the second round as a coach, then with Arizona.
“What I remember about [the last time coaching against Pitt] is that they moved on and played Villanova,” Miller said. “We were a play away from doing the same thing. The tournament, why it’s so great, is if you advance, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. … That’s why we have to survive, why we have to be at our best.”