GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — When coach Sean Miller returned to Xavier, he made one thing clear to his players: He didn’t have any patience for losing.
Rebuilding never entered his vocabulary.
In just his second season back at the helm, Miller has restored Xavier’s status as a national power heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers (25-9) are back in the tourney for the first time since 2018 as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region.
“He made it known that this isn’t going to be a rebuilding year,” Musketeers guard Adam Kunkel said of Miller’s arrival on campus in 2021. “(He said) that we’re going to hit the ground running — and that’s what we’ve done.”
Miller spent five years with Xavier from 2004-09, reaching the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight once before moving on to Arizona, where he spent 12 seasons before departing amid the scrutiny of a 2017 FBI investigation over shady recruiting practices.
Arizona assistant coaches were penalized, but Miller escaped unscathed.
However, due to Arizona’s self-imposed sanctions and a drop-off in recruiting, Miller hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2018.
“Sometimes when you are away from the NCAA Tournament, you miss it and learn how special it is to be here,” Miller said. “Being a 3 seed and returning back I think is something that means a lot to all of our players.”
The Musketeers have persevered this season despite losing leading scorer Zach Freemantle, who went down with a season-ending foot injury in late January. Still, Xavier won five of its final six games.
“When you lose somebody like that, you don’t really know how it’s going to go,” Miller said. “And I think the testament for us is we’ve been able to overcome that injury as well, which I give a lot of credit to our players.”
Xavier faces Atlantic Sun Conference champion Kennesaw State (26-8) on Friday. Making their first March Madness appearance, the Owls are 12 1/2-point underdogs, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
“We’re technically an underdog on paper, but we don’t see ourselves as an underdog,” Kennesaw State guard Chris Youngblood said.
THEY HAVE A HISTORY
Kent State faces No. 4 seed Indiana in the Midwest Region in Albany, New York, on Friday, and Golden Flashes coach Rob Senderoff has a history with the Hoosiers.
It’s not the best.
Senderoff was an assistant under then-Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson from 2006-08. Sampson and Senderoff were both sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations related to impermissible contact with recruits during their time with the Hoosiers and the program was hit with probation.
Senderoff landed at Kent State as an assistant, and the school kept him on even after the NCAA hit him with a three-year show cause order.
He rose to head coach in 2011 and has been one of the most successful coaches in the Mid-American Conference since.
Senderoff was asked about what went wrong at Indiana on Thursday and declined to dig into the past.
“Respectfully, I’d be happy to talk to you about it at some other time, but I really feel like the tournament, wasting that time on me, is really not where I want to go today,” he said.
Indiana won NCAA Tournaments under Bobby Knight in the 1970s and ’80s, but has been unable to regain superpower status for the last few decades. Tom Crean followed Sampson and Indiana made the NCAA Tournament four times in nine seasons. Archie Miller followed with four seasons and no NCAA appearances.
Former IU player and NBA coach Mike Woodson seems to have the Hoosiers pointed in the right direction.
Indiana won a First Four game before losing in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Now the Hoosiers are back with bigger aspirations.
“Yes, expectations are high, and I knew that coming in,” Woodson said. “Hell, I played here. They should be high, and it’s OK. Indiana is a big-time program. It’s been that way for years. I’m just trying to get them back on top, man. That’s all I care about.”
Indiana and Kent State have some NCAA Tournament history, too. The Flashes beat the Hoosiers in the first round of the 2001 tournament. The very next year, they met again in a regional final and Indiana beat Kent State to reach its most recent Final Four appearance.
OMIER BACK AT PRACTICE
Miami leading rebounder Norchad Omier, nursing a sprained ankle, practiced with the team Thursday in Albany, New York, but his status for the fifth-seeded Hurricanes’ first-round game against Drake is still uncertain.
Omier was injured in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals against Duke on Friday night. He participated in a workout that was open to media and fans Thursday that is not the most strenuous test for players. Omier took jumpers and even threw down a dunk.
“His impact is always huge. He’s got the biggest personality you could ever imagine. His energy on and off the court, his relationship with his teammates and our community is sensational,” Miami coach Jim Larranga said before practice.
“If he’s good, we’re good. If he’s not, we’ll know it, and we’ll make the adjustment.”
The 6-foot-7 third-year sophomore averages 13.6 points and a team-high 9.7 rebounds. He was an All-ACC second-team pick by The Associated Press.
“Norchad is obviously day by day, but we have time to prepare without him, versus Duke we didn’t,” Miami’s Jordan Miller said. ” Obviously we’d love to have him.”
Norchad is an inside force on both ends for a team that otherwise operates mostly from the wings and perimeter.
“He brings some physicality,” Drake coach Darian DeVries said. “The rebounding, he’s elite at. Like I said, they’re still a really good team whether he plays or not, but he does bring a dimension that is really good for them.”
No. 11 seed Pitt (21-13) returns to Greensboro Coliseum on Friday looking to address what Panthers guard Greg Elliott called “unfinished business“ from eight days ago when they lost on the same court to Duke in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
“We didn’t win the tournament like we had hopes to do,” Elliott said.
Pitt beat Mississippi State on Tuesday in a First Four game for for its first NCAA Tournament win since 2014.
The Panthers made eight 3-pointers in the first half against a team that ranked in the top 10 in the country in defense. Now they will face No. 6 seed Iowa State (19-13), a team that finished 182nd in the country in 3-point defense.
“We’re going to need to be highly disruptive because we know that they can really get it going from long range,“ Cyclones coach T.J. Otzelberger said.
Iowa State struggled down the stretch, losing nine of its final 13 games while playing a brutal Big 12 schedule loaded with Top 25 teams.
“We play in the best league in America, and it’s a credit to our opponents,” Otzelberger said. “We know every night out feels like a heavyweight fight. A lot of humility playing in our league that you have got to have and a short-term memory.”
AP Sports Writers Ralph Russo and Tom Canavan in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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