Over two decades ago, Billy Donovan and Sean Miller were making their mark in the powerhouse Big East Conference.
Now, just days before the two were scheduled to meet at McKale Center as coaches, the Big East appears to be falling apart.
That bothers Miller. On an ESPN radio interview Friday, Miller said he understood how decisions sometimes need to be made for the best interests of schools and athletic departments, but also that, as a competitor, the loss of the Big East hurts.
“To have the experience of playing in Madison Square Garden is something you have forever,” Miller said. “When you think about all of those rivalries playing home and away, and how intense and physical those games were, that’s something regardless of what you’re doing in life now, we all look back on with immense pride having been in that area. And to see it kind of blow up and kind of go in this direction is really sad from my perspective.”
During the interview with Scott Van Pelt Miller also addressed a few familiar topics.
On whether UA can get better as the season progresses: “I hope so. The one factor none of us can count on is just good health and to this point we been on the right side of that but none of us can count on that…. We have some old guys who seem to have been through a lot, and lot of big, big games and then we combine that with some freshmen who are talented, they’re great kids. I think every time we play a game, every time we get through a week of practice, we experience some improvement.”
On whether this season’s freshman recruiting class is a better fit than last season’s:
“You look at the amount of resources the NFL puts in choosing a first round pick. We can all point toward those first round guys that just didn’t work out. You can imagine in recruiting for every one who you get really fortunate with – Derrick Williams is a great example for us -- every once in a while you don’t quite get it right, and maybe it’s not a great fit.
“This year … the best compliment those four (freshmen) guys -- and it’s one of the reasons I really love coaching this year’s team -- is they just roll their sleeves up and work hard. Although they all have their own individual goals, it’s really easy for them to fit into a team setting. It isn’t as if any of them is scoring 25 points a game but their intent is right.”
On whether the Pac-12 is improved:
“It’s the best of the four years I’ve been there. A lot of people focus on the top of the conference and that’s important. One of the things that we’ve established already is the bottom of the conference isn’t as weak as it has been in the past. I point to Utah. Larry (Krystkowiak) is doing an incredible job there developing his program. They’re a far cry right now from where they would have been a year ago. When you have a couple of teams or that one team that is really, really bad when you play them it’s like an anchor throughout January and February. We have a number of really improved teams near the middle and the bottom and hopefully we’re an improved team from a year ago.”
Had a Q&A with Chase Budinger from his interview with a few of us at McKale Center on Friday. Here were a couple of other things he said:
On whether being traded for a first-rounder justified anything after he was expected to be a first rounder in 2009 but fell to the second:
"I guess so. A lot of people have made that comparasion of, `This is where you should have been,' so it kind of just proved my worth, but I never really through of it like that."
On whether he has gotten to know Derrick Williams:
"Our whole team is very close. We hang out together. I have a pretty good relationship with Derrick. We talk about our experiences here and things, just talk like friends.”
On how Williams is dealing with not playing much lately:
"Every player gets frustrated if they're not playing much but he’s been great at working hard and getting extra work in. He’s done great when he has gotten in. Hopefully his minutes will go up but he’s in a tough spot right now playing behind Kevin Love. There’s not that many mnutes at that spot."
On how his knee was hurt (a torn meniscus):
"It happened so quickly. I made a cut and when I made that cut, kind of got pushed one way and another way. That threw my balance off, my foot got caught behind the other foot and when that happened, that made my knee stiff. I felt a pop and when I tried to get up, my knee was locked and I couldn't straighten it. I knew something was wrong."
On the surgery:
“Everybody thought it was just going to be a scope (arthroscopic surgery) but once the doctor got in there he couldn’t just cut it out because it was a pretty significant tear. He pretty much put the flap back in and stitched it up so I didn’t have to lose any of my meniscus. Long term it’s better; it will definitely help my career. The only downside is it is a long rehab process. I’ve gotta stay off it for eight weeks before I can start strengthening my leg up."
Plenty of previews of tonight's Arizona-Florida showdown. Among them:
-- Florida is returning to the state where its 2011-12 season ended in heartbreaking fashion.
-- Fox Sports Florida says the Gators could have their biggest challenge yet.
-- The game could tell just how good Arizona and Florida really are.
-- Jay Bilas poured in his analysis of the matchup, noting that the Gators don't extend as much defensively as they did last season.
-- Grantland's Shane Ryan calls it the best game in December, but isn't wild about the tipoff time.
Lots of other Pac-12 games today:
Dartmouth at ASU at 1 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Nebraska at Oregon, 2:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
UC Davis at Stanford, 3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
Jackson State at Washington, 5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks (not on Arizona, Bay Area and L.A. versions)
UC Riverside at USC, 5 p.m. Pac-12 Networks (only on Arizona, Bay Area and L.A. versions)
Prairie View A&M at UCLA, 7 p.m. Pac-12 Networks
Creighton at California, 9 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
Ben Howland is looking for the Bruins to show a killer instinct.
Colorado's Tad Boyle is still looking for a lot more from the Buffs.
And, in case you missed it and are interested, Aaron Gordon missed a three at the buzzer while Archbishop Mitty lost in overtime in an ESPN game.