LOS ANGELES -- Ever since Thad Matta and Sean Miller shared a tiny office at Miami of Ohio nearly two decades ago, the coaches' friendship has survived job changes, practical jokes and a few hundred bucks in unpaid lunch tabs.
They've worked together and recruited against each other. They've shared scouting tips and sought job advice. They even briefly lived under the same roof with their entire families.
"I wouldn't be here today without him," Miller said. "I learned a lot from him, enjoyed being around him when we worked together, and we remain very good friends."
They remained close after their teams faced off in a memorable Ohio State victory against Xavier in the NCAA tournament six years ago, and they're still close heading into their next meeting today at Staples Center in Los Angeles, when the second-seeded Buckeyes (28-7) meet Miller's Arizona Wildcats (27-7) in a West Region semifinal.
"I don't like the fact that we're playing, but I'm happy as can be for him," Matta said.
Arizona and Ohio State have never met in the NCAA tournament, but Matta and Miller faced off in the second round in 2007, three years after Matta took over the Buckeyes and left Miller, a former Pitt and Blackhawk High School star, in charge at Xavier .
Neither coach enjoyed facing a good friend that year, and their collision this week isn't as fun as the chance to reconnect in person for the first time in months.
The coaches know plenty about each other's strategies, and they also know their quirks. Miller realizes Matta doesn't enjoy being too far from his own bed, remembering long recruiting trips together when "it could be 10 o'clock at night, and he would give you that look like, 'Why don't we just get home?'"
"I guess if there's one small advantage we have, we have him in a place that he's not real familiar with, a long way from home," Miller added.
They helped engineer an NCAA tournament upset of Arizona while they were on staff together at Miami of Ohio -- although Miller left Matta stuck with about $350 in lunches when he left for Pitt in 1995. The coaches worked together splendidly again at Xavier -- and Miller even lived with Matta briefly after getting the job in Cincinnati in 2001, bringing along his pregnant wife and their kids.
"If it was a couple of weeks, it probably felt like a couple months to Thad and his wife," Miller said.
Miller and Matta had an extra-long conversation between their teams' practices Wednesday, discussing the possibility of Miller's son, Austin, heading to Ohio State to work for Matta as a team manager in a couple of years. They're full of mutual respect, with Miller suggesting Matta is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career -- even if that journey goes through Miller's Wildcats.
"When you do this long enough, your paths are going to cross," Matta said. "I'm sure he feels the same way: I want to win like crazy, but if things don't go well, I couldn't be happier for him."
First Published March 28, 2013 4:45 AM