Dayton's Cinderella Run Shows Archie Miller Is Ready for Prime Time

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2014

Dayton head coach Archie Miller speaks to players against Florida during the first half in a regional final game at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey

Thanks to a tremendous Cinderella effort by his 11th-seeded Dayton Flyers, Archie Miller became one half (along with Arizona’s Sean) of the first pair of brothers to coach in the same Elite Eight. Top overall seed Florida ended Dayton’s story with a 62-52 win on Saturday night, but the Flyers’ young coach is just getting started.

In the Gators, Miller and Dayton finally ran into a team with too big a talent advantage to overcome. Impressive three-point shooting—four in a row at one stretch—did help the Flyers keep things competitive early. Ultimately, though, the unstoppable Scottie Wilbekin (23 points, three assists, three steals) and a 37-26 edge on the boards let Florida hold a double-digit lead for almost the entire second half.

A competitive loss to the nation's No. 1 team hardly dims Miller's accomplishments in a spectacular postseason.

Consider that in the past two weeks, Miller has scored wins against Thad Matta and Jim Boeheim while holding his own against Billy Donovan. His Flyers aren’t just a Big Dance fluke, either: Dayton took down Gonzaga, Saint Louis and UMass (while losing by one point to Baylor) during the regular season.

Every coach who hails from a school outside the power conferences that goes on a serious March Madness run gets touted as the "next big thing," and Miller will be no exception. The good news for any teams that might lure him away from Dayton is that he looks ready to turn his potential into reality.

Miller set the stage for 2014's tournament run by recruiting Sibert after the 2011-12 season.
Miller set the stage for 2014's tournament run by recruiting Sibert after the 2011-12 season.Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Much of this season’s success for Miller came because of a skill that’s becoming increasingly vital for power-conference coaches: the ability to recruit transfers. Among the core contributors for this Dayton squad were scoring leader Jordan Sibert (formerly of Ohio State) and sixth man Vee Sanford, the ex-Georgetown guard whose last-second shot against Ohio State started the Flyers on their underdog trail.

That’s not to say, however, that the 35-year-old hasn’t shown some knack for player development in his three years at Dayton’s helm.

Saturday’s loss to Florida showcased a pair of Flyers seniors—Matt Kavanaugh and Devin Oliver—whose games have evolved dramatically during Miller’s tenure, and who combined for 18 points and 14 rebounds against the hulking Gators.

This tournament also allowed Miller to display his strategic versatility, a talent that many hot coaching prospects haven’t yet developed. In three consecutive games, his Flyers slugged out a defensive win over Syracuse (55-53), outran slower Stanford (82-72), then shifted back into possession-by-possession mode in the hard-fought loss to Florida.

It’s obviously too soon to tell whether Miller will leave Dayton immediately, but if he wants to jump to a more prominent program, he won’t have any shortage of offers. Even the extension he signed on Monday, which has him under contract through 2018-19, is no guarantee that he'll stay with the Flyers. After all, Steve Alford signed a 10-year extension at New Mexico a year ago, only to jump to UCLA within a matter of weeks.

Jeremy Rauch of Fox-19 in Cincinnati speculates on one opening where the fans would likely embrace Miller if he does want to move up the food chain:

In commending his high-effort squad for its postseason success, Miller told Rachel Nichols (in a TBS interview), "We’ve shown a lot of people what’s possible, and the group in that locker room has a great blueprint on how to develop and get back here."

It’s entirely plausible, though, that the fastest-rising coach in college hoops won’t be helping the Flyers execute that blueprint. 

A decade ago, Sean Miller was starting his first head-coaching job (at Xavier) and Archie Miller was starting off as an assistant at Western Kentucky. This year, both are in the Elite Eight. In another 10 years, expect Archie to have joined Sean on the list of proven winners at major programs.