March Madness: Dayton vs. Syracuse features a classic coaching battle
He’s 10 years younger than his more famous coaching brother, yet Dayton’s Archie Miller is on the upward arc to join him as one of college basketball’s best.
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Jim Boeheim has been included in that conversation for a decade.
The Syracuse coach and the younger Miller match wits at 12:15 p.m. EDT Friday in St. Louis. Dayton is the 7 seed in the Midwest Regional and Syracuse is the 10, although those numbers probably mean less this year than they ever have before.
Leading his team on deep NCAA tournament runs the last two years helped Archie escape the wide shadow cast by big brother Sean, who has won 74 percent of his games in 12 seasons at Xavier and Arizona.
Boeheim has won with consistency. He’s done it all right there at Syracuse, starting as an independent and for 34 years as a pillar of the Big East, battling St. John’s and Georgetown in the 80s, Connecticut in the 90s and 2000s, staging epic games with Villanova across the decades. The Orange, of course, migrated south to the ACC in 2013, a move Boeheim greeted with a smirk and a sneer, longing for one more late-night meal at one of Manhattan’s finest ristorantes.
Miller’s name appears in the top drawer of sturdy desks around the country. A star in formation, he heads the short list of prospective replacements most athletic directors keep close by each spring. He’s been content thriving in Dayton for five years, however, following several years bouncing around as an assistant at places like Ohio State and his brother’s Arizona. The Flyers won the Atlantic 10 regular season championship this year and averaged 26 wins over the last three seasons. They reached the Elite 8 in 2014 and the Sweet 16 last year.
Boeheim clipped the nets in 2003, but his 32nd NCAA tournament appearance looked shaky entering Selection Sunday because the Orange closed the season losing five of six, including a first round loss to Pittsburgh in the ACC tournament.
“I thought it was 50-50 or even worse, but when I saw the field start to go and they are taking teams with less Top 50, we had five Top 50 wins and eight Top 100 wins,” Boeheim said earlier this week. “Once they started taking teams that had two or three wins in the Top 100, I thought we were going to get in at that point.”
Miller played point guard at N.C. State and looks to the school’s 1983 national championship team for inspiration this time of year.
“I think that team gave the definition for everyone that there’s always a chance,” Miller told the Dayton Daily News last week, “if you stay with it and do things right. It’s a great story. If (the players) ever watch it, it can capture March. That’s the cool thing about it.”
He knows how legendary coaches think. His dad, John, won 657 games and four state championships as a high school coach in western Pennsylvania. The Flyers have been a menace on the defensive end the last two seasons, landing in the top 30 in adjusted efficiency. They impose their will through a strong frontcourt, possessing the toughness to be expected from a native of steel and coal country.
Miller is 37 years old. He has hundreds of victories ahead. He told Matt Norlander of CBS Sports that his favorite band is Alice in Chains.
Boeheim is 71. He has several victories behind him. He’s a Springsteen man.
Their musical tastes are as diverse as their team’s defensive philosophies. Miller’s team plays physical man-to-man while Boeheim shrinks the floor with a 2-3 zone he should patent if he hasn’t already.
Different eras, different styles, but two of the best. Bring a pad and pen, young coaches.