ST. LOUIS – So here we have Dayton. That nice little team from the Atlantic 10 – never mind there are 14 members, and western Ohio is a pretty fair drive from the Atlantic – who seems to pull off the upset every now and then. Right?
Here we have Dayton, recent high achiever in March and a pestilence to the big boys. The team that rolled to the Elite Eight only two years ago. The team that is 30-11 against the Power 5 conferences the past nine seasons. The team that has beaten its last seven ACC opponents in a row. The team with the hot young coach whose name is relentlessly bandied about with every vacancy further up the college basketball food chain.
"I don't necessarily know if we're looked at anymore as that team that is from the Atlantic 10 or whatever," Archie Miller was saying here Thursday, on the eve of his team’s first-round game with Syracuse. "I think Dayton has its own name now."
If the Flyers don’t have it, someone’s not paying attention. Here are a few things to know about Dayton, before Friday’s tip against Syracuse.
- The day Miller was born in 1978, Jim Boeheim had already won 48 games at Syracuse. So it’s not hard to see the yin and yang of their coaching matchup Friday. It’s Yoda vs. the young Jedi.
Part of that 30-11 record against the Power 5 is a 4-0 mark this year, including NCAA Tournament invitees Iowa and Vanderbilt. There’s also a 55-53 win over Syracuse to get to the Sweet 16 in 2014. So the Orange are duly warned.
"Anytime we've had an opportunity to play against a Power 5 team, I think it raises our guys' interest level," Miller said. "They play with a chip on their shoulder, they have an edge about them. In many cases they weren't good enough to play at a lot of those places, and you're dealing with a team that's always literally trying to prove themselves. So I think that's some of the advantage.
"I think some of it is, we're better than a lot of those teams. You can say whatever you want to say about Power 5, we're better than some of those teams."
- Recent NCAA success – Miller has won five tournament games the past two years – has Dayton’s horizons substantially broadened. ``As we get ready to approach this tournament, a sense of belonging here rather than excited to be here,’’ Miller described it.
- The Flyers went 27-9 last year, despite an injury-depleted roster that had but six recruits, with no active player taller than 6-6. They’re 25-7 this season, despite missing returning leading scorer Dyshawn Pierre the first semester.
Any wonder Miller, at 37, comes up so often for brighter-marquee positions?
"I never pay any attention to it, to be honest with you. I have a job to do,’’ he said. "I'm very, very comfortable at Dayton. We have a place, I think, to continue to get even better and better and what we do right now we own, it's ours, and I'm proud of that."
- Miller’s big problem Thursday was finding out if the team hotel had the network that would be carrying the Arizona game with Wichita State later that night. There are five coaching brother combinations in Division I, but only one – Archie and Sean Miller – with both in the NCAA Tournament.
- The city of Dayton and the NCAA Tournament go together like Oreos and milk. The last game of the First Four on Wednesday night was the 113th NCAA Tournament game played at UD Arena.
- This makes three consecutive trips for the Flyers to the tournament, and that hadn’t happened at Dayton since 1967. That was the year the Flyers went to the national championship game, and was given the honor of being the first of three title victims of the Lew Alcindor UCLA reign.
Dayton as an actual NCAA Tournament threat was something of a novelty back then. Not anymore.