Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package
Today, we’re previewing the Atlantic 10.
On the first night of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Saint Joseph’s, the Atlantic 10 Tournament winner, was upended by eventual national champion UConn after the Hawks had controlled much of the game. Later in that evening, Saint Louis needed a disastrous free throw shooting performance from N.C. State to advance to the Round of 32, where Louisville knocked off the Billikens.
The second day of the NCAA tournament saw UMass, slotted in an unfavorable matchup against Tennessee, get beat by 19, George Washington bounced by Memphis and VCU become Stephen F. Austin’s 28th consecutive win after Havoc coughed up a 10-point lead down the stretch.
For critics of the Atlantic 10, these results served as justification. There was only one problem: Dayton was quickly becoming the life of the party despite having received a last-minute invite.
Archie Miller, in his third season as a head coach, guided the Flyers to the Elite 8, as a No. 11 seed, knocking off Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford before top-seeded Florida eliminated them from the NCAA tournament with a 82-72 win. After the improbable run, the most unexpected thing happened … Archie Miller stayed at Dayton. His name had been catapulted into the conversation for several high-major vacancies, but instead he signed a three-year extension with the university through the 2018-2019 season.
Miller’s decision to remain at Dayton adds another reason to believe the Atlantic 10 will continue to be a major player in college basketball.
“We have great leadership from [Atlantic 10 commissioner] Bernadette V. McGlade and her staff,” Miller told NBCSports.com. “We have some great coaches and terrific players. There are 14 teams, that are going to play 18 conference games. It’s going to be one of the most competitive leagues in the country.”
Miller’s stance is similar to that of the conference’s most notable coach, VCU’s Shaka Smart, who has been one of the hottest names in the coaching carousels ever since he took the Rams to the 2011 Final Four. He has since agreed to a deal that keeps him in Richmond until 2028. Smart and Miller are two of the six A-10 coaches to agree to extensions since the spring of 2013, along with Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley, La Salle’s Dr. John Giannini, George Washington’s Mike Lonergan and UMass’ Derek Kellogg. Add that with the longevity of Phil Martelli, now in his 20th season at St. Joes, and Bob McKillop’s quarter of a century with A-10 newcomer Davidson, and there is coaching stability and consistency throughout the league.
“It was huge,” Dayton senior guard Jordan Sibert said when asked about Miller’s extension. “It showed how loyal Coach Miller is to the program. To go to the Elite 8 in his third year was a big sign of growth in him and in the program and what he’s been establishing here. He believes in himself, the school believes in him and we believe in him. It was big for the program.
“It was definitely a relief having him back because when you start something like that, you want to build on it. You don’t want start something and the next thing you know the person who was putting it all together is gone. We got the new jerseys, the new logo and it’s just good to start the new era with him at Dayton.”
In 2011, Miller left older brother Sean’s coaching staff at Arizona, to take the job at Dayton. In that time he’s witnessed, first-hand, the growth of the conference, as the A-10 has collected 15 bids to the last three NCAA tournaments. The range of 4-6 bids will likely continue, as A-10 members have not only battled in conference — six teams finished with at least 10 conferences wins last season — but also in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Dayton jumped into the top 25 rankings in November after upsetting Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational. UMass was ranked for the first time in 16 years in November as well after beating No. 19 New Mexico. VCU notched an early season victory over Virginia, the eventual ACC regular and tournament champion, and George Washington took down National Player of the Year Doug McDermott and Creighton in a non-conference, neutral site clash in December.
In the 2013-2014 season, eight teams were listed in the RPI top 100, the same number of teams in kenpom.com’s 2014 ratings. The league has secured commitments from recruits in the Rivals150, such as four-star prospects Terry Larrier and Jared Terrell, and has been a destination for transfer students, like Sibert, Dayton’s leading scorer.
Skeptics remain, however, which is something Miller has embraced in his tenure as an A-10 head coach.
“They say it’s down every year,” Miller said. “No one in the universe gives the Atlantic 10 enough credit, and they’ll never give them any credit just because we don’t have football stadiums on our campuses. That’s just the reality of it. Last year, the Atlantic 10 had six bids, more than the ACC and SEC. I guess ‘we’ll be down this year’ and we’ll end up getting five more in the tournament again, then someone will figure it out and realize it’s the same every year.”