You could make the case that Archie Miller should have been coach of the year in the Atlantic 10. Granted Bob McKillop took a Davidson team that was predicted to finish last in the conference and won the whole thing. But Miller did something amazing with the Flyers, something that shouldn't have been possible given everything that has happened in the last 365 days.
Friday will be one year since Vee Sanford's shot fell true and Aaron Craft couldn't be the hero. It will be one year since Dayton, a team that looked to be one of the last team's in the NCAA Tournament, but without getting sent to Dayton, began its run to the Elite Eight through Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford. It is one year since the parties in the streets that went on until the wee hours and had the president of the university crowd surfing.
But Devin Oliver is gone. Vee Sanford is gone. This Dayton team had its core left, but should have been a step behind that team that just made it in last year.
Now take that team, and nine games into the season, suspend the tallest two post players that you have. What you are left with is a roster that barely goes six-deep and has no player over 6-6.
You shouldn't be able to win in the Atlantic 10 with that. You shouldn't be able to finish second in the conference, a breath away from tying for the conference championship.
What Miller did was subtly switch the offense so that focus moved away from the basket. The team took more middling jumpers, and moved even further back to be even more 3-point focused than in the past. It required slowing the game down and making sure that his six players weren't going to be winded by halftime.
What it meant was a new focus on defense that quietly had the Flyers as 36th nationally in defensive efficiency, led by the three-headed trio of Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis and Jordan Sibert.
Davis went from a bit player as a freshman to a key defensive asset. Smith assumed the mantle of ball distributor and has excelled at getting the ball to the right guy at the right time, while shooting 37.4 percent from 3-point range on his own.
And then there is Sibert, who could have been considered a snub for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. He seemed on the verge of breaking out last season, what with his amazing game against Stanford in the Sweet 16. And instead he had to change who he was to fit better in this small lineup. He couldn't just concentrate on being the wing scorer. He had to play defensively, and that has been the biggest uptick in his game over the course of the season.
It has made his overall game better, allowing him to be in position to do so much more at both ends of the floor, and emerge as a real senior leader for the Flyers.
The real breakout player mantle belongs to Kendall Pollard who at 6-6 was asked to man the middle as best he could for the Flyers. He already had show he could do the job last season, scoring a 3.9 percent block percentage as a freshman in limited minutes. He proved that it was no fluke by holding that percentage at 3.7 percent this season.
Those numbers don't jump off the page compared to some of the big centers who get up in the 8-11 percent range, but Pollard is 6-6. Let's cut the guy some slack. He is battling taller players, and hustling on the boards just as well as a guy with three more inches on his frame. Against Boise State, you will see the height difference, and then you will see Pollard make it seem irrelevant.
Based on the seed list, the Flyers were the last team in the field. If Connecticut had pulled the upset over SMU in the American Athletic Conference title game, Dayton would have been playing in the NIT as a 1-seed. And Dayton fans will be the first to admit that there were some head-scratching losses along the way, like the Duquesne loss in late February, the overtime loss to a sinking George Washington team, and just getting caught up in the UMass blitz that occurred during the A-10 season that got everyone.
The Flyers did get a gift of playing at home for this First Four game though, in front of a crowd that comes out to support whomever is playing in this opening set of games.
Wednesday night, they get their Flyers, and the arena will be packed and loud as we haven't heard it during the PIG, or the First Four, not even last season when the Xavier fans invaded from Cincinnati.
And perhaps that is fitting. If it all ends with a loss in what should be a close game against a taller, more experienced Boise State team, the home fans get to appreciate how hard this Dayton team played all season to get to this point.
Through all the hardship, they still almost came out on top, and that says a lot about the man sitting in the first chair over from the scorer's table, who admittedly doesn't do a lot of sitting. For all this team has accomplished, it all comes back on the guy that didn't let this season get out of control when circumstances said it should be over.
Forget Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year, maybe Archie Miller is the national coach of the year.
Prediction: Boise State 65, Dayton 64