Archie Miller, Dayton among those worth watching in the future
The NCAA Tournament ended with one winner and 67 losers in the bracket, but not all of those results are created equal.
Kansas’ loss in the round of 32 isn’t exactly the same as Mercer’s, for example.
The true winner, in both the men’s and women’s tournament, was the school in Storrs, even though both programs took different paths to get there. UConn cemented itself as one of the most unlikely national champions, Kevin Ollie as a star in the coaching world and Shabazz Napier as one of the most legendary players in Huskies history.
Ollie wasn’t the only coach to establish himself as young up-and-comer in coaching. Dayton’s Archie Miller surely will be on the radar for major programs after his team’s run to the Elite Eight.
Elsewhere, Bo Ryan reached his first Final Four and the SEC found some basketball bragging rights, making them two of the bigger winners in this year’s field.
The Big 12 and Doug McDermott weren’t so lucky.
Winner: Kevin Ollie’s status
When the NCAA Tournament started, the coaching legacy discussion revolved around Billy Donovan cementing his status as a Hall of Fame coach or Sean Miller or Bo Ryan reaching their first Final Four. Kevin Ollie notching his spot among the national elite coaches was not one of the popular talking points. Now, the storyline that emerged after this Tournament may be the most interesting of all. What’s in store for Ollie in his coaching career? At 41, Ollie is younger than Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Bill Self and Roy Williams when they won their first national championships. He’s already at a national power, but UConn’s conference alignment has taken a step back in the American compared to the Big East. And with his credibility in the NBA, Ollie may be a popular target there. Possibilities abound, including a long tenure at his alma mater.
Loser: The freshman class
Kentucky alone saved the star-studded freshman class from being a complete washout. Julius Randle and the Harrison twins carried Kentucky from a No. 8 seed to the title game and likely boosted their NBA Draft status. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins may be top-three picks, but their NCAA Tournament legacy is forgettable. Parker went 4-of-14 from the field in a round of 64 loss to Mercer, and Wiggins scored four points in a loss to No. 10 seed Stanford in the round of 32. Kansas’ Joel Embiid was a no-show with a back injury, and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis was bounced in the round of 32 by No. 11 seed Dayton. Arizona’s Aaron Gordon had a solid performance in the Tournament ... until he ran into Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky in the Elite Eight.
Winner: Bo Ryan’s legacy
In a matchup with Arizona’s Sean Miller, another great coach without a Final Four appearance, Ryan was the one who was able to check the box of reaching the final weekend of the Tournament. And more may be in store for Wisconsin. Shooting guard Ben Brust is the only major departure from Wisconsin next season, meaning the Badgers will have the look of a national title team.
Loser: Doug McDermott’s stat line
McDermott completed one of the greatest careers in college basketball history as the fifth-leading scorer of all time and a three-time consensus All-American. But the National Player of the Year struggled in his lone NCAA Tournament game, a loss to Baylor. The Bears held McDermott to 15 points in his third NCAA exit before the Sweet 16. McDermott scored 15 points or less only three times as a senior and 15 times in his final three years.
Winner: Kentucky’s transformation
By one count, Kentucky played in three of the top four games of the NCAA Tournament. Decades from now, this year’s Tournament may be remembered for Shabazz Napier and UConn’s title run from a No. 7 seed, but also for the excitement Kentucky brought. And to think this team underachieved for most of the season. Kentucky defeated three teams from last year’s Final Four, including undefeated Wichita State and rival Louisville. And that was before facing Wisconsin in the Final Four. Every step of the way, Kentucky defeated a team good enough to win the title before running into Napier and UConn. Oh, and the Wildcats had a flair for the dramatic.
Loser: Wichita State’s opportunity for credibility
Notice that says Wichita State’s opportunity for credibility not credibility in and of itself. The 35-1 record and a toe-to-toe battle with the eventual national runners up may be enough to make fans forget about all the hand-wringing about the Shockers’ schedule. But at the same time, Wichita State was unable to advance into the second weekend, and that will be enough for detractors to doubt Wichita State’s season.
Winner: Archie Miller’s job prospects
If not for Ollie, Miller might be the biggest coaching superstar to emerge from this NCAA Tournament. The 35-year-old led Dayton to wins over NCAA stalwarts Ohio State and Syracuse on the way to the Elite Eight. Sure, Dayton got hot for two weeks, but the Flyers also defeated Gonzaga and nearly knocked off Baylor in the Maui Invitational. With his bloodlines, Miller may already have been a major coaching prospect, but this Tournament sealed it. The question is if and when he might make the jump. Dayton can be the flagship program and the Atlantic 10. With administrative and fan support and a good recruiting base, there’s no reason for Miller to jump at the first opportunity. Could he prove to be as difficult to pry from Dayton as Shaka Smart has been at VCU. Remember, it took the Boston Celtics to pull Brad Stevens away from Butler, too.
Loser: The selection committee’s handling of the AAC
On Selection Sunday, the American Athletic Conference was a clear loser. Louisville, a top-three team in the rankings, was hammered with a No. 4 seed. UConn received a No. 7, Memphis received a No. 8. SMU didn’t even make the field. The Huskies won the national title, Louisville fell in the Sweet 16 to eventual national runner up and rival Kentucky, and SMU reached the NIT championship game.
Winner: The SEC’s bragging rights
Eleven SEC teams didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament field. Three SEC teams didn’t make it out of the NIT quarterfinals. Is that going to stop SEC fans from bragging about two Final Four teams and three in the Sweet 16? No way. Kudos to Kentucky and Tennessee playing to the level their talent suggested. It almost made us forget that teams like Arkansas, Missouri and LSU didn’t do the same.
Loser: The Big 12’s bragging rights
The Big 12’s batting average was not nearly as high as the SEC’s. Only two of the league’s eight teams with NCAA Tournament bids reached the Sweet 16. Two teams lost to double-digit seeds with Kansas falling to No. 10 Stanford and Oklahoma falling to No. 12 North Dakota State. Iowa State played two games without one of its top three players before losing to UConn in the Sweet 16. Texas and Oklahoma State lost to higher-seeded teams. Baylor carried the banner for the league before losing by 17 to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight.
Winner: The Atlantic Sun
Between Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer, the Atlantic Sun is 3-2 in the last two NCAA Tournaments. Not bad for a league that lost its top program, Belmont, two years ago.
Injuries are part of the season, but a few deprived a few teams from being at their best in the NCAA Tournament — Joel Embiid at Kansas, Georges Niang at Iowa State and Willie Cauley-Stein at Kentucky. Kansas and Iowa State were teams with Final Four potential with all their pieces in place, and Cauley-Stein could have been a difference-maker in the title game.
Winner: Johnny Dawkins’ job security
The Stanford coach seemed to be on an NCAA Tournament-or-bust trajectory. He did more than what could be expected by taking a No. 10 seed to the Sweet 16 thanks to wins over New Mexico and Kansas. Stanford’s first NCAA Tournament trip since 2008 isn’t the only reason Dawkins can breathe a little easier: Mike Montgomery retired at rival Cal.
Loser: Another vote of confidence in BYU
For the second season in a row, BYU was a questionable selection in the NCAA Tournament. Only a wild comeback against Iona in the First Four last season prevented BYU from going one-and-done the last two seasons. Once in the 64-team field, BYU lost by 19 points to Oregon in 2014 and 20 points to Marquette in 2013.
Winner: Harvard’s momentum
For the second consecutive season, Harvard upset a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Crimson hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1946, and now it has reached the field in each of the last three seasons. Harvard could ride that momentum into 2014-15, already showing up on a few early top 25 lists. Not only does Harvard return its top three scorers, the Crimson also held onto coach Tommy Amaker, who has led the turnaround.
Loser: Mark Gottfried’s game management
Little was expected of NC State this season, but the Wolfpack were one of the last teams in the field and won a game in the First Four. Mark Gottfried kept fans wanting more though. His team flopped in the round of 64 against Saint Louis by losing a 14-point lead in the second half to lose in overtime. NC State shot 54.1 percent from the line, and Gottfried kept his star player, T.J. Warren, on the court, vulnerable to foul out when NC State needed to stop the clock. Warren fouled out with 27.9 seconds left.
Winner: Steve Alford’s reputation
Let’s give credit where it’s due. The Alford hire at UCLA wasn’t an unqualified success, and it’s still unclear if he’ll be able to match Ben Howland. Still, Alford answered a few questions by advancing to the Sweet 16. His teams at New Mexico and Iowa had been eliminated by double-digit seeds in four of his last five trips to the NCAA Tournament. Avoiding upsets to No. 12 Tulsa and No. 13 Stephen F. Austin is what he’s supposed to do at UCLA, but he deserves credit for reversing an ugly trend.
Loser: The Big East
During the course of the season, the Big East looked at times like it could be a two-bid league, so it’s probably a positive development that four teams made it. None, however, made it to the second weekend when No. 2 seed Villanova and No. 3 seed Creighton lost in the round of 32. There’s no shame in No. 11 seed Providence losing to North Carolina, and Xavier was in a virtual coin flip game against NC State in the First Four. Making matters worse, though, was the departure of Buzz Williams from Marquette to Virginia Tech. In essence, one of the top coaches for one of the new league’s flagship programs left for one of the worst jobs in the ACC. Not a great week for the league.