The Story 2017–18: Now What?
The fish tank scenes in Finding Nemo are an (admittedly rough) approximation of the Archie Miller era at the University of Dayton. Nemo (who in clown fish world is proportionally sized to Archie Miller in the human world) is captured from his home and taken to a tank in Sydney. Immediately, he becomes the missing key to an escape plan concocted by the fish already in the tank. In short, Nemo needs to lodge a rock in the tank filter, thereby breaking it and allowing the fish to make the tank as disgusting as possible. Once the tank needs cleaning, the fish will get removed from the water and put into bags, in which they will roll out the window and into the ocean. The first try starts off well but ends in near disaster as Nemo (now SHARKBAIT OOHAHA) almost dies (2012 season; won Old Spice Classic, had a chance at NCAAs, but lost to Xavier in A10 tourney after blowing 6 point lead with 3 minutes left). The 2nd try seems like a success to start (filter breaks; tank is gross) but ends in complete failure as the dentist who owns the fish installs a new filter in the tank while Sharkbait and Co. are sleeping (2013; started 8–2, went 9–10 the rest of the way). The last escape attempt doesn’t happen until Nemo has already left the tank, but its a rousing success (2014–2017; the greatest 4 year run in modern Dayton basketball history, featuring an Elite Eight, a Round of 32 appearance, two A10 titles and two other NCAA tourney appearances). Unfortunately for the fish, they haven’t thought about what to do once they get into the ocean:
It is not ideal to lose the best coach in over three decades of Dayton basketball at the same time as the best class in program history. Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, Kyle Davis, and Kendall Pollard formed the backbone of Dayton’s rise to national prominence (with shoutouts to Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford, Jordan Sibert, and others). Scoochie was a first team all- league PG and Cooke was a legitimate NBA level wing who improbably and effectively replaced Sibert. Kyle was an all-conference defender and gritman who doubled as UD’s most efficient offensive weapon in over a decade and KP was a 2nd team all conference and do-everything power forward. The effects felt from their departures cannot be overstated. Every important possession for the last two years has featured these four players, and it will take some time to get over their absences.
On top of this attrition, another unfortunately eventful UD offseason has left the team without forwards Ryan Mikesell (hip impingement) and Sam Miller (uhhh…behavioral issues?) for the season. Add it all up, and Dayton is basically replacing 75% of their production from a year ago:
Even if Archie had stuck around, the hope of plugging in new players and the ship continuing to sail smoothly was unlikely. Working in a new coach’s offensive and defensive schemes makes it that much more difficult.
You don’t even have to go outside the conference to find a team that had a brief period of success with one class and then dropped off the map after they graduated. The St. Louis Billikins won a game in three straight NCAA tourneys, won two A10 regular season titles and one A10 tournament title from 2012–2014 and then cratered into the dark hole that is the KenPom 200s. Even the worst Brian Gregory teams didn’t come close to touching that deep abyss. Only this year is SLU expected to pull out of it, and even then who really knows? They have a bunch of big school transfers and a hyped recruiting class, but that didn’t go very well last year for La Salle.
Going outside the conference there’s Winthrop, who from 2005–2008 made the tourney every year and even upset Notre Dame in ‘07. Gregg Marshall left after the ND win to coach Wichita State into the national powerhouse it has become. Winthrop tread water the season after his departure, graduated a 4 man senior class, and then similarly cratered into the 200s of KenPom. It took them 9 years and a coaching change to make it back to the NCAA tourney (they lost the play-in game in ’10, which doesn’t count).
On the flip side of that coin is Butler, a team who had one down year after Brad Stevens left and then immediately reclaimed their place amongst the top 30 teams in America. We are building a program here, and to do that, one phenomenal hire isn’t enough. Luckily for us, two might be. Unlike the fish, we have a plan, and that plan involves a coach who is so tied to us he may not take another job in his life.
UD alum and former player Anthony Grant has returned to his old stomping grounds to lead the Flyers. He’s young, energetic, and comes to Dayton having honed his coaching skills with two years in the NBA. By all accounts he has started well, gathering a well-regarded recruiting class with several potential immediate contributors. He kept the rest of the team together after Archie’s departure (despite the John Crosby transfer saga) and handled the Sam Miller issue with aplomb. He even garnered a commitment from a top 100 recruit prior to coaching his first game.
His coaching acumen is very much an “ask again later” situation. That’s just what happens when you fail at your previous college head coaching stop (Alabama). If he can coach, then this team should at the very least be a top half A10 team. If a couple key things break right for the Flyers, they should be in the top quarter.
The big men are going to be good, if not downright great; the wings much the same if a certain Greek import is as advertised. Point guard remains a murky, potentially devastating dark spot, but there are at least several players battling for time at the position. Defensively the team will be as versatile and have more size than any team since the E8 run. Offense, however, could be a challenge. Nobody on the team has shown the ability to consistently create shots for themselves or others against legit competition. This effectively goes back to the aforementioned guard issues, where either Crosby is going to have to take a huge leap forwards or a contributor must arise from a group of unproven freshman and sophomore Trey Landers.
It’s fine if this year, due to significant issues at guard, we have a slight down year. If it happens for two years it becomes an issue and three becomes an abject disaster. Make no mistake about it, both the SLU and Winthrop teams I mentioned above had a severe lack of talent compared to this year’s Dayton team. As a basketball program, UD cannot afford to squander the last four years of upward momentum. To become a truly national player, Grant must be successful in a hurry.
At the end of Finding Dory, we find out the fish in the tank have just been floating around in their own refuse in the same bags for god knows how long. They eventually get picked up and end up in nearly the same spot they were before.
Archie led UD’s escape from the fish tank of mediocrity and got us into the ocean of consistent conference success. He developed the program into an NCAA tournament mainstay and set it up for sustained growth. The question for Anthony Grant is “now what?” Do we float around in shit for a few years and end up where we started before Archie? Do we keep our status as the A10s flagship program? Or do we take it a step further, go the route of Xavier or Butler and become a truly national program? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I know I’m excited to find out.
Welcome to a new year and era of University of Dayton basketball friends.