Jacobs: ACC Well-Represented in Sweet 16

Virginia’s lone presence in the Sweet 16 is as much a source of relief as pride for the ACC, which surely expected better. Five conferences had more representatives in the field after a single weekend of NCAA play than did the 15-member league that embarked on the 2013-14 season with such a high sense of its own self-worth.

Of course only one team is ultimately left standing, anyway, so the Cavaliers are still very much in the running to become the 13th national champion from the ACC. 

Yet, regardless of what happens to the Cavaliers and coach Tony Bennett — who could earn $900,000 in bonuses from here on out if UVa wins the NCAA title – the Sweet 16 is rich in ACC connections.

The Ware twins, transfers from North Carolina, play for UCLA. Louisville, the defending national champs, will join the ACC next season.

Perhaps the most obvious link are the brothers Miller, Sean and Archie, sons of John Miller, an accomplished Pennsylvania high school coach. The siblings are the first to coach in the same Sweet 16. Both have N.C. State ties.

Sean Miller, coach of No. 1 seed Arizona, was a star at Pittsburgh from 1988 through 1992. True, Pitt wasn’t part of the ACC back then, but neither were about half of the “ACC Legends” introduced at this year’s ACC Tournament. 

Miller, 45, still ranks among Panther career leaders in scoring and assists. He also has a more direct ACC link, having arrived at N.C. State in 1997 as an assistant coach under Herb Sendek. He served through the 2001 season before moving to Xavier, where Thad Motta had replaced Skip Prosser. When Motta left the Cincinnati school, Miller, his associate head coach, took over.

During the years Sean Miller helped the Wolfpack on the bench, his younger brother lent good ballhandling and a deft 3-point touch on the court from 1999-2002. Archie Miller’s .575 accuracy from 3-point range in 2001 (42-73) remains an N.C. State single-season record.

Archie, now 35, assisted Sendek at Raleigh after graduation, wound up on his brother’s staff at Arizona, and is in his third year as head coach at Dayton. There he replaced Brian Gregory, the current Georgia Tech coach. 

Don’t be surprised to see the younger Miller’s name surface after this season associated with various high profile coaching jobs, including Wake Forest. Another name that could be bandied about: Chris Mack, a Prosser assistant at Wake, then a Sean Miller assistant at Xavier before taking over that program in 2010.

While Arizona plays fourth-seeded San Diego State in the West Regional, No. 11 Dayton faces No. 10 Stanford in the South. That’s the sole Sweet 16 matchup of double-digit seeds.

The Cardinal are coached by Johnny Dawkins, the former Duke star (1983-86) and a Mike Krzyzewski assistant from the 1999 through 2008 seasons. Stanford is Dawkins’ first head coaching stop, and until this season it appeared increasingly possible it would be his last.

Dawkins, steady and low-key, has recruited well and formulated competitive teams. But the most noteworthy accomplishment of his tenure was an NIT title in 2012. 

After five misses in five tries, Dawkins faced pressure to finally make the NCAA field this season. That was clear after Stanford AD Bernard Muir told the San Jose Mercury News last spring “there’s a clear expectation” the program would “play well into March on the grand stage of March Madness” in 2014.

Some thought Dawkins’ decision to leave the Duke nest, especially to go to a comparably rigorous private school, was a preliminary step toward earning the head coaching credentials for a possible return as Krzyzewski’s successor.  

Speculation regarding who might replace Krzyzewski — and when — is a favorite guessing game in press rooms and among coaches. Of course these discussions ignore the very real prospect that whoever follows a legendary coach is probably doomed to failure, if only by comparison. 

That was certainly the experience for Bill Guthridge following Dean Smith at North Carolina in 1998. Smith’s former chief assistant went to two Final Fours in three years, but attracted as much derision as applause. Joe B. Hall trod a similar path following Adolph Rupp at Kentucky in the early 1970s, as did Gene Bartow at UCLA after John Wooden in 1976.

As far as Krzyzewski goes, the succession discussion appears to be moot, at least for a while. Just Wednesday, the Duke coach explained at length how he analyzes his program in five-year segments. Anticipating the next half-decade, he revealed at least one basic operating assumption.

“The first thing is, I look at me, I’m going to be here that time,” he said. “I’m excited to do that. There’s not like, ‘When is he going to retire?’ I’m looking forward to planning that out.”

In the very short term, the dean of contemporary ACC coaches said he savored Friday night’s contest between Virginia and Michigan State at Madison Square Garden. He said he considered the game matching “veteran teams, unbelievably well-coached,” to be “the biggest game” of the regional semifinals.

“You have two teams in the Sweet 16, they can both win” the NCAA title, Krzyzewski said.

Precedent favors the Cavaliers reaching the Final Four, despite the fact no ACC team has managed that feat since Duke in 2010. Bennett’s club is the 21st to finish atop the ACC in both the regular season and the ACC Tournament. Of that group, 15 advanced at least to the Final Four. 

More recently, however, three of the ACC’s last four double-title holders didn’t get so far, including Miami last season. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways, after all.