The Dayton Flyers return to the floor of the NCAA Tournament on Friday as one of the most successful teams of the last few years. They are the only team not from one of the traditional power conferences to have five or more wins during the last two tournaments.
And both of the last two years, they did it as an 11-seed.
They are the underdogs no more, given a 7-seed in the Midwest region, but matched up against one of those traditional powers in Syracuse, albeit in a down year for the Orange. Many thought Syracuse should have had to play their way into the First Round on Dayton's home floor, but the committee gifted them a 10-seed.
This is still a Jim Boeheim Syracuse team, but this is not your father's Syracuse team. Unlike previous Orange teams where there was a cast of characters who any given night were going to light up the score sheet, this season, you have just one, Michael Gbinije.
The former Duke player has improved even more this season again one of the tougher schedules in the country. At 6-7, he is a matchup nightmare for most guards, let alone point guards, and this has led to a per game explosion of 17.8 points and 4.4 assists for the senior.
Dayton's guards are just not that tall, and the tall guys aren't as fast as Gbinije, so you can imagine that the game plan board in Archie Miller's office just reads, "Figure out a way to stop Gbinije".
Because if the Flyers can do that, they have the ability to contend with the rest of the Orange.
But notice that that is the ability to contend with the Orange, because over the last eight games, it hasn't seemed that Dayton has the will to contend with anyone.
For a while it seemed that it was just because of the injury to Kendall Pollard, and the fact that the team was playing without one of its best players. However, this was a team that did that earlier in the year when Dyshawn Pierre was suspended, and things went just fine. Pierre is a more important piece to the Dayton puzzle that Pollard, so his absence, while harmful, shouldn't have had the effect that it did on the Flyers.
But even when they had Pollard back, this team just didn't seem to be the same one that had rolled to a 21-3 record at one point and landed them as high as No. 15 in the AP Top 25.
There was a loss to Rhode Island at home, and the need to go to overtime to beat a dreadful Saint Louis team. The team barely skated by Richmond on the road. It just seems that that Dayton team that had everyone excited for another NCAA Tournament run (one that was basically assured when the team got to 21-3) wasn't there any longer.
This is still one of the best defensive teams in college basketball, and they have the shooters to contend with the 2-3 zone that will be thrown at them all game long. Pierre will be the most important as he is their best shooter away from the rim. If Charles Cooke or Scoochie Smith -- it will just need to be one of them -- can back him up with some strong 3-point shooting, that should be all the offense that Dayton needs to push through this Syracuse team and set up a likely matchup with Michigan State.
|Scoochie Smith||3.62||7.26||Michael Gbinije||5.45||6.85|
|Kyle Davis||0.26||8.05||Trevor Cooney||0.82||6.14|
|Charles Cooke||5.86||14.91||Malachi Richardson||1.89||9.12|
|Dyshawn Pierre||5.21||13.63||Tyler Lydon||3.14||15.31|
|Kendall Pollard||0.47||7.03||DaJuan Coleman||-0.09||8.03|
|Darrell Davis||-1.68||4.85||Tyler Roberson||2.68||11.11|
|Steve McElvene||0.81||14.68||Franklin Howard||0.20||5.83|
Dayton 68, Syracuse 63