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Battle of the A-10: No. 16 Dayton at Richmond Preview

Both undefeated in conference play, the Spiders and Flyers go head-to-head Saturday

NCAA Basketball: Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Semifinal-Richmond vs Dayton
Dayton’s DaRon Holmes II leads the Flyers with 19.6 points per game.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 16 University of Dayton Flyers head to the Robins Center Saturday to take on the University of Richmond Spiders.

And to my recollection, there hasn’t been as hotly contested a matchup in the Atlantic 10 as this one in some time.

Yes, you have your crosstown rivalry game each year between VCU and Richmond. And yes, you have the conference tournament games in early March each season. Even a clash between George Washington and George Mason down the stretch of the season can be intense.

But this one — this one is special. This one’s for all the marbles.

No, it’s not March, and we aren’t watching this game from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And no, whoever wins this game will not automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

But these two teams are streaking right now, and for a mid-major conference like the A-10, this weekend may have some postseason implications down the line. This game will decide who is frontrunner in the A-10 — who will be the lone soldier still undefeated in the conference standings.

The Flyers, led by superstar junior DaRon Holmes II — who some are calling the next iteration of former A-10 player of the year and current Indiana Pacers forward, Obi Toppin — have only lost two games. It’s January, and the Flyers are 16-2 and have won 13 straight. Holmes is averaging 19.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Dayton’s only losses have come against the University of Houston, who is currently ranked fourth in the nation, and Northwestern, who the Flyers lost to in just their second game of the season. In addition to their conference victories, Dayton has defeated some bigger schools like LSU and Cincinnati, which only helps the Flyers’ resumé.

The Spiders, on the other hand, are no team to laugh at either.

No, they’re not ranked like Dayton, but they are 14-5. They have won eight straight games, are undefeated in conference play and are undefeated at home, where Saturday’s game is being played. Graduate guard Jordan King, who transferred to Richmond this season from East Tennessee State, is averaging 19.1 points per game and shooting over 46% from the 3-point land.

“It’s a big challenge,” King said in a press conference on Jan. 26. “[The Flyers] were the frontrunners to win the league, but it’s just another A-10 game. We gotta continue to keep fighting, keep playing our style of basketball.”

For Dayton, a win would continue its unreal start to the season. A mid-major school posting a 17-2 record and being in the national rankings? That doesn’t happen every day.

Dayton has been solid for some time, especially under head coach Anthony Grant. The Flyers were one of the nation’s best programs in 2020 and had a reach chance to win a national championship had the NCAA Tournament been played.

The Flyers also had a stretch where they made the NCAA Tournament four years in a row from 2014-2017. That was under the tutelage of now-University of Rhode Island head coach Archie Miller, who referred to Dayton as “one of the best teams in the country” in a press conference after URI’s loss against the Flyers on Jan. 20.

For Richmond, the last time the Spiders had an opportunity to knock off a ranked team was back in November 2020. In their third game of the season, the Spiders defeated then-No. 10 Kentucky on UK’s home floor.

That win only added to a long history of Richmond upsetting major programs. It defeated Charles Barkley and Auburn in the 1984 NCAA Tournament, took down Bob Knight and Indiana in the 1988 NCAA Tournament and knocked off Iowa in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

The Spiders are coming off a tough season in which they finished 15-18. The year before that, Richmond won four games in four days to win the 2022 A-10 Championship, earning the A-10’s automatic bid into March Madness.

That squad was backed by a cohort of super seniors, most notably now-Memphis Grizzlies two-way guard Jacob Gilyard and former Grand Rapids Gold G-League stand out Grant Golden.

While Dayton has won 10 of the last 11 meetings between the two teams, the Spiders climbed back from an 15-point deficit to knock out Dayton in the A-10 Tournament semifinal in 2022.

It’s two undefeated teams in conference play on nine and 13-game respective winning streaks. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.