The Dayton Flyers have just begun conference play, and starting this week, they’ve entered into the Top 25 for the first time this season. While nothing is set in stone, it looks like Archie Miller’s team will make it a third consecutive year in the NCAA Tournament. That being said, Dayton has a long conference season ahead and can’t start thinking about the postseason just yet. But given the likelihood that Dayton’s name is called on Selection Sunday, it’s hard not to wonder just how far the Flyers can go? Sweet 16? Elite 8? Could they even be a Final Four team?
It’s hard to forget about Dayton’s magical tournament run just two years ago. The Flyers, an 11 seed, drew a first round matchup with rival Ohio State and were thrilled to get to face their “big brother.” After taking down Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes 60-59, they went on to edge Syracuse in the Round of 32 and take care of business against Stanford in the Sweet 16. The Flyers stood one game away from the Final Four, but the #1 team, the Florida Gators, would end Dayton’s Cinderella run.
They had a great showing in the 2014-15 NCAA Tournament as well. Dayton got a play-in game in the First Four where it basically had a home matchup against Boise State. After trailing by 7 with just under 4 minutes to play, the Flyers used the home crowd to their advantage and finished the game on a 10-2 run to advance to the Round of 64. It was there that they’d take down #6 Providence fairly easily and advance to face #3 Oklahoma in the Round of 32. The Flyers hung around all game and looked as if they’d pull the upset, but Oklahoma stormed ahead at the end.
This year may be a lot different for the Flyers. As Dayton has now made its way into the Top 25, it’d likely be a 5 or 6 seed if the tournament started today. Would a higher seeding change the Flyers’ mindset in the NCAA Tournament? We’ve seen Dayton embrace this Cinderella mentality throughout the last two seasons. As the 11 seed both years, Dayton has been used to playing as the underdog. When you’re not necessarily expected to win, you play with a certain edge. That edge has been evident with Dayton throughout its last 7 tournament games. Could that change with a higher seeding?
It would be very interesting to see how Dayton would handle say a #6 vs. #11 matchup, assuming that it’s the former. During the last two tournaments, the Flyers would’ve been the lower seed, but this could possibly be one of Dayton’s best teams under Archie Miller. Is it realistic to think that Dayton can make it to the Sweet 16 and beyond this season? Ironically, it could be tougher to do as a higher seed; the Flyers could lose that certain edge if they let the expectations eat them alive.
I don’t think that there’s any superstition associated with where a team is seeded, but I definitely think it can affect a team’s mindset. That being said, Archie Miller seems like the type of coach to throw out all of the numbers and tell his kids to focus on the gameplan. He actually stated that he rather his team not be in the Top 25 polls this early in the year; he believes that it simply adds pressure and distracts his players from the goal: winning basketball games. So with Archie at the helm of one of Dayton’s best teams in a long time, it’s not unrealistic to think that the Flyers can go to the Sweet 16 and beyond this year.
I think that Dayton has as much talent as it had during the 2013-14 season. That team almost made it to the Final Four. Just keep in mind that the Flyers could be playing through a completely new lens come March. They’ll be expected to perform and not only beat the lower seeds, but compete with the higher ones. Whether or not Dayton’s players can stay focused on the task at hand (the game itself) will be a huge determinant as to how far this team can go. Because as we all know, numbers mean nothing in March.