March 7, 2006
The 12th seed heading into the Atlantic 10 Championship, the Dayton Flyers appear to be the ultimate underdog as tournament play begins Wednesday at U.S Bank Arena in Cincinnati. But scratch the surface a bit and some interesting stats seem to add a silver lining to UD's dubious draw.
First, Dayton (14-16 overall, 6-10 A-10) has faced Saint Joseph's three times in A-10 tourney play and won all three meetings. The Flyers actually downed the hometown Hawks in 2000 at the Spectrum, 67-64, to reach the semifinals for the first time. Again in 2002, UD used SJU as a springboard to the semis with an 81-74 victory again at the Spectrum.
The developing rivalry between Dayton and Saint Joseph's reached its boiling point in 2003 - the first year of the tourney at UD Arena - as the Red and Blue, aided by a partisan home crowd, edged the Hawks, 76-73, in a thrilling semifinal match-up of top 25 teams. UD, which was ranked 21st, beat 25th-ranked SJU and continued that momentum to topple Temple in the finals and capture its first A-10 Tournament title.
Now let's get back to tomorrow's intriguing 5 vs. 12 match-up at 2 p.m. ET. The fifth-seeded Hawks (15-12, 9-7) are one of the A-10's hottest teams, carrying a five-game winning streak into tournament play.
But UD handed SJU one of its seven conference set-backs, 77-69, at UD Arena in February. The 77 points allowed by Coach Phil Martelli's defensive-minded Hawks was one of just five times they allowed 70 or more points in regulation this season. Only No. 4 Gonzaga (102 points), No. 6 George Washington (82), No. 7 Ohio State (81) and No. 2 Villanova (71) accomplished that feat as well.
UD owns a 14-9 lead in the all-time series against SJU and has won five of the last six meetings.
Should the Flyers get past the Hawks, a quarterfinal match-up with fourth-seeded Saint Louis (16-12, 10-6) looms Thursday at 2 p.m. Harkening back to the Great Midwest Conference days of the mid-1990's, to say UD and SLU are familiar foes would be an understatement.
The Flyers took both games from the A-10 newcomer Billikens this season - a 46-44 grinder at the Arena on Feb. 11 and then a 72-70 thriller in overtime at the Savvis Center 18 days later - and now lead the overall series by a narrow 18-17 margin. Another long-standing rivalry, five games in the Dayton/Saint Louis series have come in the postseason and four others have been decided in overtime.
So we know UD matches up well with Saint Joseph's and Saint Louis, but what else do Brian Gregory and the Flyers have on their side? Well, it's momentum in the A-10 Championship. UD has been one of the tournament's hottest teams since 2002, winning eight of their last 11 tourney games, taking the title in 2003, reaching the finals in 2004 and the semifinals in 2002.
But Flyer Faithful, you remember that 2002 A-10 semifinal, right? It's among the most bizarre A-10 tournament games in history. The final score: Xavier 68, Dayton 59. But what gets lost is the Flyers were potentially a functioning shot clock away from playing for the title.
UD was in the midst of a big run when Sean Finn's fast-break, two-handed slam tied the game 44-44 and knocked out the shot clock at the Spectrum. After a nearly 20-minute delay to fix the problem, all momentum Dayton had was shot (no pun intended). The Musketeers outscored the Flyers 16-6 over the next few minutes and closed out the victory.
Enough reminiscing, let's get back to tomorrow. UD plays SJU in the A-10 opening round and the Flyers are riding a five-game winning streak in opening-round contests. After being one-and-done in the tournament in UD's first two years in the league - both were losses to St. Bonaventure in 1996 and 1997 - the Flyers have won at least one tourney game each year since.
If the stars align just right and the 12th-seeded Flyers are able to upset Saint Joseph's and Saint Louis, top-seeded George Washington (26-1, 16-0) could be the semifinal opponent - assuming No. 6 GW can continue the nation's longest winning streak in the quarterfinals. Although UD lost 81-67 at the Smith Center (nobody won there other than the Colonials in 2005-06) in early February, the now Pops-less team has shown some kinks in the armor. Mensah-Bonsu scored 20 in the Colonials' victory over Dayton, but a knee injury suffered in late February will keep him out until at least the NCAA Tournament.
Dayton may be the 12th seed, but Gregory's Flyers seem to have a lot of "mo" on their side and a bracket that's manageable. All we can ask is the shot clocks at U.S. Bank Arena hold up if a Flyer decides to throw down.