Dayton is, on paper, the least of the Elite Eight teams. How did the Flyers get here, exactly?
I think it has really been that the paper has been deceiving so far when you look at Dayton. We did a whole proview on how Stanford was just a little better than the Flyers and then Dayton made it look like there was a pretty big gap in the opposite direction when they kept that 10-point lead most of the way.
It has really been a team effort to get here, and that sounds really cliche, but Dayton has gotten contributions from unlikely players, or the big shots from players who are the go-to scorers. The main guys have been there, in Devin Oliver and Jordan Sibert, but everyone has contributed. They didn't have black holes in the box score or on the floor.
A lot has had to go their way to get here, and when you win the first two games by such slim margins, there is some luck involved: What if Aaron Craft's shot goes in? What if one of Tyler Ennis' two shots in the final minute fall? But in general, it has been excellent execution up and down the lineup over two weeks.
Dayton started 1-5 in the Atlantic 10, but hasn't lost to a team other than Saint Joseph's since February. What went wrong back then, and what has gone right since? (And how did St. Joe's do it!?)
I am not sure anything went wrong as such during the early part of the A-10 season, but Dayton ran into three teams to start the year that were really playing well. Saint Louis was in the middle of its big run and its defense was suffocating; Richmond was still wholly healthy, something that later cost the Spiders their spot in the NCAA Tournament; and VCU played excellent defense as per usual. The Rhode Island game was a real fluke and then there was St. Joe's
It was just a freak schedule that put them against the best so early on. They didn't play VCU again and they got Saint Louis and Richmond for the second time when they were not at their best. It was almost like the Flyers had perfect timing the rest of the way... except for St. Joe's.
The Hawks were really good at shutting down the Dayton offense and holding them to short possessions. They kept the Flyers off the offensive glass, especially thanks to Halil Kanacevic and they just shut the team down (how they stayed fresh with that short bench is still a mystery). And in the third game during the A-10 Tournament, St. Joe's had the game of the year from Langston Galloway who hit six 3-pointers.
This Dayton team has been really good all year long, and they had one really bad matchup on the schedule that kept biting them. The schedule just laid out in a way that made it look like two different teams were on the floor in December and February.
Dayton coach Archie Miller's turned into a national darling over the last two weeks. How much of Dayton's success boils down to him? What did he bring to the program?
I think a lot of what they have been able to accomplish during this postseason has been because of Miller and the change in mindset that he brought to this team. He changed the way the team lived and worked together in order to help them finish close games and play more together down the stretch. That seems to have worked in the first two games.
Brian Gregory wasn't a bad coach, which probably needs a "Duh" since he was hired at Georgia Tech and he took Dayton to an NIT Championship.
But the Flyers had a hard time getting over the hump with him. I think that Miller has this program on the right track to be consistently in the NCAA Tournament, and it is just based on the work ethic that he has instilled in these guys.
They don't get tired any longer. They play as a real team. They may not always have the talent to match up on paper with the bigger programs, but they will work just as hard or harder to make sure they make a game of it.
Can the Flyers beat Florida? If they do, how will that game go?
Based on how things have gone, I am not ruling out Dayton having a chance at winning, but it isn't a big chance. In order to win, I think they would need to eliminate the Gators' advantage inside. The shallow rotation in that part of the game for Florida could be exploited if Dayton can get some foul calls to go their way early, much like they did against Stanford in shutting down Stefan Nastic.
Once that size is gone, the defense will have to collapse a little more on the paint, and if Dayton can shoot as they did Thursday night, they can start to live on the 3-point line, and also get a bigger share of the glass.
Dayton would also need to push the tempo a little more in this scenario, just to make sure they don't let the Gators get set on defense. Once that Florida half-court set settles in, it is tough to break.
What's your honest prediction?
If I had to go with my head, this is where the dream run ends. Florida is just too deep and too talented, and no matter the amount of effort that the Flyers will expend, it will be really hard to overcome. I am going to go with 68-55, Florida, and then have a good glass of whiskey to celebrate one heck of a run.