Before Archie Miller got to Dayton, the Flyers had their share of success. It was arguably a program on the rise, although they had not become a perennial NCAA Tournament team during their rise. Instead, they had gotten closer and broken through more times after flirting with it for some time. Still, they were more like a perennial NIT than NCAA Tournament team at that point. They had not yet arrived or peaked.
Now, the Flyers are one of the best in the Atlantic 10, and on Friday night, they kept it that way by doing what top teams do: they pulled one out on the road that could have easily gone the other way. They emerged from Rhode Island with a 68-66 victory over the Rams, who have remained tough despite losing their best player for the season way back on opening night, and in so doing, remain firmly on top of the conference with an 11-1 mark.
Friday night’s win was a roller coaster of sorts. The Flyers led at the half, at one point leading by eight before Rhode Island scored nine unanswered to take the lead. Down 40-37 in the second half, the Flyers scored 11 straight to match their largest lead, but the Rams came right back. The Rams would eventually take a 61-58 lead on a three-pointer by Jared Terrell, and that set the stage for several swings in the final minute. Down 66-64, the Flyers went for the big shot, getting an open three-point look for Darrell Davis that went down to put them up by one, with a free throw after a final stop providing the margin for their ninth straight win and snapping a six-game losing streak to the Rams in South Kingston.
This year’s team had the personnel to make this a special season; that was never in doubt. But they had a headwind early on when Dyshawn Pierre, arguably their best player, was suspended for the first semester. The Flyers were going to first make their case as a team deserving of the NCAA Tournament in non-conference play, and they were going to have to do it without Pierre. They did just that, losing only to Xavier in the final of the AdvoCare Invitational and to Chattanooga, neither of which are bad losses. In fact, their only conference loss – a four-point loss at La Salle that represents their last one just over a month ago – is their worst one. In the meantime, they beat Alabama (handily), William & Mary, Iowa, Monmouth, North Florida,Vanderbilt, Arkansas and George Washington. It adds up to an impressive RPI.
What’s more, the Flyers have a manageable slate the rest of the way. Yes, they have a showdown on Wednesday at Saint Joseph’s, with the Hawks being one of the two teams right behind them, and they still have a date with VCU to end the regular season, but that will be in Dayton. They also have a home date with St. Bonaventure. No matter how tough the opponent, the Flyers do well on their homecourt.
When the Flyers went 9-2 before Pierre rejoined the team, including many of the aforementioned wins, you had a feeling they were going to translate what they had into a special season. The land mines were during the time they would be without him, and how many quality win chances they would have in conference play was unknown. Furthermore, you knew if they could win without him, it would mean they would have more depth when he returned.
As if this isn’t enough, they are well-positioned to keep this going. Dayton has just one senior this season, a bit player in forward Bobby Wehrli. The junior class leads the way, but freshmen John Crosby, Steve McElvene, Ryan Mikesell, Sam Miller and Xeyrius Williams have all helped and can all do more. McElvene has started 15 games this season.
Dayton has never made it to the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons, though they have gone in back-to-back seasons a few times. Barring an unexpected collapse, that will change this season, and they don’t appear to be done. Miller has turned this team into a consistent Atlantic 10 contender, taking them to another level of success.
One of Dayton’s big wins is over Monmouth, as noted, and the Hawks needed a late rally to beat Rider 79-78 on Friday night. The Hawks made their final seven shots to rally from a 14-point deficit in the final four minutes and remain on top in the MAAC. Monmouth and their NCAA Tournament potential is one topic in our newest conversation with Ted Sarandis that you can now check out right here on Hoopville.
The Pac-12 had a couple of games on tap, both going to the host teams in Arizona and both thanks to a strong second half. Arizona beat UCLA 81-75 after being down by ten at the break, and Arizona State beat USC 74-67 despite a monster game from USC’s Nikola Jovanovic (25 points, 15 rebounds).
The Ivy League’s three-team race remained intact as all three teams at the top – Yale, Princeton and Columbia – won by double digits on Friday night. Columbia was the only one to do so at home.
Grand Canyon continued its fine season, improving to 22-4 with a 71-60 win at Seattle behind 16 points and 10 rebounds from Grandy Glaze.
The Mountain West Conference may be in a pickle of sorts regarding the end of the first overtime between Boise State and Colorado State on Wednesday night. On Thursday, the conference office backed up the officials who waived off a three-pointer by Boise State’s James Webb III that would have won the game in overtime. Then on Friday, they revealed that they didn’t see a video at full speed from the production truck, but upon further review, Webb’s shot should have counted. In light of that, Boise State head coach Leon Rice is calling for the office to reverse the outcome of the game, which would also put the Broncos into a three-way tie for second place in the conference. The conference is citing Rule 5, Section 5, which states that the result of a game cannot be overturned.
Iowa State will get a boost on Saturday, as the Cyclones will again have big man Jameel McKay. The senior was suspended the prior two games, which they split, for disciplinary reasons. McKay was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season, and having him back against Texas will certainly help given the Longhorns’ size.
Louisville will now be without injured forward Mangok Mathiang for the rest of the season, in large part because they will not be in any postseason play. Mathiang broke his left foot against Western Kentucky in December, but the junior forward might have been able to return by the time any postseason play came about. That will not happen now, and head coach Rick Pitino said it would be best for him to not return this season so as to heal.
Auburn will be without top scorer Kareem Canty for the remainder of the season. Head coach Bruce Pearl had suspended the junior indefinitely last week, and on Friday said Canty had left to turn pro. The Tigers’ struggles had contributed to his issues, and they won’t be better offensively without him as they get set to take on Vanderbilt on Saturday.
A loaded schedule is on tap, with a lot of good ones to come.
- The rematch we’ve all been waiting for leads the way in Big 12 action as Oklahoma hosts Kansas. In other action there, Baylor hosts Texas Tech and Texas visits Iowa State in what should be a good matchup.
- In ACC play, Louisville goes to Notre Dame and Duke hosts Virginia in late afternoon contests.
- A nice Atlantic 10 matchup is on tap with George Washington traveling to St. Bonaventure.
- UConn hosts Tulsa in a key American Athletic Conference game.
- Providence hosts Georgetown in an important Big East game.
- In Big Ten action, Purdue visits Michigan and Wisconsin visits Maryland.
- Two important CAA matchups take place as UNCW hosts a team that is chasing them in James Madison, while William & Mary visits Towson.
- In the Ivy League, a battle of the two teams chasing Yale takes place as Columbia hosts Princeton.
- The MAAC has an important matchup of teams chasing Monmouth as Iona hosts Siena.
- In the Pac-12, Colorado hosts Washington in a key battle, while Oregon State at California figures to be a good one.
- South Carolina hosts Kentucky to lead off SEC play, while LSU hosts Texas A&M in another key battle and Florida hosts Alabama.
- The Southland Conference has a big game with Stephen F. Austin hosting Texas A&M-CC.
- A showdown takes place in the Sun Belt as UL-Lafayette hosts conference-leading UALR.
- An important non-conference game is on tap late as SMU hosts Gonzaga in a game the Bulldogs really need for any kind of NCAA Tournament at-large hopes.