Senior forward Devin Oliver (5) goes for the tip during a 60-48 win against the University of Richmond, Saturday, March 8, at UD Arena. UD is the 5-seed at the Atlantic 10 tournament taking place Thursday, March 13, through
Sunday, March 16, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. SAN KUMAR/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor
One loss in Brooklyn, N.Y., has the potential to erase all of the work a team puts in during the regular season.
That fact hasn’t escaped the University of Dayton men’s basketball team.
“It’s a new season, it’s a fresh start for everybody,” head coach Archie Miller said. “When you go to a conference tournament, there’s a championship on the line and everyone is going there to advance and stay as long as they can. The one thing we’re really going to be focused on this week is going be not only ourselves, but that word ‘advance.’”
Advancing is the name of the game in March, and UD has prepared itself well to potentially have that chance at doing so. Entering its first game of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament at the Barclays Center Thursday, March 13, UD are winners in nine of its last 10 and are the tournament’s 5-seed.
UD faces the winner of the first round contest between 12th-seeded George Mason University and 13th-seeded Fordham University at Thursday at 2:30 p.m. A win would advance them into the quarterfinals Friday, March 14, against the tournament’s 4-seed, Saint Joseph’s University, who received the final bye into the round.
Getting that pair of wins into the weekend would only leave Dayton halfway to its goal. Four wins in four days will be needed to take home the title, which is part of the grind known as March Madness.
“Our ultimate goal is to win championships,” senior forward Devin Oliver said. “That’s what we talked about at the beginning of the year. … We have a lot of confidence going into this final stretch and just want to make sure we take care of Thursday.”
The path to salvaging its season and giving themselves a chance to attain their high seeding and a possible NCAA tournament berth wasn’t an easy task for the Flyers.
Dayton entered February on a four-game losing streak, 1-5 in conference play, and sat in 11th place in the league and 13-8 overall.
What began to look like a lost year transformed into the program’s best 10-game finish to the regular season since 1968, when Dayton won 10 in a row to end the year before going on to win the National Invitational Tournament title.
This year, UD has the NCAA tournament back in its sights.
Many bracketologists and bubble experts have UD sitting on the right side of it after strong wins against league champion Saint Louis University, as well as the University of Massachusetts down the stretch. UD can take away any suspense though a few hours early from the CBS Selection Show and the bracket’s unveiling Sunday, March 16, by securing the league’s automatic bid into the tournament by winning the conference tournament. The tournament final is scheduled to tip at 1 p.m. on CBS.
A successful showing early in the season at the EA Sports Maui Invitational and a 7-4 record away from home this season has Miller feeling confident about his team’s chances for at least an at-large bid. However, he said he knows the focus cannot only be on making a competition the team isn’t in yet.
“Right now, I feel like we’ve done a significant amount of work throughout the course of the season,” he said. “Our body of work represents us well. It stacks up well against a lot of other teams that are comparable in the conversation so to speak. If you focus on the NCAA tournament or Selection Sunday, then you probably aren’t going to do real well on Thursday.”
The A10 could be looking at as many as six squads making the NCAA tournament, which would be a record. Virginia Commonwealth University and George Washington join SLU, St. Joes, UMass and Dayton as teams that are presumed to have played their way into being worthy of at-large berths into the tournament.
Playing over multiple days consecutively to reach the title game is seen as a deterrence to some players, but not to Oliver.
“If it’s a tournament setup, you don’t really think about it,” Oliver said. “You’re just excited to win and advance. If it happens that you play four games in four days, I don’t think that’d be a bad thing since you’d be playing in the championship.”
Oliver won the team’s White-Allen MVP award, as well as the Chris Daniels Memorial Most Improved Player award for the second consecutive year, at the annual team banquet Sunday, March 9. He is the first UD player to win both in the same season.
“To be honored by my teammates and my coaches at the banquet, that was very cool for me,” Oliver said, who averaged 12 points per game, and team highs of 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists this season. “I think the most improved player was most important to me just because I’ve put a lot of work into my game. It’s good it’s finally paying off.”
Oliver was named Third Team All-Atlantic 10 by a vote of the league’s coaches Tuesday, March 11, and was the only UD player to receive any recognition in the league’s yearly awards. It’s the first honor a UD player received from the conference this season, as the team did not have a player on any preseason team, nor did one win a weekly player or rookie of the week award.
Despite the lack of individual recognition from the conference, Oliver said the focus remains on everyone being a team and staying prepared for a postseason run.
“I think you let the energy loose to a certain degree, but I think that’s a special thing about this team all the way down to the young guys,” Oliver said. “I think we have a pretty poised team. They don’t let the moment overwhelm them, per se. They enjoy the moment and they bring energy to the moment, but they don’t let it overwhelm them. I think we’ll be ready to go.”
Dayton has qualified to compete in the A10 tournament in all 19 years of its membership. Although every team automatically made this year’s edition, UD closed out the final 10 games of the regular season portion of its schedule with the best record of any team in the conference. There would have been no backing in to the tournament had it been a year where teams could have been left out.
The year began with the team mobbing each other on the court after a buzzer beating shot by redshirt junior guard Jordan Sibert in the first game of the year. Now Dayton hopes to repeat the celebration on the court in Brooklyn with an A10 championship.
“We have got to find a way to continue to play well and win,” Miller said. “This time of year, you want to playing as deep into March as you can.”