Crazy season setting up for even crazier NCAA Tournament

By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer

Tempus omnia revelat. Time reveals all. It’s an infallible theme of sports, and what we’re left pondering here in late February with absolutely nothing clear in college hoops.

Despite last week’s lackluster defensive performances, we Flyer fans have been treated to a stellar year of classic college basketball in Dayton. And considering the fact that Archie Miller and his core have won five NCAA tournament games in the past two seasons, March could very well be one of the most electric months of UD’s basketball history. But as always, it only takes one loss to overshadow a superior season.

Dayton’s Cinderella status is rapidly evaporating. The secret weapon of underratedness is being quashed by the national recognition of quality basketball on Blackburn Court. Suddenly, the Flyers have been lumped into a pool of really good, but few great, college teams. And the notoriety has caught up them, as it has to many ranked teams this year.

Just take a look at the AP rankings each week or a glimpse at the recent slate of games, and it’s not hard to find underperforming powerhouses, strong showings from minor conferences and, of course, a whole lot of upsets. In the last week, No. 3 Oklahoma was defeated twice, by Texas Tech and No. 2 Kansas; No. 4 Iowa took a loss against Penn State; No. 5 North Carolina and No. 7 Virginia both lost to Duke; No. 6 Maryland lost two consecutive games against Wisconsin and Minnesota—both unranked—and No. 10 West Virginia lost to No. 24 Texas.

Granted, programs like Duke and Wisconsin are no pushovers even during their down years, but this goes to show there’s absolutely no solidity in the top 10. Should UD get the opportunity to play against a powerhouse next month, this fact should excite us.

Villanova, the current No. 1 team in the nation, has historically played poorly in March. In each of their past five NCAA tournament appearances, the Wildcats have been knocked out in either the first or second round. A Final Four appearance in 2009 was their last deep bracket run. I’m not counting on them to play like champions this year either.

And yes, programs like Kansas, North Carolina and Oklahoma—Dayton’s 2015 season dagger—are formidable powerhouses that may populate the Final Four from year to year, but remember, no team is immune to upsets.

And that’s why Flyer fans should also be terrified.

For the first time in a while, Dayton won’t be underdogs going into March Madness. Barring a complete collapse in the closing weeks, UD could actually be favored for a first round tournament game. And even if they aren’t, any team that has done its homework would play Dayton as seriously as they’d play a top seed.

We’ve started to see this in the recent weeks. Duquesne came about as close as any Atlantic 10 team had to knocking off the Flyers at UD Arena Feb. 9 when Scoochie Smith helped Dayton eke out a two-point victory. Later that week, the Flyers met a Rhode Island team that hung in for the entire game and would have won had Darrell Davis not knocked down one of the biggest shots of his life in the final seconds. Then, the late luck finally turned against UD when St. Joseph’s forbade a comeback and, for the eighth consecutive time, defeated Dayton in Philadelphia.

Finally, St. Bonaventure handed the Flyers their first conference loss at home since St. Joseph’s won there in January 2014.

There isn’t a team out there who’s not hungry for a victory over the Dayton Flyers. We’re no longer that little March bracket buster or February thorn-in-the-side. We were the No. 15 team in the nation for a short while, and that comes with a burden—a burden that this team’s core is just now getting used to.

The fact is if the Flyers are going to graduate from a Sweet Sixteen hopeful Cinderella to a real contender, this is the year to do it. Yes, we got filleted, battered and fried by the one top 10 team we’ve played this season, the 90-61 loss to Xavier on Nov. 29, but Miller and company have come a long way since then.

They’ve had to grind for 40 full minutes in many of their wins, and they identified their weaknesses in last week’s losses. It’s that mentality that will carry them should they make another run. But don’t forget there are other schools who want to be what the Dayton Flyers were in 2014 and 2015.

I won’t make any predictions, but I will tell you that March will be saturated with upsets. Whether that includes a Flyer team getting knocked off in an early round or UD blazing to a regional final will only be revealed by time.