By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor
Togetherness has been a theme for the University of Dayton men’s basketball team from day one.
The team’s togetherness will face its biggest test against the NCAA tournament’s No. 1-overall seed, the University of Florida, in the regional finals Saturday, March 29, at 6:09 p.m. in the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.
“Obviously, Florida, probably the best team in the field, very experienced, obviously really well-coached,” head coach Archie Miller said. “We’re going to have more than our hands full tomorrow.”
A trip to the Final Four in North Texas is on the line for Dayton, which would be the program’s first since 1967. That season, UD advanced to the national championship game.
Florida stands in the way of Dayton players and coaches entertaining those thoughts. The No. 1 team in the final Associated Press top 25 poll of the regular season and winners of 29 straight games will be no easy task, according to redshirt junior guard Jordan Sibert.
“They’re definitely a strong team, physical team,” he said. “Their experience is definitely great. … It’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
The Gators start four seniors, including forward Casey Prather, who leads the team in scoring at 14 points per game.
Sophomore guard Michael Frazier Jr. led the charge in their regional semifinal win over the University of California, Los Angeles with 19 points, including a 5 of 8 performance from the 3-point line. Patric Young, a 6-foot, 9-inch 240-pound senior center, will also play a role in the game, averaging 10.6 points this year.
Florida is third in the country in scoring defense, only giving up 57.8 points per game, and teams only have shot 39.9 percent against them.
“You see them a lot on television,” Miller said. “You understand kind of what they’re about. You understand kind of their pedigree right now. They’re the No. 1 overall seed for a reason.”
Dayton has already defeated the eighth and 12th ranked scoring defenses to advance this far in Syracuse University and The Ohio State University, respectively.
Three teams seeded No. 11 have made the Final Four in the tournament’s history and it is the lowest seed for a team to make it that far. The latest was Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011, who like the two predecessors, who fell short of the national championship game.
No. 11 seeds are also 3-2 against a No. 1 seed, but redshirt senior guard Vee Sanford said to throw them out when you’re this far into the tournament.
“The seeding is irrelevant,” Sanford said. “I mean, it’s good to have, but we’re just playing a game, like I said before. It’s all about competing.”
Dayton is 2-11 all-time against the No. 1-ranked team in the country, the last win coming Feb. 27, 1954, against Duquesne University. The last game against the top team in AP poll for UD was at the EA Sports Maui Invitational Nov. 21, 2000, against Arizona, a 17-point loss.
The regional final will be the first meeting between Dayton and Florida, a team that is in its fourth straight appearance in the Elite Eight. Dayton is looking to shred the “Cinderella” label that has been placed on them. Miller said a team only gets called that because a team doesn’t make it as far as his has on a regular basis.
He said he hopes this run starts a trend of consistency, which they’ll look to keep going against No. 1.
Togetherness will be tested.
“We’re going to prepare the same way we’ve been doing it, and we’ll see that we’re ready to go at game time,” Miller said.