By: STEVEN WRIGHT – SPORTS EDITOR
Four years between anything is a long time in collegiate athletics.
The University of Dayton men’s basketball team saw that amount of time pass before making back into the top 25 this week.
Dayton came in at No. 25 in the latest Associated Press top 25 rankings Monday, Dec. 2.
Dayton received 90 total points in the poll from the 65 submitted ballots. The team had not received any this season prior to Monday’s poll.
UD joins No. 21 University of Massachusetts as the only schools from the Atlantic 10 Conference in the top 25.
Virginia Commonwealth University and George Washington University also received votes.
The reward is well deserved.
After a 3-0 start, Dayton embarked on a four-game trip over eight days, all against quality competition. The team defeated Georgia Tech in Atlanta before taking down then No. 10 Gonzaga University in the quarterfinal round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
After dropping its first game of the season to then No. 18 Baylor University by one in the semi-finals, Dayton beat the University of California-Berkeley handily in the tournament’s third place contest.
“I think [the ranking] means we’ve played pretty quality basketball against quality competition,” head coach Archie Miller said. “You don’t get recognized in any type of poll or any type of media scuttlebutt unless you earn it. I give our kids credit, they’ve worked very, very hard.”
Miller said the team needs to stay mentally ready after its trip out west to back up the team’s new ranking.
School’s outside of the power conferences in college basketball have not been given much slack to retain their rankings, and Dayton is fully aware of it.
The last time UD was ranked in the AP top 25 prior to Monday was Nov. 22, 2009. The team started at No. 21 in that season’s preseason poll, advancing as high as 18th before falling out after back to back losses.
That team won 12 of its next 13 games, but never got back into the rankings the rest of the season, before winning the National Invitational Tournament championship.
Redshirt senior center Matt Kavanaugh is the only remaining team member from that season still at UD.
Senior forward Devin Oliver said getting ranked is always on everybody’s mind, and you never know when you will make it. He said they have to prove they belong.
“It’s an extreme honor. I’ve never been ranked while being here,” he said. “You can’t think too much about it. It’s something you’ve got to put in the back of your mind and get ready to grind back in practice because if you lose one game, you’re right back out of it.”
There is only subtle jubilation from Miller as well. He said the team has eased itself back into practice slowly following its return stateside, and must recuperate.
“It means little to zero,” he said of the ranking’s meaning. “We’re always as good as our last game, we know that. We have a lot of things to get corrected from Maui. … We’ve got to get our minds back on what has got us to this point, which is continuing to be hungry to improve.”
UD has won over 75 percent of the games it has played as an AP top 25 team in its history.
Oliver said he thinks this year’s squad is the best he’s been on since being at UD, calling the team’s chemistry “exceptional.” He said they have to keep their heads in the right place though and take advantage of the opportunity given to them to keep a number attached next to Dayton’s name.
“I know now that we’re in there, we’re not going to want to be out of it,” he said.
Schedule similarities with 2009
The last time UD was ranked in 2009, the team in non-conference play beat Georgia Tech while competing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan. Later, UD also faced George Mason University, the University of Mississippi and Illinois State University.
As Dayton reenters the top 25 this season, all four of those opponents appear on the team’s schedule.
Trip highlight came on the court
Oliver said some of his trip highlights included relaxing on the beach and swimming, but the focus remained on basketball. What he remembers most came from a rare play on the court from sophomore forward Jalen Robinson against California.
“The highlight for me was seeing [Robinson] hitting a three,” he said. “That was pretty cool for the fact that he shot it.”
The 3-pointer was the first the 6-foot, 9-inch, 243 pound Robinson has taken and made in his UD career.