By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer
As bad as the second half of February was for the Flyers, the competitive nature of the Atlantic 10 kept any frontrunner from cruising away with the conference title. And when Dayton has a chance in March, good things tend to happen. Saturday’s climactic victory over Virginia Commonwealth University cemented a three-way share of the regular season A-10 title and the top seed for the Flyers in the conference tournament.
Up until the first weekend in March, four teams—VCU, St. Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure and Dayton—had a shot at that top seed, just showing the depth and uncertainty that characterized A-10 play this season.
Those four teams have a combined 17 conference losses, nine of which are against non-top four A-10 teams. LaSalle, which sits snugly in the cellar of the conference, defeated both Dayton and St. Bonaventure this season. George Mason, also near the bottom, boasts a win over VCU. And had it not been for St. Joseph’s loss to 10th-place Duquesne Saturday, the Flyers would not be at the top of the standings.
As the No. 1 seed, the Flyers get a bye to the quarterfinals along with the other top four teams, meaning they only need to win three games in three days to win the tournament. In that quarterfinal game Friday March 11, the Flyers will take on the winner of Fordham vs. Richmond, the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, respectively.
Dayton played Fordham and Richmond once each this season and won both games. Their 85-84 victory over the Spiders on March 1 in Richmond, Virginia, was a true testament to the Flyers’ grit this season—and their relentlessness in March—and ended a brief losing snafu.
That said, Richmond is certainly not a team to be taken lightly in any matchup. But as long as Saturday’s mental high doesn’t overshadow the work the True Team puts in this week, the quarterfinal matchup shouldn’t be a problem.
Elsewhere in the quarterfinals, our friends at Virginia Commonwealth will take on the winner of No. 7 seed Rhode Island and No. 10 seed Massachusetts. VCU began conference play with nine consecutive wins before narrowly losing back-to-back games against George Washington and UMass. That loss to the Minutemen was likely VCU on a downswing and UMass on an upswing, so a rematch may be something VCU is looking forward to.
But what I’m looking forward to is the potential of a Rams-on-Rams quarterfinal should Rhode Island advance. UD saw firsthand the lethal shooters the Rhodies brandish in both February games the Flyers played against them. Jarvis Garrett and Four McGlynn led Rhode Island to their Feb. 27 victory at UD Arena, as the pair shot 7-for-12 from behind the arc. It’s those kind of players that make March Madness what it is because when they’re hot, you can throw records out the window.
That’s one reason why I really like Duquesne and would legitimately fear playing them should they pull off an incredible run. The Dukes are the No. 11 seed, which means they’d have to win two games to even reach the quarterfinals, where they find themselves on the other end of the bracket from Dayton anyway. The point, though, is that Derrick Colter and Micah Mason are two of the best shooters I witnessed this year. Duquesne almost won at UD Arena on Feb. 9, before it was cool to do so.
All things considered, don’t be surprised if the Dukes upset Davidson in the second round and do reach the quarterfinals. But they could only meet the Flyers in the championship, and would have to win four games in four days to do so.
In all likelihood, Dayton’s semifinal matchup—should they win their first game—would feature them playing the winner of No. 5 seed George Washington and No. 4 seed St. Joseph’s. SJU ended UD’s nine-game win streak and started their February skid with a victory in Philadelphia Feb. 17. That was the only matchup between the Hawks and the Flyers this season. Saint Joseph’s is an interesting team because they’ve hung in the top of the standings all year without getting the national attention of Dayton or VCU. They’re solid all around: In that Feb. 17 game, five Hawks scored in double digits.
Dayton only played George Washington once this season as well—a Jan. 15 win at UD Arena. The Colonials are one of the toughest road matchups in the nation (they beat No. 6 seed Virginia earlier this season) but aren’t nearly as pesky in venues outside of their Washington, D.C., home. That said, they put up a good fight in Dayton and should match up well for a potential semifinal game.
Since VCU is the No. 2 seed, the only time UD can meet them again is in the conference championship game…again. Last season, Dayton lost to the Rams in the A-10 championship game just weeks after defeating them in the regular season.
Then, No. 5 seed VCU had to “upset” both Richmond and Davidson to reach the final against the No. 2 seed Flyers. This year, it’s a more natural collision course for the powerhouses of the Atlantic 10 should they avoid upsets before the final.
As enticing and likely as that scenario is, a deep and pesky conference will make for an interesting tournament for everyone. None of these teams go down without a fight. But it’s March, so the Flyers won’t either.
Photo: The Flyers got to cut down the nets Saturday night at UD Arena after clinching a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title with their 68-67 overtime win over VCU. Senior forward Dyshawn Pierre (above) scored four points and grabbed eight rebounds on his senior night. Photo by Mickey Shuey, alumnus photographer.