By: Dan Durkin – Staff Writer
After a season-opening 76-52 victory over Alabama A&M Friday at UD Arena, the Dayton men’s basketball team travels to Puerto Rico to participate in the 2014 Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament Thursday through Sunday, with a potential second round matchup against defending national champions, the No. 17 ranked University of Connecticut.
The Flyers play Texas A&M in their first game of the tournament at 10:30 a.m. EST Thursday. The matchup will air on ESPNU. The Aggies beat Northwestern State Friday 109-68 and will also enter Thursday’s game 1-0.
Teams participating in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this year include the University of Connecticut, Texas A&M, West Virginia University, Boston College, College of Charleston, New Mexico University and George Mason University.
A first round win by the Flyers would lead to a matchup with the defending national champions, if UConn beats the College of Charleston in the first round of the tournament.
If UD loses against Texas A&M, the team will enter the “loser’s side” of the bracket and will play the loser of those two.
Last year, the Flyers participated in the EA Sports Maui Invitational in Hawaii, where the team first gained national exposure by upsetting then No. 11 Gonzaga University, before falling to the University of Baylor in the following game by one point. Both Gonzaga and Baylor advanced to the 2014 NCAA tournament.
UD finished the Maui trip with an 82-64 victory over the University of California.
Many college basketball analysts and fans see the preseason tournament schedule as the true beginning of the college basketball season.
Coaches around the nation also see the trips as a time for their teams to start to come together.
“These types of trips bring us together as a team,” junior forward Devon Scott said.
The long flights and possible layovers help build team chemistry by providing time together as a unit before even touching the floor to play in a game, Scott said.
The other advantage in playing in these types of tournaments is the value added in playing good competition early in the season, in terms of testing the team early with an eye towards the NCAA selection committee’s analysis of a team’s strength of schedule.
Head coach Archie Miller said, “It’s an opportunity to test us early and also an opportunity to grow and build. These events are very important to us in terms of exposure and also a great opportunity to build a good nonconference resume.”
This will be the second time the Flyers will be playing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. UD played in the tournament in 2009.
The 2014 Puerto Rico Tip-Off will be the seventh consecutive early season tournament UD will have participated in.
The players on the roster who played in the Maui tournament last year understand the benefit of seeing top competition in the nonconference schedule. It provides a reality check early.
Sophomore guard Scoochie Smith enjoyed the quality of teams in the Maui tournament last year.
“It was a great experience, playing against teams like California, Baylor and a top -25 team like Gonzaga,” Smith said. “Once we got to the [NCAA] tournament we knew what it took to play against those types of teams.”