By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor
There are no small games anymore.
Buffalo, N.Y., can only be seen in the rearview mirror, with Memphis, Tenn., dead ahead as the next stop for the University of Dayton men’s basketball team in the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
UD, a No. 11 seed in the South Region and fresh off a pair of upsets over No. 6 The Ohio State University and No. 3 Syracuse University, takes on another double-digit seed, No. 10 Stanford University, Thursday, March 27, at 7:15 p.m., at the FedEx Forum in the Sweet 16.
The Cardinal pulled off its own pair of upsets, defeating Mountain West Conference champion and No. 7 seed New Mexico University before taking down No. 2 seed Kansas University to make its way into the second weekend of play.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us with Stanford,” head coach Archie Miller said. “I think at this time of year, regardless who you play, you’re going to catch a really good team that’s hot. And for us, we have to sort of come back down out of the clouds a little bit.”
Junior guard Chasson Randle, who averages 18.7 points per game and shoots 39.6 percent from the 3-point line, leads Stanford. Senior forward Dwight Powell is the team’s primary post player at 6-foot, 10-inches, averaging 13.9 points this season, as well as a team leading 3.1 assists.
Against Kansas in the third round, Stanford controlled the game for the majority of the second half. Like Dayton, Stanford needed its opponent to miss a three-pointer at the buzzer to advance to the next round.
“Stanford does some things that will present some problems,” said redshirt senior center Matt Kavanaugh. “They obviously beat a really good Kansas team. We’re going to need to have a good week of practice and really bring our ‘A’ game to beat them.”
Much like the Syracuse game, Dayton will face a 2-3 zone defense. Kavanaugh said it is helpful the team already has one game under its belt against that type of defense in the tournament.
Dayton has done a formidable job avoiding outside distractions involved with playing in the tournament. Miller said it’s been among the team’s top priorities during preparation for each game, and he’s primarily let others compliment his squad as long as the team sticks to its focused approach on a daily basis.
“I think it’s impossible to try and block the outside, but why should we recreate anything that doesn’t need to be there,” Miller said. “What we’ve done so far has worked… I know we’ll be excited and all that, but at the end of the day, [our approach is] what has made us get here or sort of made us the team that we are right now… I don’t want to change that.”
However, Miller said the growing publicity surrounding the team has made him and his staff get on players to buckle down and concentrate.
“There’s just so much hype and media and the talk around you, I’m just really excited to get a hold of them again,” Miller said. “I think that’s a big part of what we need to do. We need to get back to work and just kind of be who we’ve been and we’ll prepare to go to Memphis and play to win.”
Archie Miller said he hasn’t talked to his brother, Sean Miller, the head coach at the University of Arizona, about playing Stanford, which is in the Pacific-12 Conference along with Arizona.
“He’s not going to get into Stanford with me,” Miller said. “[I] haven’t gotten a chance to really talk to anybody except for you guys.”
Stanford is the third team from the Pac-12 UD has faced this season. The Flyers split the first two contests. The first was an 82-64 victory over the University of California, Berkeley, during the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational’s third place game. The other was a loss – a buzzer beating shot at home against the University of Southern California in overtime December 22.
Buzzer-beaters are nothing new to UD this year, especially in the NCAA Tournament. The Ohio State University senior guard Aaron Craft and Syracuse University freshman guard Tyler Ennis both had a final chance for their respective teams to end Dayton’s season with shots for the win as time expired in the second and third rounds. Neither went down, which Miller said helps his team in those late game pressure situations.
“Very few teams walked into the pressure cooker that we did, playing Ohio State with the in-state media buzz, playing Syracuse in Buffalo,” he said. “We were able to really battle. We were able to fight. To be able to come out on top in both of those games, that alone should give us confidence as we move into the next one, that what we’re doing is working. Could have [gone] either way.”
Those shots went Dayton’s way, and because of it, the team has advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years.
Now two games away from its first Final Four appearance since 1967, Kavanaugh said the drop off between teams gets smaller the further they advance.
Dayton and Stanford, seeded 11th and 10th respectively in their regions, will only be the second matchup between those two seeds in the tournament’s history. Virginia Commonwealth University, the 11-seed, won that game and went on to the Final Four in 2011.
UD is ready to try to make it two-for-two, but Kavanaugh said to throw the seeds out the window at this stage of the tournament.
“In the NCAA Tournament, everybody comes ready to play,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s just the pieces fell in that sort of way and the seeding really doesn’t matter anymore.”