A number of national writers and broadcasters have jumped on the Dayton Flyers hype train this season. It started at the Maui Invitational. ESPN’s Jay Bilas raved about what he saw in the team, and podcasters Mark Titus and Tate Frazier, now with Fox Sports, endeared themselves to UD fans with their high praise.
Titus, a former walk-on at Ohio State, knows Dayton fans so well he often types “Dayton” next to a thumbs-up emjoi on Twitter just to see how many people respond. The last time he did it, 1,100 people clicked like.
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Dayton, which moved up to No. 5 on Monday in the Associated Press poll, has gotten more and more attention as the season has progressed. Jeff Goodman, of WatchStadium.com, and Pete Thamel, of the Yahoo Sports, covered Saturday’s game at Massachusetts.
In the postgame press conference, the writers asked Crutcher and Toppin about the team’s aspirations, and as usual, they weren’t shy about mentioning the ultimate goal.
“We’re trying to win a national championship,” Crutcher said.
Crutcher and Toppin have been talking about a national championship publicly since last summer. They don’t needed to be prodded to bring up that goal, though Grant was a little bothered they faced the question with seven games left in the regular season.
“When you ask young men what their aspirations are, they’re always going to think big,” Grant said. “Our aspirations are to make sure we do everything we can to win our next game right now. That’s all we can control. I think all those guys will tell you we need to be better. Let’s not take us to a place where we’re not. We’ve got a big ballgame on Tuesday. We’ve got an opportunity to put ourselves in a position to win an Atlantic 10 regular-season championship. Let’s keep the focus where it needs to be. Let’s not put these young men in a position we put them in.”
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Dayton (23-2, 12-0) can take another step toward that A-10 title when it plays Virginia Commonwealth (17-8, 7-5) on Tuesday at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va. Here are five things to know about the game:
1. VCU is reeling: The Rams finished 16-2 in the A-10 last season, returned almost the same team and were picked to finish first this season. With six games remaining, however, they’re fighting not for a regular-season championship — that will almost assuredly go to Dayton or Rhode Island — but a top-four seed.
Back-to-back losses — 72-67 at home to George Mason (14-11, 3-9) and 77-59 at Richmond (19-6, 9-3) — have dropped VCU into a tie for sixth place with Davidson (13-11, 7-5) and Saint Louis (18-7, 7-5).
2. Dayton has the momentum: The Flyers have won 14 straight games. They won the first matchup against VCU 79-65 on Jan. 14 at UD Arena, putting the game out of reach with a 22-0 run in the second half. Obi Toppin and Jalen Crutcher combined for 44 points.
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3. VCU star could be out: Senior guard Marcus Evans, who passed the 2,000-point milestone earlier this season, missed Saturday’s game at Richmond with a knee injury, so his status could be a question mark Tuesday.
“He tried to go in shootaround this morning, but he couldn’t push off of it,” coach Mike Rhoades told the Richmond Times-Dispatch after the game.
Evans hit two go-ahead shots in the last minute to help VCU beat Dayton last season. He’s averaging 10.3 points per game this season after averaging 13.6 last season. He had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting in the first game against Dayton.
4. Dayton hasn’t won at VCU in five years: Dayton has lost three straight games at the Siegel Center, all by five points or fewer, since a 59-55 victory against No. 22 VCU on Feb. 28, 2015. VCU avenged that loss by beating the Flyers 71-65 in the A-10 tournament final.
5. The Flyers can sweep VCU for the first time: This is the fourth straight season the teams have played twice in the regular season. They split in 2017 and 2018. VCU swept Dayton last season.
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