The NCAA tournament awaits the Dayton Flyers. The promise of a trip to Cleveland for a first-round game looms. It’s tempting to dream about that future. They’re not doing it.
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"Hey, Dwayne, you've got a chance to home to Cleveland in a couple weeks," Dayton guard Dwayne Cohill was asked Saturday as he talked to reporters following a 76-51 victory against George Washington. "You're not allowed to look past Brooklyn, but that'd be pretty sweet."
Cohill laughed and hesitated before saying, “I’m taking it one game at a time.”
That’s served as a mantra all year for the team, and if the third-ranked Flyers (29-2), winners of 20 straight games, can take one game at a time three days in a row this weekend at the Barclays Center, they’ll achieve another program first by winning the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament outside Dayton for the first time.
Dayton has played in the A-10 tournament 24 times (every year since 1996) and hoisted the trophy once: in 2003 at UD Arena. Its sad history in the event includes winless appearances in the last three years. They fell in the quarterfinals as the No. 1 seed in 2017, in the second round as a No. 9 seed in 2018 and in the quarterfinals as the No. 3 seed last season.
Those past failures don’t mean much to the current team, which has known nothing but winning in 2020. The A-10 tournament starts Wednesday with two games between the bottom four seeds, and Dayton, the No. 1 seed, is one of the biggest favorites in any conference tournament this year.
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According to Ken Pomeroy, of KenPom.com, Dayton has a 56.1 percent chance of winning the championship. Three years ago when Dayton was the No. 1 seed, Pomeroy calculated Dayton's odds at 28.8 percent.
If the current odds sound good to fans, they should know the No. 1 seed hasn’t won the A-10 tournament since 2013 (Saint Louis), and it has lost in the quarterfinals the last two years and in three of the past six years. For that reason, this is a wide-open tournament even if Dayton is the favorite. Here’s a rundown of what to know about the field.
Second favorite: No. 2 seed Richmond (24-7) has won four games in a row and has the league's best chance, outside of Dayton, of getting an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament if it doesn't win the A-10 tournament.
The Spiders are listed on 88 of the 122 predictions on BracketMatrix.com. In Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket on ESPN.com, he lists Richmond as oe of the “First Four Teams Out” of the tournament. Pomeroy gives Richmond a 13.7 percent chance of winning the A-10.
Dark horse: No. 4 Saint Louis (23-8), the defending A-10 tournament champion, has won five straight games and came closer than anyone in the A-10 to beating Dayton, losing the first game 78-76 on a last-second 3-pointer by Jalen Crutcher in overtime. The Billikens have an 8.9 percent chance of winning the A-10, according to Pomeroy.
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Coldest team: No. 9 seed Virginia Commonwealth (18-13), the preseason favorite, limps into the tournament with eight losses in its last 10 games and a variety of injuries. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, three players who average double-figure minutes — De'Riante Jenkins, Vince Williams and Corey Douglass — will miss the second-round game at noon Thursday against No. 8 Massachusetts (14-17). Dayton plays the VCU-UMass winner at noon Friday in the quarterfinals.
Player to watch: The obvious answer is Dayton's Obi Toppin, who will be playing near where he grew up in Brooklyn and has played his best in the biggest spotlights this season.
Toppin did not get much of a chance to shine at the Barclays Center last season. In the first half of Dayton's 64-55 loss to Saint Louis, Toppin banged his knee against a Saint Louis player while driving the baseline. He was called for a charge on the play, angering everyone cheering for Dayton, but also limped off the court with 6:08 to play.
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Toppin was not 100 percent when he returned to start the second half. He finished with seven points on 3-of-9 shooting in 30 minutes.
Upset potential: No. 11 seed George Washington first has to get by No 14 seed Fordham in the first round Wednesday. That's no guarantee because Fordham swept the regular-season series.
However, if the Colonials advance, they’ll have a chance to upset No. 6 Duquesne. GW won 70-67 at Duquesne on Feb. 19 after losing 66-61 at home to Duquesne in January.
History lesson: Three of the bottom five seeds are the only teams in the conference that have never won the A-10 tournament: No. 14 Fordham, No. 12 George Mason and No. 10 La Salle. No program has a longer drought, however, than Duquesne, which won the first tournament in 1977, when the A-10 was known as the Eastern Collegiate Basketball League, and has not won since.
Dayton vs. VCU or UMass, noon, NBC Sports Network, 1290 and 95.7 WHIO
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