Several members of the Dayton Flyers — Jalen Crutcher, Joey Gruden, Trey Landers and others — jumped into the student section after an 88-78 victory against George Washington on Saturday at UD Arena. This has become an annual tradition after the last home game of the season.
The last two years, Dayton celebrated clinching the Atlantic 10 title with the Red Scare student section. This time, it wasn’t celebrating the season but a single victory.
The Flyers kept their slim hopes of making a run in the A-10 tournament alive by securing the No. 9 seed, avoiding a scenario in which they would have to win five games in five days at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., though winning four games in four days will be a monumental challenge for a team that hasn’t won three games in a row. The road starts in the second round at noon Thursday against No. 8 seed Virginia Commonwealth (17-14).
Stranger things have happened, but Dayton winning the league’s automatic berth after a 14-16 regular season would be one of the most unlikely stories in college basketball this season. According to KenPom.com’s calculations, Dayton has a 3.7 percent chance of reaching the championship game and 1 percent chance of winning the tournament.
The last team seeded lower than fourth to win the tournament was No. 10 seed Xavier in 2006. Those games were played in Cincinnati, and Xavier finished 21-11 that season. No team has entered the tournament with a losing record and won the tournament.
“I know we’re going to be the underdog,” Dayton senior Darrell Davis said, “but I tell my teammates all the time, ‘Don’t worry about that.’ I don’t remember the last time a No. 1 seed won the conference tournament. Let people think what they want to think. We’re going to go out there and compete.”
Dayton and VCU split two games in the regular season. Each was memorable for a different reason.
Dayton scored a school-record 66 points in the first half in the first game and played its best 40 minutes of the season, routing VCU 106-79 on Jan. 12 at UD Arena. In the second game Feb. 10 at VCU, Dayton rallied from a 15-point deficit in the final 3:29 to force overtime on a buzzer-beater by Josh Cunningham only to lose 88-84 in Richmond.
Whoever wins the Dayton vs. VCU game, that team will be an underdog against No. 1 seed Rhode Island (23-6) in the quarterfinals at noon Friday. Rhode Island was 2-0 against Dayton and 1-0 against VCU and won all three games by double digits.
To have any chance in Washington, Dayton will have to show it can play well away from UD Arena. It finished the regular season 12-4 at home and 2-12 away in road or neutral court games.
Dayton will also have to overcome its history in the A-10 tournament. It has never won the event outside UD Arena. Its lone championship came at home in 2003. Dayton had the No. 1 seed the last two years and lost in the semifinals to St. Joseph’s in 2016 and in the quarterfinals to Davidson last year.
» WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Dayton falls in A-10 semifinals
Dayton’s Anthony Grant will coach in the tournament for the first time. He has seen all the A-10 teams now and hopes his team has learned from all it experienced in the regular season.
“This is the exciting time of the year,” Grant said. “This is an opportunity over the course of the tournament to see if you can extend your season, to see if you can play your best basketball down the stretch. I’m looking forward to it. It should be a great tournament. If you look at the way the A-10 has been all year, anything can happen on any given night.”
A-10 second round: Dayton vs. VCU, noon, NBC Sports Network, FM 95.7, AM 1290