Neil Sullivan captured the feelings of everyone close to the Dayton Flyers men's basketball program — players, coaches, trainers, administrators — when asked about the team climbing to No. 7 in the Associated Press poll on Monday.
“Long way to go,” said Sullivan, Dayton’s athletic director, outside the Cronin Center.
That has to be the official position for Sullivan, coach Anthony Grant and the Flyers. Maintaining focus during the grind of the Atlantic 10 Conference schedule and not dreaming too much during a dream season will help Dayton (16-2, 5-0) keep climbing the poll. It did that for the third straight week Monday, jumping six spots, its biggest leap since it entered the top 25 at No. 19 on Dec. 2, after beating Virginia Commonwealth 79-65 on Tuesday and Saint Louis 78-76 in overtime Friday.
Grant, who has now been talking about the poll for eight straight weeks, longer than any Dayton coach since Tom Blackburn, echoed his previous comments when asked about the move to No. 7.
“We try to control the things we can control,” Grant said. “We don’t get a vote. We’re excited for the recognition. We’re appreciative of the recognition that we get, but certainly for us, five games into this, we’ve got a lot left in terms of the conference schedule. We’ve got two big games this week — one on Wednesday that we’ve got to make sure we take care of.”
Dayton guard Ibi Watson agreed.
“It means a lot — probably a lot to our fans, definitely,” he said. “We’re really just focused on getting better every day and trying to stay focused and not letting it get to our head.”
Dayton fans, of course, are under no obligation to remain focused or to take it one game a time. Here’s a sampling of their reactions on Twitter.
“This is something special!” wrote Renee Olson.
“What a time to be alive,” wrote Peter Czyryca.
No one described the mood better than Felix Alvarez, a 1987 grad who’s always one of Dayton’s most optimistic fans.
“I feel like I’m dreaming, but I don’t want to wake up yet,” he wrote. “At least until March Madness is over in April! Sweet Dreams.”
By moving from No. 13 to No. 7, Dayton accomplished something rarer in the program’s history than winning the A-10 championship or even making the Elite Eight, both of which have happened multiple times in the last 50 years.
• Dayton reached the top 10 for the first time since Dec. 7, 1967, when it ranked sixth.
• Dayton became the first Atlantic 10 Conference team to reach the top 10 since Saint Louis ranked 10th in 2014.
• Dayton became the highest-ranked A-10 team since Xavier reached No. 7 on Dec. 15, 2008.
• Dayton matched the 1957-58 team, the last UD team to be ranked in eight straight weeks or in eight polls in one season. That 1957-58 team was ranked in the final eight polls of the season.
The Flyers passed six teams in the poll: Duke, which dropped from No. 3 to No. 8; Oregon (No. 8 to No. 12); Butler (No. 5 to No. 13); West Virginia (No. 12 to No. 14); Kentucky (No. 10 to No. 15); and Auburn (No. 4 to No. 16).
The big leap gives Dayton a realistic chance of reaching No. 1 for the first time in school history. The last A-10 team to claim the top spot in the AP poll was Saint Joseph’s on March 9, 2004. That was the season the Hawks, led by guard Jameer Nelson, finished the regular season 27-0.
A season that has seen seven teams ranked No. 1 — Baylor being the most recent — gives Dayton a shot of getting to No. 1 if it keeps winning. It plays two of the A-10’s top teams this week. Saint Bonaventure (12-6, 4-1) visits UD Arena at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Flyers then play at Richmond (14-4, 4-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday.
These are heady days to be a Dayton fan, but those same fans know how many obstacles await in the coming weeks.
“The ranking is fun,” UD fan David Richardson wrote on Twitter, “and I hope they stay there. But it doesn’t mean anything without the championships.”
St. Bonaventure at Dayton, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290 and 95.7 WHIO