The Dayton Flyers won’t know until late Thursday night — sometime around 10:30 p.m. — who they will play at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament at the Barclays Center.
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In some ways, it doesn’t matter. In a season of ups and downs — 21 ups and 10 downs, to be exact — Dayton has proven it’s capable of beating almost anyone. It hung with Virginia and Oklahoma in the Bahamas, should have beaten Mississippi State at home and could have twice beaten Virginia Commonwealth. All those teams should hear their names called on Selection Sunday.
Only twice in 31 regular-season games did Dayton fail to come close to a victory: first in an 82-72 loss at Auburn, another NCAA tournament team, and then in a 73-60 loss at Saint Louis.
This tournament will be less about the opponent (or opponents should the Flyers advance) than about Dayton itself. Can it deliver a 40-minute effort? Can it live up to its potential? Can it do what no Dayton team has done: win a conference tournament on a neutral court?
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The Flyers enter the postseason with momentum, winning five of their last six games and posting two strong performances in the last week of the regular season against La Salle and Duquesne.
“I feel we’re playing excellent basketball right now,” Dayton forward Josh Cunningham said. “This is the perfect time for us to be playing the way we’re playing.”
Here are three storylines to follow Friday:
1. Unknown opponent: As the No. 3 seed, Dayton earned a double bye. It will play No. 6 seed Saint Louis or No. 11 seed Richmond, which beat No. 14 Fordham 52-50 on Wednesday on a layup by Nathan Cayo with one second to play. Saint Louis and Richmond play in the second round at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
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The Flyers split two games with Saint Louis, avenging the first defeat with a 70-62 victory in Dayton on Feb. 23. They beat Richmond 72-48 at home in the A-10 opener.
“We’ll play a familiar opponent,” said Dayton coach Anthony Grant on WHIO Radio’s Anthony Grant Show on Monday. “We’ll play someone we’ve played before, but right now, the focus is on us. We get a chance just to focus on us and make sure No. 1 we keep our guys fresh. Our plan is to play three games in three days, so we’ve got to keep our guys fresh, but at the same time, we want to make sure we’re sharp. We’ve got a couple days here just to make sure any nicks and bumps or bruises get taken care of and we can just focus on what we need to do from an offensive standpoint, and then defensively, just make sure we’re locked in to what we’re doing no matter who we play.”
2. Wide-open tournament: Only one of the top-four seeds, No. 2 seed Davidson, was picked to finish in the top four in the preseason poll. No. 1 seed VCU was picked to place seventh. Davidson was picked third. Dayton was picked sixth. No. 4 seed St. Bonaventure was picked ninth.
The preseason favorite Saint Louis tied for sixth. Picked second, Saint Joseph’s tied for 10th. George Mason was picked fourth and finished fifth.
“It’s been a consistent theme since the preseason this year in our league anything could happen,” Grant said. “You pick your preseason teams, and I always say it’s meaningless who’s picked where, and I don’t think any more so than this year it really was. The goal is to put yourself in position to get that double bye and have the opportunity to win a championship in three days.”
3. Road warriors: It bodes well for Dayton that playing away from home hasn't hurt its play since the start of the A-10 season. In fact, Dayton played better on the road than at UD Arena.
Dayton went 7-2 on the road and 6-3 at home in conference play, shot 35 percent from 3-point range on the road and 33.9 percent at home, shot 69.4 percent at the free-throw line on the road and 67.5 at home and held opponents to 38.5 percent shooting on the road and 41.3 percent at home.
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Dayton is 1-3 on neutral courts this season with losses to Virginia, Oklahoma and Tulsa and a victory over Butler, so it's hard to say what effect, if any, playing in front of relatively small crowds at the Barclays Center will have on the Flyers. However, Dayton has won its last four road games and its 78-67 victory Saturday at Duquesne showed again that it doesn't need the home-court advantage to play well.
“I was really proud of our guys’ ability to come in and get another road win,” Grant said. “To be able to tie a school record for road wins, especially coming off last season when you get one win away from home, to see the growth of our team and then just to see the way we went out and competed in the final regular-season game as we get ready to go to Brooklyn, knowing we had locked up a third seed and double bye, it was a good finish. I felt it gave us momentum.”
Dayton vs. Saint Louis-Richmond winner in A-10 quarterfinals, 8:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network, AM 1290 and News 95.7 WHIO
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