Former Flyer Rodney Chatman calls it a ‘full-circle moment’ as he plays UD in Nashville
There are many differences between the National Invitation Tournament and the NCAA tournament.
• There are few big press conferences before NIT games, while the big dance is a media event with eight teams at one site and everyone and anyone getting interviewed.
• The NCAA tournament schedule is mostly known in advance with only the game times up in the air. Dayton didn’t know if it would play Saturday or Sunday in the second round until the NIT until three hours after its 74-55 victory Wednesday at Toledo.
• Many of the biggest Dayton fans, who comment on Twitter on every game during the regular season and A-10 tournament, go quiet during the NIT.
This year, as much as ever, there was disappointment about Dayton earning a NIT bid because it was so close to the NCAA tournament. The Flyers were the first team left out of the 68-team field and thus the No. 1 overall seed in the NIT.
If Dayton had lost to UMass Lowell and Lipscomb but not blown a late lead against Austin Peay, the Flyers likely would have made the NCAA tournament. If Toumani Camara hadn’t missed the La Salle game with a knee injury, the Flyers likely would have made the NCAA tournament. If Malachi Smith hadn’t sprained his ankle against Richmond ... well, same story.
There’s nothing Dayton can do about that now, however, and playing games in March is a valuable experience for a young team — no matter the name of the tournament. The Flyers (24-10) will play Vanderbilt (18-16) at 3 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., with the hopes of advancing to a home game in the quarterfinals against Xavier or Florida. That and the possibility of playing at Madison Square Garden later this month give Dayton plenty of motivation.
“It would be a blessing to play in the Garden,” Dayton guard Kobe Elvis said.
“It would be a really big deal,” forward DaRon Holmes Ii said.
Of course, first the focus is on beating Vanderbilt. Dayton coach Anthony Grant, especially, is worried about nothing else. He didn’t even pay much attention to the Selection Show news.
“I kind of knew based on the outcome of our game that it was a long shot for us to make the tournament,” Grant said. “It’s always about controlling the things you can control. That’s where I live. I don’t really deal with all the other stuff. I hear it, but we can’t live in the stuff that (the Dayton) fan base and everybody else deals with it. We’ve got a team to coach. We’ve got preparation to do.”
Asked how he prepared his team for the NIT after falling short of the NCAA tournament, Grant said, “Not everybody gets a chance to play in the postseason. Obviously, the goal is to play in the NCAA tournament. The goal is to win championships — regular-season and conference championships — and we fell short of that this year. I think hopefully there are lessons that we can learn as to why that happened and continue to build and move forward.”
Dayton’s opponent, Vanderbilt, played in the NCAA tournament seven times in the last 13 seasons of Kevin Stalling’s 17-year run as head coach and then again in 2016-17, Bryce Drew’s first season. Drew did not produce a winning record in three seasons.
In his third season, Jerry Stackhouse, who played 19 seasons in the NBA, got the team above .500, but it settled for a NIT berth after a loss in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament. Vanderbilt beat another Nashville team, Belmont, 82-71 in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday at Memorial Gym.
Belmont is one of three common opponents Dayton and Vanderbilt have. Dayton beat Belmont 63-61 in November. Vanderbilt beat Austin Peay 77-51 in December about a month after Dayton lost 87-81 to Austin Peay at UD Arena. Vanderbilt lost 48-37 at home to Virginia Commonwealth, which split two regular-season games against Dayton.
More than anything, one person connects Dayton to Vanderbilt. Guard Rodney Chatman started the last two seasons for the Flyers and will start for Vanderbilt on Sunday. He entered the transfer portal last spring and decided to play his final season of college basketball in the SEC.
Chatman has battled injuries all season. He did not play until Dec. 18 after undergoing knee surgery in November. He missed five games in January with hamstring and knee injuries. He returned for five games and then missed six more games. He has been back on the court for the last four games and scored 10 points against Belmont.
Chatman has averaged 8.2 points in 14 games. In a Zoom interview with reporters in Nashville on Friday, he said playing Dayton was a “full-circle moment” for him. He keeps in touch with his former teammates and gave Obi Toppin tickets to a SEC tournament game earlier this month. The former Flyer he talked to most recently was Dwayne Cohill, who left Dayton last spring for Youngstown State.
As one of only three players, along with Toppin and Ryan Mikesell, to start all 31 games in the 29-2 season of 2019-20, Chatman will always have a special place in Dayton history, and it remains a special place for him.
“Coach Grant is a great coach,” Chatman said. “I still love him to this day. It’ll be a fun game. I kind of wish it was at UD Arena just so we could go there. It would have been special, but it’s here. We’ve got a home game, so it’s much better for our team.”
Dayton couldn’t host the game because there will be four boys basketball state championship games played at UD Arena on Sunday.
Vanderbilt is a team that shoots around the national average from 2-point range (50.0%) and 3-point range (33.8). It stands out in its ability to get to the free-throw line. It ranks seventh in the country in attempts (513 of 737, 68.3). Scotty Pippen Jr., a 6-foot-3 junior guard who’s the son of the Chicago Bulls great, leads the country in attempts (204 of 276, 73.4).
Dayton counters with an offense and defense that leans heavily on Holmes. He has averaged 21.0 points in three postseason games and has blocked eight shots.
“He’s athletic,” Stackhouse said. “He’s long. He’s not as burly as some of the guys that we’ve seen. Being able to put a couple bodies on him, hopefully we’ll be able to wear him down a little bit, but he’s definitely good.”