ESPN Events Invitational preview: Breaking down the field in Orlando

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Toumani Camara interview: Nov. 22, 2021

Dayton is 5-1 in two appearances in the event

Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant has visited Disney World three or four times in his life. While he’ll be near the Magic Kingdom all week while his team plays in the ESPN Events Invitational, the chances of him riding the tea cups or Space Mountain are about as good as his team winning three games in four days.

Dayton (1-3) lost almost as many games in the first two weeks of the 2021-22 season as the other seven teams in the tournament combined (23-4). The Flyers need a victory at noon Thursday in the first round against the Miami Hurricanes (3-1) to avoid their worst start since they were 0-5 in 1992-93.

“I think one win is going to get us going,” Dayton guard Elijah Weaver said Monday, one day before the team left for the Sunshine State. “Sometimes losing can be contagious. It’s the same thing with winning. Once you get one win after losing, I think that becomes contagious and you figure out what it takes to win.”

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Elijah Weaver interview: Nov. 22, 2021

The tournament will take place at the HP Fieldhouse at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. It starts on Thanksgiving and concludes Sunday. Every team has an off day Saturday. Here’s a breakdown of the field:

Favorite: Kansas (3-0) ranks fourth in the Associated Press top-25 poll and second in the Ken Pomeroy ratings. It beat Michigan State 87-74 to open the season and then beat Tarleton State 88-62 and Stony Brook 88-59. After Dayton plays Miami in the first game of the tournament, Kansas plays North Texas (2-1) in the second game.

Biggest underdog: Although Dayton has a strong history at the HP Fieldhouse, its losses — all at home — to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay didn’t inspire confidence that it can repeat its success from the 2011 Old Spice Classic and the 2015 Advocare Invitational.

Dayton beat Wake Forest, Fairfield and Minnesota to win the championship in 2011. That was the last time it won one of these November tournaments. Six years ago, Dayton beat Iowa and Monmouth before losing 90-61 to Xavier in the championship game.

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Best players: Kansas guard Remy Martin was the Pac 12′s leading scorer last season (19.1). He transferred to Kansas after scoring 1,754 points in four seasons at Arizona State. He averaged 9.7 points in the first three games.

While Martin has better career credentials, no one in the tournament has gotten off to a better start this season than Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji, a senior who’s averaging 26.3 points and 4.0 rebounds. He leads the nation in scoring.

“He’s playing with confidence,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the team’s third victory. “I think that first game did wonders for his overall confidence. He’s playing well. He’s not forcing anything. He’s playing within himself and he’s very efficient.”

Best freshman: Alabama guard JD Davidson ranked 17th in the class of 2021, according to 247Sports.com. SI.com ranked him the 11th-best 2022 NBA Draft prospect. He averaged 7.5 points in the first four games.

Alabama (4-0), which ranks 10th in the AP poll, plays Iona (5-0) in the first round at 5 p.m. Thursday.

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Anthony Grant interview: Nov. 22, 2021

Winningest coaches: The tournament features two coaches who have won national championships and another who’s reached the Final Four.

Rick Pitino, who won titles in 1996 with Kentucky and 2013 with Louisville, is in his second season at Iona. He has a career record of 787-277 (.740).

Through the 2019-20 season, Self ranked 25th in college basketball history in winning percentage. He’s now 732-223 (.766). This is his 19th season at Kansas. He won the NCAA championship in 2008.

Miami’s Jim Larranaga was the head coach at George Mason from 1997-2011 and coached the team to the Final Four in 2006. That tournament run began with victories against Michigan State and North Carolina at UD Arena. He has the ninth-most victories of any active Division I coach. He’s 673-465.

Best first-round game: Belmont (3-2) plays Drake (3-0) at 7:30 p.m. in a matchup of two top-75 teams. Drake is No. 53 in the KenPom.com ratings. Belmont is No. 74.

Belmont has won 26 or more games seven times in the last 11 seasons. Drake finished 26-4 last season and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

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Recent history: Dayton played three of the teams in the field in a five-game stretch in the 2019-20 season. It ran into Kansas in the championship game of the Maui Invitational in 2019, losing 90-84 in overtime. That December, it played Drake and North Texas in back-to-back games, winning 78-47 and 71-58.

Past champions: Dayton and Kansas are the only teams in the field that have won this tournament. Three years after Dayton’s championship in 2011, Kansas beat Rhode Island, Tennessee and Michigan State to win the title.

Miami is playing in the tournament for the first time since 2016, when it finished fourth. Alabama last played in the event in 2015 when it lost to Xavier in the first round and placed fifth.

THURSDAY’S GAME

Dayton vs. Miami (Fla.), Noon, ESPN2, 1290, 95.7

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Dayton vs. Austin Peay: The last four minutes

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