Kevin Conrad sends a text message to Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant before and every every game, wishing him luck and offering congratulations after victories. Grant always responds.
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Conrad, who played for Dayton from 1980-83 and ranks 50th in school history with 983 points, and Grant never played together, but their careers did overlap in a way. They met when Conrad was a senior and Grant was on his official visit from his hometown of Miami, Fla.
“The guy could play,” Conrad said, “and now flat out coach.”
Alums like Conrad have rejoiced to see the program reach rare heights in Grant’s third season. Dayton (16-2, 5-0) climbed to No. 7 in the Associated Press poll this week, reaching the top 10 for the first time since 1967.
“We are an incredibly hard-working team on both ends,” Conrad said. “Great teams pass up good shots for great shots. They are extremely selfless. No one cares who scores, including Obi (Toppin). They always make the extra pass. Love their assist-to-basket ratio. Defensively, they apply great pressure with great rotation. Transition game is tremendous! Bottom line not, only is AG one of the classiest coaches but also one of the best coaches in the country. He and his staff are doing a great job. As a former player, there is great pride watching these guys compete every game. I’m thankful to be a Flyer. As I tell AG after every game, we are very lucky to have him.”
Dayton is the first top-10 team from the Atlantic 10 Conference team since Saint Louis in 2014 and the highest-ranked A-10 team since Xavier reached No. 7 in 2008. There’s a long way to go, but it’s worth examining what Dayton is chasing beyond the obvious goals. Winning the A-10 regular-season and tournament championships and playing in the NCAA tournament and advancing are the goals every season for Dayton.
This team could achieve something more special than each of those goals and put itself on a short list of the greatest teams in A-1o history by accomplishing any one of these feats.
1. Make the Final Four: Reaching the national semifinals out of the Atlantic 10 is a tall order, though it’s become somewhat common in recent years for the Final Four to feature at least one team from conferences outside the top six: Loyola in 2018, Gonzaga in 2017 and Wichita State in 2013 being the most recent examples.
Two current A-10 programs — Virginia Commonwealth (2011) and George Mason (2006) — have recent Final Four appearances on their resumes, but both were members of the Colonial Athletic Association at the time.
Since the Atlantic 10 started play in 1976, when it was known as the Eastern Collegiate Basketball League and then the Eastern Athletic Association, Massachusetts is the only program to make the Final Four out of the A-10. It later had to vacate that appearance because of a NCAA violation.
2. Reach No. 1 in the AP poll: Saint Joseph’s reached No. 1 on March 9, 2004. UMass ranked No. 1 for nine straight weeks in 1996 and for five weeks in the 1994-95 season. Temple stayed at No. 1 for five weeks in 1988.
3. Win 30 games: The last A-10 team to reach 30 victories was Xavier in 2007-08. It finished 30-7 by winning 26 games in the regular season, one in the A-10 tournament and reaching the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.
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Saint Joseph’s finished 30-2 in 2003-04 by going undefeated in the regular season and reaching the Elite Eight. UMass finished 35-2 the year it went to the Final Four and went 30-5 in 1991-92. Temple had back-to-back 32-win seasons in 1986—87 and 1987-88.
4. Lose one league game or none: Most regular-season champions in the last eight years have lost three or four A-10 games. VCU lost only two last season. The last team to suffer only one loss was Xavier, which finished 15-1 in 2010-11.
The last team to go undefeated in conference play was George Washington, which finished 16-0 in 2005-06. The only other teams to accomplish that were: Saint Joseph’s (16-0 in 2003-04) and Temple (18-0 in 1987-88 and 1983-84).
5. Win the regular-season championship outright and the A-10 tournament: The last team to achieve this was Saint Louis in 2013. Prior to that, the last program to do it outside of years in which the A-10 had two divisions was UMass, which had an unprecedented run of dominance from 1992-95, winning the regular-season championship outright and the tournament every season.
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