All the players pointed their cell phone cameras at the TV screen in Archie Miller’s living room. The Dayton Flyers knew what was coming. The term “spoiler alert” was invented for moments ike this. This was the mother of all spoiler alerts.
Halfway through the two-hour NCAA tournament selection show on CBS, as analyst Charles Barkley fumbled through the bracket and dozens of teams around the country sweated, someone on Twitter leaked the entire bracket. It slowly dawned on everyone that it wasn’t a hoax.
Long before CBS revealed the Midwest Region, the Flyers knew they were the No. 7 seed and had a date with No. 10 seed Syracuse at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Friday. They will play at 12:15 p.m., or 11:15 a.m. Central time, on WHIO-TV Ch. 7.
“A couple people walked in and said we’re playing Syracuse,” Miller said. “I said, ‘How do we know that?’ They said there’s a leaked bracket. I rolled my eyes, and I got 30 text messages in the next 10 minutes that said we’ve got the Cuse in St. Louis. Once they started to announce the rest of the bracket, our players were saying, ‘It’s right. It’s right.’ When they announced our name, it was an unusual celebration. Last year, they didn’t want us in. This year, they told us early.”
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The Flyers were the last at-large team selected in 2015. This season, they will play with their best seed since they were the No. 4 seed in 2003. They were seeded 11th in 2009, 2014 and 2015.
Dayton will play in three straight NCAA tournaments for the first time since 1965-67. They’re 5-2 in the big dance the last two years.
“We’re really proud of that,” Dayton junior point guard Scoochie Smith said. “We’re trying not to stop the streak. After this year, we’ll try to do it again next year. We’re always trying to make historical legacies and leave a legacy here.”
It’s a rematch of a second-round game the Flyers won 55-53 in Buffalo in 2014 on their way to the Elite Eight.
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Syracuse (19-13) ranked 71st in the RPI and lost five of its last six games. ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb said on the selection show he didn’t think the Orange should have made the tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi listed Syracuse as one of his “first four teams” out of the tournament.
Syracuse played nine games without coach Jim Boeheim, who was suspended for NCAA infractions. It was 4-5 in those games.
“I think that really impacted their team,” Miller said. “When you have a Hall of Fame coach who has been doing it for as long as he has, you could see where that could change things. As he’s come back, they’ve played very good ball. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The Dayton-Syracuse winner will play No. 2 Michigan State (29-5) or No. 15 Middle Tennessee State (24-9) on Sunday. The Big Ten champion Spartans, who many experts thought would get a No. 1 seed, have played in the Sweet 16 four years in a row and seven times in the last eight years under coach Tom Izzo. The Spartans would be a monumental challenge for the Flyers if they get past Syracuse.
“I think it’s hard to win any game in the tournament,” Miller said. “I bet you if you asked coach Izzo, he’s probably concerned with his opponent. The key is to win one. If you win one, anything can happen. I think we’ve shown that. Anything can happen in this tournament. I think this is going to be a crazy tournament, but you never want to see Michigan State in the NCAA tournament. I don’t care who you are.”
Playing in the Midwest Region gives the Flyers the chance to play, if they can win two games, in the Sweet 16 in Chicago, home of juniors Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis and Bradley transfer Josh Cunningham, who’s sitting out this season. Senior Bobby Wehrli is from nearby Naperville, Ill.
“Me and Kendall were talking about it,” Davis said. “We know it would be an exciting feeling, but we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”