Tournament berth would ‘feel like a million dollars’ for Dayton Flyers

UD will learn its fate on NCAA selection show Sunday night

Vee Sanford, a star in March three years ago this month for the Dayton Flyers, provided a theme of sorts for a team hoping to hear its name called on Selection Sunday for the fourth straight season.

“It don’t matter what we seed,” Sanford wrote Saturday on Twitter. “We get in, we will bring hell.”

Sanford moved up to the top basketball league in Germany earlier this month. He’s playing for Wurzburg. In his first four games, he has averaged 9.3 points.

In 2014, in Buffalo, N.Y., and Memphis, Tenn., the attitude Sanford wrote about carried the Flyers to tournament victories against Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford. The next season, Dayton beat Boise State in the First Four and Providence in Columbus.

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Last season, the Flyers slumped down the stretch. Nothing changed with a fresh start in the NCAA Tournament. No. 7 seed Dayton lost 70-51 to No. 10 seed Syracuse in the first round in St. Louis.

A year later, the Flyers (24-7) expect to hear their name called on the selection show Sunday. It begins at 5:30 p.m. on CBS and lasts 90 minutes.

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In his latest bracket projection Saturday, Jerry Palm, of CBS Sports, predicted Dayton will get a No. 8 seed and play No. 9 Southern California in Salt Lake City, Utah. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and Sports Illustrated’s Michael Beller both predicted the NCAA will give Dayton a No. 9 seed and match it up with the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes in Buffalo.

When it secures a tournament berth, Dayton can then continue the process of forgetting its last two games: an 87-81 loss at George Washington in the regular-season finale March 4 and a 73-67 loss to Davidson in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament in Pittsburgh on Friday.

“Think of it as moving on to the next play, the next game,” sophomore forward Xeyrius Williams said. “Just keep an open mind and be ready to bounce back.”

Senior point guard Scoochie Smith said they couldn’t afford to dwell on the losses. The possibility of the winningest class in UD history ending its careers with three straight losses ought to be motivation enough next week.

“Be ready for the next one,” he said. “Forget about this one.”

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Dayton (24-7) had not lost back-to-back games since November. It has not lost three games in a row since the seniors were freshmen in the Elite Eight season of 2013-14. That team lost four straight in A-10 play in January.

“We don’t dwell on losing,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “We dwell on improvement, and we have another opportunity. The next one is a fresh start, man. It’s going to feel like a million dollars. There’s nothing like the tournament. Nothing like having your name called. These guys (Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis and Kendall Pollard) will go for the fourth time in their career.

“So they will be excited to play, but at the end of the day, you know, our desperation, our toughness, some of the things that got us here, they are just not as intact, and it’s hard to get back sometimes. But we’ll work at it. We don’t really worry about losing this time of year. You’re worried about finding a way to get one more win, and that’s what we’ll do.”

Dayton’s defense continues to be its biggest liability. Jack Gibbs scored 34 points against Dayton on Friday at PPG Paints Arena. In Dayton’s previous game, George Washington’s Tyler Cavanaugh scored 30.

Dayton has faced double-digit deficits in four of its last six games. The Flyers won two of those and overcame the deficit against Davidson only to lose by giving up three 3-pointers in the final two minutes.

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Dayton has not enjoyed a double-digit lead since its Senior Night victory against Virginia Commonwealth when it led by 14 points with 12:08 to play. Dayton did not lead at all against George Washington. It had two leads against Davidson for a total of 81 seconds.

The Flyers have made life hard on themselves with poor play in the first half. Miller can’t explain it. He pointed to a lack of focus. He has always said his team plays its best when its back is against the wall, when it has a chip on its shoulder.

“It seems like here of late, maybe the last couple weeks, the chip has not been there as much,” Miller said, ” because we’ve sort of gotten some things done here down the stretch that have given us a chance to sort of take a deep breath. Can’t do that. The tournament will put the edge back on you because some of these guys won’t play another game for us when it’s over.

“You hope it’s really focused in right now. They will be excited to go to work and prepare for the hardest game of the season, and that edge, that desperation to not want to be done, hopefully that will give us a little kick in the butt and give us another shot in the arm where we can get on a run.”

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