The Cinderella story of this year’s NCAA tournament has far and away been the 11th seeded Dayton Flyers. Their first round upset over heavily favored Ohio State really put them on the map in college basketball, while simultaneously busting millions of brackets before the tourney really even got started. While other first round surprises like Mercer, North Dakota State and Harvard had their dream rides come crashing down in the round of 32, Dayton proved their superiority to teams like these by pulling another shocker over third-seeded Syracuse.
Last night, they advanced to the elite eight with a win over Stanford. It is the sixth time in NCAA history that an 11 seed has made it this far, and the first trip to the elite eight for Dayton in 30 years. Next up for them are the beasts of the southeast; the number one seeded Florida Gators. They will square off Saturday night in a true David vs. Goliath matchup.
The Florida basketball team has a history with teams like Dayton. As many might remember, George Mason University had a historic run as an 11 seed back in 2006. They advanced all the way to the final four, and stole America’s heart in the process. Unfortunately for them, they met Florida in that final four matchup, and the Gators took care of business. They would go on to win the NCAA Championship that year.
Last year, 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast University faced Billy Donovan’s Gators in a sweet 16 matchup. They had been one of the most hyped Cinderella stories in recent memory, and their fan base grew large enough to rival Florida’s when they played. But once again, Florida put an end to their fairytale ride.
For this matchup, let’s take away the seeding for a moment. Dayton is playing at such a high level that they really should not be treated as a dark horse any longer. They have proven themselves as a legitimate threat to any team.
What has impressed me the most about the Flyers is their ball movement. In all three of their tournament wins, they have out-assisted their opponents.
The most comparable team to Florida that they have faced thus far is Syracuse. Similar to the Gators, they play aggressive zone defense, and have a supremely talented point guard in freshman Tyler Ennis. Dayton had 12 assists that game, compared to Syracuse’s four. If they could move the ball around this elite defense like clockwork, is it fair to assume they will do the same against Florida?
My feeling is that they will struggle in this regard. The difference? Syracuse sticks with their zone defense all game long, while Florida has the unique ability to switch between zone and man effortlessly. Dayton will find it more difficult than ever to get set on offense or find their rhythm because of this. Also, it is important to remember that the Gators have one of the most effective full-court presses in the nation. Look for them to utilize this off-and-on all game.
Another staggering weapon in the Flyers’ arsenal is their perimeter defense. Round after round they have been sealing off opponents’ three-point lines beautifully. They held Ohio State to just 3-13 shooting behind the arc, Syracuse to 0-10, and Stanford to 5-21. That is a collective shooting percentage of just 18%, quite the eye-opening statistic. If they continue their success defending the three, this presents a problem for Florida. The Gators have gone on unanswered scoring streaks of eight points or greater in every tournament game thus far, and outside shooting has played a large role in that. If Dayton takes away their ability to go on runs, things could get very tight very fast.
I fully expect a competitive game from start to finish. A win for Florida will hinge on whether or not they can disrupt Dayton’s ball movement, and whether or not they can create space on the perimeter, which would free up someone like Michael Frazier II to let loose. If they can find a way to operate as they usually do in these two areas, the clock just might strike midnight on Dayton’s Cinderella campaign.