You see, I am a native of the Gem City and a very proud graduate of the University of Dayton. If you're reading this, it's likely your Ohio State fandom is your No. 1 sports passion. For me, it's Flyer hoops above all else.
So while Ohio State athletics is a big part of my job as a writer and the sole designer for Columbus Sports Publications, which publishes Buckeye Sports Bulletin and Reds Report, there is no conflict for me. I'll be in red and blue on Thursday.
You know how Nelly's "Hot In Herre" has been repeating on a California radio station this weekend? The UD fight song is going to be blaring at BSB World Headquarters this week.
I've been asked to give a scouting report of sorts on the Dayton Flyers by BSB editor Jeff Svoboda, so here's what you need to know before tipoff.
Season Overview: Dayton seasons tend to follow the same pattern. The Flyers will upset some "BCS" conference schools in the early portion of the season, lose a couple of head-scratchers and stumble to around a .500 mark in Atlantic 10 play. That combination produces life on the bubble, which is Dayton fandom in a nutshell.
This was another year on the bubble, but it didn't entirely fit the pattern because of the finish (notoriously not a strength for the Flyers). UD opened the season needing a buzzer-beating three-pointer to get past the mighty Mastodons of IPFW before completing a solid nonconference slate that included road/neutral-site wins over Georgia Tech (and former UD head coach Brian Gregory), Gonzaga, California and Ole Miss.
Dayton ended the nonconference schedule with a 12-3 record, which was stellar except for the fact that two of the losses were bad ones – at Illinois State (RPI: 131) and vs. USC (RPI: 168). Those losses made the margin of error appear slim heading into conference play.
Then the opening of Atlantic 10 play was a dumpster fire. The Flyers went a paltry 1-5 to start the league slate and the NCAA Tournament looked like a pipe dream. They even added another albatross of a loss during that stretch by losing at Rhode Island (RPI: 147).
But something happened when the calendar switched to February. I don't know what it was, but something changed, and Dayton won 10 of its last 12 games. Among those wins were triumphs over NCAA Tournament teams George Washington, UMass and Saint Louis – the latter two coming in March.
UD ended the A-10 season with a solid 10-8 mark and apparently did more than enough to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament after being bounced in the conference tournament. It should be noted that in my humble opinion, Dayton would have won the tournament if not for a blatant push-off/travel combo that allowed St. Joseph's (the eventual A-10 tourney champ) to knock off the Flyers in the final seconds of their quarterfinal matchup. In fact, the Hawks were the only team to beat UD in February/March.
I admit to being nervous yet cautiously optimistic heading into today. I thought UD would make the tournament, but I was fully expecting an 11 or 12 seed and a berth in the play-in game this week. I guess the committee liked UD's résumé, which included a RPI of 44 with four top-50 wins and a 10-7 record against top-100 foes. The Flyers also went 10-6 away from UD Arena.
The Sibert Factor: Yes, there are many storylines and links between the Flyers and Buckeyes, but none appear more interesting than Jordan Sibert.
The former Buckeye has found a home at my alma mater. The junior has appeared comfortable and has been a big contributor. Remember the IPFW escape I mentioned? Sibert saved the season.
He leads Dayton in scoring (12.5 points per game) and is UD's best outside shooting threat (43.9 percent from beyond the arc). I admit to a running joke I have with my wife (a fellow UD grad). Whenever we see Sibert do something great, I'll just say, "Thanks, Ohio State!" I hope I get to say it often on Thursday.
Oliver & Company: Sibert is obviously the most notable Flyer to Ohio State fans, but UD has a solid roster around him. I don't know a Dayton fan who doesn't have good things to say about Devin Oliver. A senior from my wife's hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich., Oliver is the glue of the team. I kind of equate him to Aaron Craft – a very likable player if he's playing for your team who will do whatever the team needs.
The 6-7, 225-pound forward averages 12.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, the latter figure a team lead. He does, however, have a tendency to get ice cold from the field and sometimes he tries too hard. If the shots fall early for Oliver, the Flyers will be in business.
Joining Sibert and Oliver in the starting lineup are sophomore guard Khari Price, sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre and fifth-year senior center Matt Kavanaugh. Pierre is the third Flyer that averages double figures in scoring at 11.1 points per game – a very solid young player. Price is another long-range threat that could hurt Ohio State, as he shoots 40.7 percent from beyond the arc. As for Kavanaugh, who missed last season when he was suspended from the university stemming from an off-the-court issue, he's been solid but I wouldn't be shocked if he struggles against Amir Williams/Trey McDonald.
Georgetown transfer Vee Sanford is UD's sixth man. One of only three scholarship seniors on the roster (joining Oliver and Kavanaugh), Sanford had a good A-10 tournament run. He led UD in its A-10 tourney win against Fordham by shooting 9 for 9 from the field for 23 points.
Jalen Robinson and Devin Scott (Columbus Northland products) and Scoochie Smith (the best name on the team by far) all average more than 10 minutes per game off the bench. UD is a fairly deep team, but really Sibert, Oliver and Pierre are the ones who make things happen.
Little Brothers: Former OSU assistant Archie Miller is the third-year head coach for the Flyers. It's taken him a little bit of time to get some traction, but Miller is starting to grow into a solid coach. Gregory had success at Dayton, including leading UD to its first NCAA Tournament win since 1990 in 2009 (I was there!), but he was a frankly poor in-game coach. Miller is better. I'm sure he has higher aspirations than coaching the Flyers, but for as long as UD has him I'm happy he's there. I know he and Matta talk from time to time, and neither team is going to be an unknown to the other.
There's also a Little Brother element to Dayton and Ohio State. I know UD would love to play Ohio State in the regular season, and I'm 100 percent sure Dayton fans want it. But I also know it's not in the cards because how would it help OSU to play any in-state team and possibly lose? So there's definitely a slighted feeling that some UD fans have. I understand why they don't play, but there are a ton of UD fans who would love nothing more than to knock off the mighty Buckeyes.
Not Afraid: Dayton is not Iona, Loyola (Md.), UT San Antonio or UC Santa Barbara. Those former OSU opening-round opponents might have been overwhelmed by playing a "big conference" foe. UD won't be.
I'll conclude this what-was-supposed-to-be brief preview with a list of "major" schools UD has beaten in the last six seasons:
2008-09: Auburn (60-59 in OT, neutral site), Marquette (89-75, neutral), West Virginia (68-60, NCAA Tournament)
2009-10: Georgia Tech (63-59, neutral site), at Cincinnati (81-66, NIT), at Illinois (77-71, NIT), Ole Miss (68-63, NIT at MSG), North Carolina (79-68, NIT at MSG)
2010-11: at Ole Miss (78-71 in OT), at Seton Hall (69-65)
2011-12: Wake Forest (80-76, neutral site), Minnesota (86-70, neutral), Alabama (74-62, home game), Ole Miss (62-50, home)
2012-13: Boston College (87-71, neutral site), Auburn (73-63, neutral), at Alabama (81-76)
2013-14: at Georgia Tech (82-72), California (82-64, neutral site), at Ole Miss (83-80 in OT)