The Dayton Flyers and the Tennessee Volunteers are the last Cinderellas standing in the NCAA Tournament. Both are no. 11 seeds, but most people see Dayton as the bigger underdog. Yet others would argue that Tennessee is every bit the upstart. A compelling argument exists for either.
Both finished their respective non-league campaigns with similar results.The Dayton Flyers finished 10-3 out of conference with strong wins over Gonzaga, Cal and Ole Miss, while Tennessee finished 9-4 with victories over Xavier, Wake Forest and Virginia among their notables. Both landed near the middle of pack in terms of conference standings as well. The Flyers ended up tied with UMass for fourth place in the Atlantic 10 at 10-6 and the Volunteers finished SEC play in fourth place with a record of 11-7.
And the similarities, at least as far as credentials, don’t end there. Dayton’s invite to the party, like UT’s, is almost hard to figure. Their RPI’s were essentially the same, with Dayton finishing with the 42nd ranked schedule and the Vols just above them in the 41st spot. The Dayton Flyers had a couple, aforementioned, solid non-conference wins, but they only topped one of three ranked opponents they faced in then no. 11 Gonzaga. They did finish the season white-hot, taking 10 of their last twelve, ending with a heart-breaking loss to St. Joe’s in the A-10 title game, but arguably more accomplished teams were snubbed.
Tennessee’s run of five straight conference wins also ended in the conference championship game, but they lost narrowly to the NCAA Tournament’s overall top seed Florida, who they had the misfortune of going up against three times this season. This clearly helped their cause. Not enough in the eyes of the Selection Committee to garner an at-large bid, but a bid nonetheless. The Vols also only faced three ranked opponents on the season, but came away with losses each time and were, by all appearances, one of those teams that would have their bubbles burst on Selection Sunday. Somehow, though, both are on the door step of the Elite 8 when both looked to be N.I.T. shoe-ins.
Dayton and Tennesee may be Cinderellas this seasons, but both have tasted NCAA Tournament success. In 14 appearances, the Dayton Flyers have reached seven Sweet 16’s, three Elite 8’s, and one Final 4, losing to UCLA in the 1967 National Championship game. Tennessee, meanwhile has reached the Sweet 16 seven times (4 in the past 7 years) and the Elite 8 once in 2010.
The case for the bigger Cinderella could be as simple as the Atlantic 10 versus the SEC. Although the A-10 has produced some standout basketball, the SEC holds much more weight, producing three of the last eight national champions. And having to face Kentucky and Florida in four games made for a more treacherous conference slate than the Dayton Flyers having to battle St. Louis and VCU for the top of the A-10. March Madness Cinderellas have always been about the little guy from the little conference squaring off against impossible odds—the Kentuckys, the Dukes, the Arizonas, the Floridas. Dayton fits that mold much better, even this year.
Commentary by By Rick Sarlat
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