In what has to be the most improbable match-up of the entire NCAA Tournament, the No. 11 seed Dayton Flyers will meet the tenth-seeded Stanford Cardinal in the Sweet 16 Thursday for the right to move on to the Elite 8. Both teams shocked a more highly regarded side to advance to the round of 16. For Dayton, it was a thrilling 55-53 victory over the no. 2 seed Syracuse Orange and for Stanford, it was a nearly as heart-stopping upset of the second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks.
The Flyers followed their shocker over no. 6 seed Ohio State with an even more stunning win over second-seeded Syracuse Saturday. Orange freshman G Tyler Ennis had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but his deep three bounced off the back of the rim with four seconds left, bringing an end to one of the more memorable 2013-14 campaigns. Dayton may have been the beneficiary of missed game-winning shots in both its second and third round games this NCAA tournament, but they were in both wire to wire.
Against the Buckeyes, the Flyers were narrowly outdone from the floor 48.0 percent to 44.9 percent, and from outside the arc 25.0 percent to 23.1 percent, but a more telling stat is the 20-12 advantage in transition points Dayton came away with. The Flyers are 6-0 on the season when scoring 20 or more transition points. The Flyers had the upper hand from the field against Syracuse, but just barely. They connected on 41.3 percent from the floor to the Orange’s 38.9 percent. What happened beyond the arc, though, paints a clearer picture. Dayton hit 7 of 16 from distance, while Syracuse missed all ten of its three-point attempts.
Stanford’s two NCAA Tournament matchups were almost as exciting Dayton’s. Facing seventh-seeded New Mexico, the Cardinal squandered a 16-point advantage in the second half that nearly cost them the game. An early 20-4 first-half lead was trimmed to just five by the break and the Lobos would continue to threaten in the second, eventually tying the game at 45 at the midway point. The Cardinal answered, however, with stingy pressure defense that kept New Mexico to two field goals over the last 9:53 of the game.
Stanford employed the same stifling defense against no. 2 seed Kansas, holding the vaunted Jayhawk offense to 32.9 percent from the floor and 5 of 16 from outside the arc. Superstar Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins was stuffed, managing just 4 points on 1 of 6 shooting and second-leading scorer, sophomore F Perry Ellis was held to 9 points on 3 of 10 from the field.
Stanford has a scorer in junior G Chasson Randle that averaged 18.9 ppg on the season, but he was held in check against Kansas and went away in a few big games this year. Dayton is also a bit of a mystery. They like to get up and down the floor and score in transition. That much is known. But the Flyers don’t seem to have a lot in the way of scorers. Junior G Jordan Siberet was the team’s leading scorer on the season with 12.4 ppg, but he scored 9 points against Ohio State and 10 against Syracuse. All that said, Dayton vs. Stanford is a puzzling NCAA Tournament matchup. What is certain, though, is that one of these teams will be in the final eight and that in itself makes for entertaining viewing.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat