This is just the most anticipated game for the University of Dayton in thirty years, no big deal. From 1-5 in the Atlantic Ten to a trip to the Sweet 16, this has been a bizarre season of unmatched highs and lows. A program that is no stranger to losing buzzer-beaters, the Flyers have been the benefactors of two near misses, a runner from Aaron Craft and a jumper from the top of the key by Tyler Ennis, that have propelled them into the second week of the NCAA tournament for the first time in thirty years.
After close victories over Ohio’s Wal-Mart of higher education and a program that plays its home games in an airplane hangar, the Flyers now face one of the nation’s premier academic universities. A school 98% of UD students couldn’t get into, a university where English is the third language. The cultural contrast between Stanford and Dayton could not be greater, but both programs share a commonality as the last vestige of “Cinderella” in this tournament. No one would have thought Dayton or Stanford would be in a position to play for a realistic chance at the Final Four, but here we are.
It seems absurd to type this sentence, but I am going to be disappointed if the Flyers can’t get past the Cardinal and continue on to the Elite Eight. To the fucking Elite Eight. After advancing past two clubs that, at least on paper, were prohibitive favorites, Dayton finally faces not only a team that it matches up well with, but one in which a victory won’t come as a surprise.
Johnny Dawkins began the season on the hot seat. The former Duke assistant, the kiss of coaching death, entered his sixth season at Stanford with no NCAA tournament bids and a below .500 record in PAC12 play (Dawkins’ record in conference play now stands at 49–59, which even at this juncture is not exactly encouraging). Dawkins likely loses his job if the Cardinal doesn’t make the tournament field, and here he is in the Sweet 16. You have to feel for Stanford fans, they were this close to getting rid of Dawkins and now there isn’t a workable scenario that will allow them to do so.
Dawkins’ contract runs through the 2015-16 season, but Muir had given Dawkins an ultimatum after a disappointing 2012-13 season: Get to the Big Dance or else.
Dawkins did, but there are still many Stanford boosters who are not sold on his recruiting or his coaching. Muir doesn’t agree.
“We wanted to be on an upward trend and get to the tournament,” Muir said. “We filled those goals, and we’re excited about the future, especially with the guys we have coming back and the guys we have coming in. I think we have a chance to be really good.”
The Cardinal put together a decent season, finishing 21-12 (10-8) with 7 wins over RPI top 100 competition. However, Dawkins’ club did get fat on sub-par competition, winning 14 games against sub-100 RPI teams, with 6 of those victories coming at the expense of sub-200 RPI squads. Stanford played 13 teams in this year’s tournament field, going 9-9 in those matchups.
Stanford is a middle-of-the-road team in every way imaginable offensively. As a team, the Cardinal is shooting 46/37/70 on the season. They play a moderate pace, averaging around 68 possessions per game, and turn the ball over an average of just eleven times a contest.
Defensively, Stanford has plenty of length across their lineup and pack it in deep around the basket (the Cardinal starters go 6’2″, 6’6″, 6’7″, 6’10” and 6’11”). Not a great rebounding team, and not the type of team that causes turnovers with pressure, Dawkins’ team essentially forces you to knock down shots from the perimeter. UD would be wise to push the pace and challenge the Cardinal with penetration, as Stanford only goes about eight deep and has two foul-prone big men in their starting lineup.
Meet and Greet
Junior guard Chasson Randle (18.7 ppg/3.5 rpg) is dat dude for Stanford. Randle is the team’s leading scorer and will more than likely go all forty minutes for the Cardinal. 6’6″ guard Anthony Brown (12.5 ppg/5.0 rpg) partners Randle in Stanford’s backcourt. Brown is the Cardinal’s most accurate three-point shooter, hitting 45% of his attempts,
6’11” junior center Stefan Nastic is a space-eater in the middle. Although not an offensive threat through the regular season, Nastic is averaging ten points on 9-0f-11 shooting in the tournament. 6’10” senior Dwight Powell (13.9 ppg/6.8 rpg/3.1 apg) is Stanford’s best all-around player and joined Randle as a PAC12 first-team selection (which oddly has ten members). Josh Huestis, a 6’7″ senior, averages 11. 1 points per game and leads the team with 8.2 boards a game.
John Gage (3.3 ppg/1.5 rpg) is a 6’10” three-point specialist off the bench — 78% of his attempts are from behind the arc. Robbie Lemons and Marcus Allen are utilized primarily to give the Cardinal backcourt a quick breather.
There’s no way we can go against UD at this point. Stanford’s defense will allow plenty of good looks for UD, hopefully the Flyers knock down some shots early. The Cardinal are merely average on the boards, an area the Flyers hopefully exploit. I’d expect Archie to instruct his team to get out in transition as often as possible. Stanford gets almost nothing from its bench and lacks the ability to effectively pressure its opponents defensively. Limiting Randle is essential to a Dayton victory, and I’d expect the Flyers to throw multiple defenders at him all night. The Cardinal run a version of the triangle offense, and rarely take a poor shot. Defensively, Stanford may throw in a little zone to keep the Flyers on their heels. The Cardinal will not hurt themselves and Dayton needs to limit their mistakes.
Bottom line, UD comes away with a convincing victory, the Ghetto burns and I, and the rest of you greaseballs, will freak the fuck out until Saturday. GO FLYERS.
Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o' D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.