The No. 11 Dayton Flyers remain the lowest seeded team left in the NCAA Tournament, and in order to extend their incredible run they’ll have to beat the No. 1 overall seed and senior-laden Florida Gators in Saturday’s West Region Elite Eight matchup in Memphis.
Already upending favored in-state rival No. 6 Ohio State, followed by No. 3 Syracuse and fellow darling No. 10 Stanford, the Flyers and head coach Archie Miller are gunning for the second Final Four in program history. Dayton’s first, last and so far only Final Four appearance was way back in 1967 when it fell to storied UCLA in the national title game.
While Elite Eight air is fresh and new to Dayton, Billy Donovan and the Gators reached their fourth straight regional final after sending UCLA packing in the Sweet 16. However senior backcourt mates and leading scorers Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbkein haven’t tasted the Final Four during their careers. Florida last reached the Final Four in 2007 when it captured the second of its back-to-back championships.
Florida is presently riding the nation’s longest winning streak of 29 games, and in the tournament they’ve posted an average winning margin of 13 points in three games. But that doesn’t make the Gators invincible from the newly formed giant killers in Dayton.
In the second round Florida needed all 48 minutes to put away No. 16 seed Albany, which kept the game close with solid rebounding and by forcing 10 turnovers.
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In contrast Dayton didn’t shoot better than 43 percent in their first two tournament victories, and actually committed 27 total turnovers against the Buckeyes and Orangemen. What’s really helped the Flyers has been a solid bench led by senior Vee Sanford and freshman Kendall Pollard.
Sanford was the hero in the Ohio State win, coming off the bench for eight points and four rebounds as well as the game-winning layup. He would do it again versus Syracuse, upping the totals to 10 points, three assists and two steals.
Pollard would lead the Flyers bench in scoring against Stanford’s massive frontline with 12 points, and Sanford came up with five key rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Saturday’s winner moves on to face either No. 4 Michigan State or No. 7 Connecticut in the national semifinal in Arlington, Texas next weekend.
Time: Saturday, 6:09 p.m. EST
Betting Odds: Florida -10
Over/Under: 132.5 points
Prediction: Florida over Dayton 70-58