By Colin Foster
The University of Dayton Flyers were considered a “bubble team” by some NCAA men’s basketball analysts as selection Sunday approached.
“I was sitting there on selection Sunday when the bracket was about to come out ready to buy my ticket for the play-in game,” said Todd Schilling, a UD graduate who was a cheerleader at the school during the Flyers’ NIT title season in 2010.
But Dayton, the so called “bubble team,” would be given an 11 seed in the South region by the selection committee and earn a date with The Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the NCAA Tournament … and the Cinderella story began.
Vee Sanford’s floater over Ohio State’s Aaron Craft with 3.8 seconds left in regulation helped the Flyers pull off a dramatic 60-59 upset over sixth-seeded Buckeyes last Thursday — the first time a school from Ohio had beaten the Buckeyes in NCAA tourney play since Cincinnati did it in the 1962 National Championship game. Two days later, the Flyers outlasted third-seeded Syracuse — a team that had been No. 1 in the AP poll for a chunk of the season — for a 55-53 win.
In the blink of an eye, Dayton went from “bubble team” to the Sweet 16. It is the first time the school has reached the Sweet 16 since 1984 — which has left the UD campus, the city and many proud alums in a fanatic frenzy on the brink of the Flyers matchup with No. 10-seed Stanford Cardinal at 7:15 p.m. Thursday on CBS in the Memphis Fed Ex Forum.
“It’s probably one of the greatest feelings ever, especially having the connection to being on the court the whole season with the team and really getting to know the atmosphere,” said Schilling, who grew up in Troy before graduating from Butler High School. “I’d like to say they could go all the way, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
As you may imagine, the UD campus turned into a madhouse after the Flyers’ historic win Saturday night.
Hundreds of students blocked the streets in the areas around UD student housing minutes after the victory. Police from UD, Dayton, Oakwood, Brookville, Vandalia, Kettering, Miami Township, Huber Heights, Five Metro Parks, Sinclair, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio State Highway patrol all responded to the celebratory chaos. Even Dayton president Dan Curran got involved in the action — crowd-surfacing over an excited student body.
And of course, proud alums who couldn’t attend the on-campus celebration — along with basketball fans from all over the country, including the White House — were showing the Flyers love on Twitter and Facebook.
Brooks Hall, a Troy High School basketball standout in the late 1990s who went on to play for UD, knows all about the atmosphere around Dayton come tournament time. Hall, who had a career scoring average of 11.4 points per game, played on two Dayton teams that reached the NCAA Tournament, but both ended in first-round losses.
“Dayton is a basketball community,” said Hall, who currently resides in Beavercreek and works for Montgomery County Developmental Disability Services. “When this time rolls around, you can really feel it in the atmosphere — everybody is talking about brackets. When I was playing, everybody was hoping we could make a run and put something big together, but we didn’t. This (run) is huge because of all the national exposure that comes with it— it really puts Dayton on the map.”
Hall has remained an avid watcher of Dayton basketball following his playing career. Hall said he attends practices on occasion and spends a lot of time around the team, and he also helps out with the “Flyer Feedback” postgame broadcast. He credited coach Archie Miller with doing a great job of getting the players to buy into the system. Dayton recently signed Miller to an extension through the 2018-19 season. His 62 victories in three seasons are the fifth-best in school history.
“I’m a big fan of Archie Miller — and I have been since he’s been here,” Hall said.
Should the Flyers advance, they would meet the winner of the Florida-UCLA game on Saturday evening in the regional final. According to the CBS Sports website, only 3.1 percent of the brackets filled out had Dayton in the Sweet 16.
“Every year the nation kind of adopts an underdog,” Hall said. “I mean, you see it every year, whether it’s VCU or Florida Gulf Coast, there is always that team that the nation pulls for — and it seems to be UD this year. I’m really proud of them and what they’ve been able to do. I’ve got a lot of Flyer pride.”