Dayton vs. Goliath: Four Keys to Slaying the Gators

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2014

Dayton is this tournament’s Cinderella, whether it welcomes that designation or not. As an afterthought 11-seed, the Flyers took down in-state rival Ohio State and its suffocating defense in the opening round, upended Syracuse and its sea of Orange in the round of 32, and then toppled Stanford, only slight favorites, on Thursday night. It’s been a surprising run to say the least. Still, this is not some out-of-nowhere program emerging from a one-bid league – Dayton has history, and the Atlantic 10 is among the better conferences in America – and the upsets, while upsets, haven’t really been inconceivable shockers. That could change tonight against Florida, the number-one overall seed and owners of the nation’s longest winning streak. The Gators are 10-point favorites in Vegas, 9-point, 84 percent favorites at KenPom, and very few pundits and prognosticators project them losing. So then, how can Archie Miller’s surprising bunch overcome the odds and pull off another one in Memphis? Let’s take a look.

They Flyers must be sharp tonight in order to keep the party alive. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Flyers must be sharp tonight in order to keep the party alive. (Photo: Getty Images)

  1. Attack in transition. It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that the smaller, less-talented team try running against the top dog. But there are two reasons why it makes sense here: The Flyers have the personnel to do damage on the run, and they cimply cannot allow Florida to set up its half-court defense with regularity. To the first point, Dayton is unique in that the majority of its players can push the ball up the floor, finish at the rim and shoot threes. As a result, transition scoring options are abundant – whether it’s shooting guard Vee Sanford or power forward Jalen Robinson – which allows for an effective attack even against higher level athletes. Since so many guys are competent ball-handlers, breaking the press and finding quick looks should be possible, and probably necessary, this evening – the Gators’ defense (while pretty great in all aspects) is especially stingy in the half-court. Once they slow you down, the SEC champs apply swarming double-teams, deny passing lanes and shut down the paint like few other teams in college hoops. UCLA was at its offensive best on Thursday when it ran the floor and attacked early in the shot clock, and Dayton will need to do much the same.
  2. Blanket Frazier, frustrate Wilbekin. As we saw Thursday night, much as we did throughout the regular season, Michael Frazier can get hot from behind the arc. Really hot. And when he does, Florida is able to bury opponents in the blink of an eye. Manageable deficits – four, six points – turn into insurmountable chasms, made especially difficult to overcome by the Gators’ bruising defense. UCLA was willing to surrender three-pointers in exchange for limiting looks in the paint, and Frazier made them pay: The sophomore shot 5-for-8 from distance, including three quick triples midway through the first half to give Florida its first and final lead. The Flyers must drape a defender over the sharpshooter at all times and not allow him to wiggle loose on ball-screens or penetrate-and-kicks. If that means less help defense or leaving other guys open for mid-range jumpers, so be it. Likewise, frustrating Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin – the team’s unequivocal leader and go-to late-game scorer – might also be necessary for a Dayton victory. A big reason the Bruins were able to hang around on Thursday was because 6’9’’ Kyle Anderson’s height and length gave the smaller Wilbekin problems – he scored just five points in the first 34 minutes. The Flyers would be well-served to follow that blueprint and throw some size at the Gators’ point man.
  3. Keep the bodies fresh. One of the prevailing narratives in Dayton’s Cinderella run has been the team’s ridiculously deep bench, its ability to send player after player onto the court and literally outman opponents. Against Stanford, Miller played 12 different guys. Against and Ohio State and Syracuse, he played 11. The Flyers cannot waiver from that game-plan against Florida, a team that will exploit fatigue with its quick motion and sharp offensive execution in the half-court. More fresh bodies means more energy on defense – faster rotations, active hands – and greater speed in transition. Offensively, Dayton doesn’t heavily rely on any one or two particular scorers each night, so shuffling players in-and-out probably won’t hinder production on that end of the court.
  4. Get hot from deep. If this one seems overly-simple or obvious, that’s because it is. All of the above ‘keys to winning’ will be moot if Dayton – which shoots a solid 37.5 percent from three – cannot hit shots. Florida has too much talent and executes too well on both ends of the court to defeat without capitalizing on open opportunities. The Flyers have numerous players who can hit from behind the arc, but it might take a guy like Jordan Sibert (43 percent on the season) catching fire in order for Miller’s club to actually win the game, much less hang around. While it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, the last two times an 11-seed advanced to the Final Four – George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011 – they were able to upend their top-seeded foes thanks largely to combined 21-for-43 shooting from distance.
Tommy Lemoine (249 Posts)

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