March Madness is the most interesting sporting event on the planet. It brings together so many teams and players that would never square off unless they are part of the lucky 68 to make the cut. On March 20-21, teams from all over the country will clash in preordained stadiums to whittle the field to 32 teams. The bubble watch is over; it is time for the greatest sports spectacle to begin.
Davids will face Goliaths. East Coast will meet West Coast. North will match up against South. Upstarts will try to unseat the old guard. Or, in the case of the Dayton Flyers and Ohio State Buckeyes, two neighbors will be dueling for state supremacy.
Other than being located 75 miles apart in Ohio, the two schools have no similarities. OSU has 63,000 students; Dayton has 11,000. The Buckeyes have a $3.1 billion endowment and a national fanbase. Dayton has a $415 million endowment, and the average American probably thinks Dayton is in Florida somewhere. Thousands of people seem to hate Aaron Craft; the same thousands would need to use a lifeline to name one Dayton starter.
However, none of this will matter when Dayton and Ohio State meet in the second round of the NCAA tournament on March 20. All things will be equal at tipoff. The Flyers (23-10) and Buckeyes (25-9) will meet in Buffalo, NY as two teams that made the field because of a great body of work throughout the season. The Big 10 and Atlantic 10 each have six representatives in the tournament, so any comparison of schedule strength is tenuous.
In a game of the Flyers’ high-octane offense versus the Buckeyes’ stingy defense, I predict that Dayton will provide one of the first upsets of the tournament. The Flyers are no. 98 in the country in points per game with 73.4; Ohio State is no. 208 with 69.8. Conversely, Ohio State is no. 12 in the country in points allowed with 59.8; Dayton is no. 112 with 67.6. These statistics indicate a close game that will turn on intangibles.
Those intangibles will be the massive chip on the shoulder of the Flyers players. Dayton will come into the game sick and tired of the foregone conclusion talk. The Flyers took down another no. 6 seed, the UMass Minutemen, on March 1. They have beaten the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Saint Louis Billikens twice and only lost to the Baylor Bears by one point. Dayton is no “little brother.”
In Buffalo, NY, there will be no fan advantages. Even in Dayton, the Flyers would be outnumbered by a considerable margin. It is no secret that the Buckeyes own Ohio, but that will not be a factor on Thursday. There will be no red, white and gray gauntlets to run through prior to the game. Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver will not be shooting free throws with thousands of screaming Buckeyes fans distracting them.
While the Buckeyes have beaten their share of good opponents, six of their nine losses occurred away from Columbus. Couple that with looking ahead to Syracuse in round three, and you have the recipe for a letdown. One loose ball, one turnover or one play where the intensity level of the Flyers exceeds the Buckeyes’ resolve could make the difference in the game.
When the smoke clears on Thursday afternoon, the Flyers will take a close one from the Buckeyes and ruin plenty of brackets. They may not beat Syracuse, but the Flyers can walk taller in Ohio, even if it’s just for one summer.