In every edition of March Madness, the minute that a mid-major or relative unknown inevitably earns an upset win in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, the basketball world immediately labels the heroic underdog as a ”Cinderella” team fuelled by sheer drive and determination that somehow snuck into the Big Dance to do nothing more than selflessly display their love of the game.
While this approach fits nicely with the whole ”One Shining Moment” video montage, recognizing an intriguing matchup through all of the nonsense is one of our many jobs as college basketball fans, and when the Dayton Flyers take on the Stanford Cardinal in a Sweet 16 showdown with the victor advancing to the Elite 8, that’ exactly what we’ll get.
Far from an unknown, Dayton punched its ticket to the dance after posting an overall record of 25-10 that included a 10-6 mark within the conference. In the Flyers’ first game of the tournament, sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre (12 points), and senior Devin Oliver (11 points) led the Flyers to surprising 60-59 victory over Aaron Craft and the sixth-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes.
During the win, Dayton equalled its in-state rival in nearly every offensive category, including rebounds and turnovers, but made the difference at the charity stripe where the underdog shot 75.6 percent compared to the 66.7 percent shot by Ohio State.
The Flyers then faced another tough opponent when they squared off against Syracuse University in the round of 32, and behind a strong team effort, the Flyers earned a 55-53 win over Tyler Ennis and the Orangemen. As a group, Dayton shot 43.8 percent from behind the arc against a Syracuse squad that went 0-of-10 from long distance.
Stanford (23-12, 10-8), has a number of capable weapons on the offensive end, and outlasted the seventh-seeded New Mexico Lobos in its first tournament appearance behind 23 points from junior Chasson Randle. On their way to the victory, the Cardinal hit 53.3 percent of their 3-point attempts while limiting their opponents to a 19 percent clip from long range.
In its next game, Stanford slammed the door shut on the Kansas and any title hopes it had, holding Andrew Wiggins to just four points during the 60-57 win. Canadian Dwight Powell led the Cardinal with 15 points, and despite an 0-for-9 mark from 3-point land, Stanford hit over 44 percent from the field.
An unlikely pairing, Thursday’s meeting between these two programs is an example of just one of the many things that make this tournament so great. And while a Stanford win won’t be considered an upset, another victory from Dayton is sure to launch the Flyers into full-fledged Cinderella-hood.