The Dayton Flyers have been the Cinderella story of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and they showed the world they aren’t ready to let go quite yet by defeating the Stanford Cardinal 82-72 on Thursday night in the Sweet 16. The win advanced Dayton to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament, and showed why the Flyers have as good a chance as any team to become national champions.
From start to finish, it was clear that Dayton was the better all-around team, as its incredible depth allowed it to attack Stanford head on with no fear. On this night, the Flyers saw nine different players log at least 10 minutes of playing time, and they had 11 players score at least two points, while the Cardinal only saw seven players for 10 minutes or more and six score at least two points. Sure, Jordan Sibert got hot shooting the ball early and ended up with 19 points on the night, but it realistically seemed that Dayton could have won without him scoring a single point.
This depth discrepancy became particularly important as Stanford was hamstrung early by Scoochie Smith getting into foul trouble. Furthermore, it allowed Dayton to continuously pressure the ball without fear of getting fatigued, and played a huge part in Stanford only shooting 37.9% from the field and going 5-of-22 from behind the three-point line. This continued a lingering trend in the NCAA Tournament, as Dayton has beaten teams by attrition rather than attempting to fight them in a head-on battle for 40 minutes.
As the NCAA Tournament continues to progress, it is utterly clear that no one player remains who is especially likely to take over a game for any team. This plays perfectly into the hands of the Flyers, who have now used at least 11 players in each of their tournament games, and should have confidence using this many players against the likes of Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Louisville or Michigan State as they approach the Elite 8 and quite possibly the Final 4.
After taking down Ohio State, Syracuse and now Stanford during the NCAA Tournament it would be hard to bet against Dayton, and I for one will not be making that mistake again. So, in what is a bit of an oddity, Dayton must be considered as much of a favorite as any team to win the 2014 NCAA Tournament.