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'We've got to flush it': Dayton gets fresh start in NCAA tournament after early exit from A-10 tournament

Mar. 19—Every year during the postseason, the Dayton Flyers debut new T-shirts they wear in pregame warm-ups. In 2021, the shirts read, "Just Us Flyers," on the front. In 2022, they read, "Ball In" with the "All" in ball shaded in a different color. They read, "Dayton Sole," in 2023.

Last week at the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, UD wore new T-shirts that read, "Dayton Energy." They didn't get to use them for long before being ousted by Duquesne, 65-57 in the quarterfinals.

Duquesne had more energy than anyone at the Barclays Center, winning four games in five days to claim its first A-10 championship since 1977. Dayton had to wait three more days to get a new jolt of energy, but that's exactly what the NCAA tournament Selection Show provided.

The Flyers have new life after hearing their name called Sunday. The disappointment they felt in Brooklyn, N.Y, faded as they started to prepare for the Big Dance.

"We've got to flush it," forward DaRon Holmes II said Sunday. "We're 0-0. That wasn't Dayton basketball. We're going to go out there and show what Dayton basketball is."

Dayton flew home from Brooklyn on Friday and returned to the court for practice on Sunday. They'll fly to Salt Lake City on Tuesday. The eight teams playing at the Delta Center will each get time on the court Wednesday.

No. 7 seed Dayton (24-7) plays No. 10 Nevada (26-7) in the first round at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The game starts at 2:30 in the Mountain Time Zone.

The other games in Salt Lake City are:

—No. 2 Arizona (25-8) vs. No. 15 Long Beach State (21-14), 2 p.m. (EST).

—No. 5 Gonzaga (25-7) vs. 12 McNeese State (30-3), 7:25 p.m. (EST)

—No. 4 Kansas (22-10) vs. No. 13 Samford (29-5), 9:55 p.m. (EST).

The Dayton-Nevada winner will play Arizona or Samford on Saturday. The Saturday winner will advance to the Sweet 16 in the West Regional, which will be held at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.

Dayton could travel the same path it took in the 1984 tournament. It beat LSU and Oklahoma at the Special Events Center in Salt Lake City. That arena, on the University of Utah campus, is now called the Jon M. Huntsman Center. The Delta Center, home of the Utah Jazz, is 4 1/2 miles west in downtown Salt Lake City.

After two victories in Utah 40 years ago, Dayton then played at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, where it beat Washington before losing to Georgetown.

To advance even one round in this tournament, Dayton will have to play much better than it did in its last game. The Flyers posted their worst effective field-goal percentage of the season (39.0) against Duquesne. They shot a season-worst 37.5% from 2-point range and shot under 30% (26.9) from 3-point range for the seventh time this season.

Dayton also lost the rebounding battle 45-28. That was its largest negative margin in that category all season.

Guard Koby Brea wants Dayton to bring more physicality to the game this Thursday than it did last Thursday.

"We've just got to have the mindset that one loss will end everything for us," Brea said, "and we've got to take care of business."

Dayton has not lost back-to-back games all season. A loss Thursday would be its third straight first-round exit in the NCAA tournament. If it doesn't beat Nevada, by the time the 2025 tournament rolls around, Dayton will have gone 10 years without a NCAA tournament victory. Its last victories came in 2015 when it beat Boise State in the First Four and then Providence in the first round in Columbus.

"We've just got to lock in on our selves," guard Kobe Elvis said. "In this tournament, we're going to have to go back to our habits that we've built the entire year and since the beginning of summer. Honestly, if we go back and look at ourselves, we'll be fine."

Outside of Dayton, few are picking the Flyers to beat Nevada, though UD is a one-point favorite, according to the Las Vegas oddsmakers.

In The Athletic's guide to the West Regional, Brad Evans wrote, "Dayton stands at No. 40 in all-time wins; it's a school with a rich basketball history. However, the Flyers have one Sweet 16 appearance (2014) since the days when parachute pants were fashionable. Due to defensive inadequacies, turnover problems, absent depth and a relatively unchallenging schedule, they're unlikely to survive the first weekend, no matter how unrestrainable Holmes may be."

ESPN's Jay Bilas picked winners in every game from the First Four through the first round. He wrote Dayton "will be a tough out because it has a true star in Holmes and solid pieces around him" but he picked Nevada.

"The Mountain West has disappointed in past years," Bilas wrote, "but Nevada has a very good backcourt."

ESPN's Jeff Borzello picked Nevada to win 72-70. Mike DeCourcy, of The Sporting News, also picked Nevada.

Dayton has 75-1 odds to win the NCAA tournament, according to ESPN BET, 60-1 odds to make the Final Four and 15-1 odds to reach the Elite Eight.

Dayton last reached the Elite Eight in 2014 as a No. 11 seed. It was a No. 10 seed in 1984 when there were 12 seeds in each region. The Flyers were a No. 7 seed in 2017 when they last made the tournament and lost to No. 10 Wichita State in the first round.

If they make a run in this tournament, count Steven Ruiz, of The Ringer, as one of the early believers. He picked Dayton as a contender in the West Region.

"OK, I cheated again by taking another single-digit seed as a potential 'Cinderella,'" Ruiz wrote, "but I just wanted an excuse to talk about how cool this Dayton team is, and specifically DaRon Holmes II, the 6-foot-10 forward who leads the Flyers offense. Holmes is the college version of Domantas Sabonis. He operates out of the high post and sets up teammates with handoffs and sharp passes to cutters. He can step out and hit a 3 or shoot over shorter defenders on the block. When he's cooking down low and teams are forced to double, that opens up shots for his teammates. And Dayton is stacked with sharpshooters. There's Koby Brea, who ranks fourth in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage; Kobe Elvis, a shoo-in for the All-Name Team who shoots 37.5 percent from 3; and Nate Santos, a 42.7 percent shooter from deep. The Flyers can put the ball in the basket. I wasn't brave enough to take them over Arizona in my bracket, but if they do make a run, we'll be in for an entertaining tournament."