Dayton makes a statement with win over No. 17 Saint Louis
A bubble team's season is filled with inflection points. After all, to land on the bubble, a team needs to be good enough to be considered for the NCAA tournament, but shaky enough to not be a sure thing. There will be ups and there will be downs. All a bubble-riding squad can hope for is that it produces more of the former.
Dayton has been no different than any bubble team in this regard. By time the Flyers traveled to Saint Louis to take on the Billikens on Wednesday, it had endured a roller-coaster season. Their first inflection point came when it beat then-No. 11 Gonzaga on a neutral court, their first signal that they could hang with tournament-worthy teams this year. The next came when they lost to Illinois State and USC, two teams that rank well outside the top 100 in RPI, in the space of two weeks. Inflection point No. 3 occurred when Dayton lost five of its first six Atlantic 10 games, and looked like a team that would, at best, go to the NIT.
The Flyers' seasons started to turn around immediately thereafter, creating inflection point No. 4, as they ripped off seven wins in eight games, including victories over George Washington and Massachusetts. They looked like they needed one more big win, and one more inflection point, to earn an at-large bid. They got both on Wednesday.
Trailing by five points with less than eight minutes left in the game, the Flyers went on a 16-2 run in just more than four minutes and held on for a 72-67 win over the now-reeling No. 17 Billikens. Jordan Sibert led the Flyers with 14 points, while Dyshawn Pierre had 11 and Jalen Robinson had 10. Sibert and Robinson keyed the run, combining for 11 of the 18 points, including three buckets from behind the arc. Saint Louis had multiple opportunities to tie, but Rob Loe and Jake Barnett each missed threes in the waning seconds, and free throws by Sibert put the game on ice and, most likely, the Flyers into the field of 68.
Just eight days ago, the Billikens were 12-0 in the A-10 and appeared to have the regular season conference championship all but sewed up. They've now lost three straight games, and while they still hold a one-game lead over Saint Joseph's for the regular season crown, they have much bigger problems to confront. Their strength of schedule ranks 72nd in the country. Before their current slide, they earned credit for having lost to just Wichita State and Wisconsin. When that was the case, they deserved the benefit of the doubt. Now that they have a loss to a bubble team like Dayton and a Duquesne team ranked nearly 200th in RPI, the selection committee will likely bump them down a few seed lines. It doesn't get any easier with a road date against Massachusetts looming in the season finale on Sunday. Even if they win the A-10 tournament, they may only get two more games, including Sunday, against top-50 teams. What once looked like a potential No. 3 or 4 seed may now be a No. 5 or 6 in a best-case scenario. Wednesday night was all about the Flyers. They're now 4-5 against the RPI top 50 and 8-6 against the top 100, with the win in Saint Louis supported by neutral-court victories over Gonzaga and California. There are no guarantees for bubble teams, and a few more unforeseen inflection points could be in the Flyers' future. For now, though, the next most likely inflection point will be when they hear their name called on Selection Sunday.