Sixteen reasons the Dayton Flyers can make the Sweet 16

One of Alice in Chains’ most famous songs was “Rooster,” which includes lyrics that could describe Miller and his Flyers in the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.

“Ain’t found a way to kill me yet,” Alice in Chains sings. “Eyes burn with stinging sweat.”

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The Flyers (25-7) thrived as an underdog in 2014 and 2015, earning a No. 11 seed both years. This time, they’re a No. 7 seed playing No. 10 seed Syracuse (19-13) at 12:15 p.m. Friday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Las Vegas favors the Flyers by a point. FiveThirtyEight.com gives Dayton a 52 percent chance of winning their first game and an 11 percent chance of reaching the Sweet 16. KenPom.com gives UD a 45.3 percent chance of winning its first game and a 9.7 percent chance of advancing past the first weekend.

With five NCAA Tournament victories in two seasons, Dayton is no longer Cinderella. Everyone knows about the Flyers now — especially Syracuse, which lost 55-53 to Dayton in the second round in Buffalo two years ago.

“Typically, when we enter the tournament and play a team from a major conference, they see Dayton and sometimes they don’t have the edge they normally would have,” Miller said, “and that plays to our advantage. I don’t think we’ll have that this time around.”

Dayton lacks the advantage of surprise, but here are 16 reasons, in no particular order, it can reach the Sweet 16:

1. Fan support: It’s 361 miles from UD Arena to the Scottrade Center, home of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. That’s 42 miles closer than Buffalo, N.Y., where Dayton fans traveled in droves two years ago.

“It’s easy to get to,” Miller said. “We like those. It’s good for Flyer Nation. St. Louis is a great city. It’s a great venue. It’s going to be a lot of fun when they call our name and we run out there because I know what it’s going to feel like. It may not be UD Arena, but I think it’ll have a similar feel to what we had in Columbus (last March).”

2. Familiar city: Dayton has played a game in St. Louis every season since 2004, either at Chaifetz Arena, where the Saint Louis Billikens play, or the Scottrade Center, which used to be called the Savvis Center and Kiel Center. The Flyers are 4-4 all-time at the Scottrade Center and has won their last two games at Chaifetz.

3. ACC domination: The Flyers have won eight straight against teams from Syracuse’s conference, the Atlantic Coast. It has three victories against Georgia Tech (2009, 2013 and 2014) and one against Louisville (2007), North Carolina (2010), Wake Forest (2011), Boston College (2014) and Syracuse (2014).

4. Big Ten success: If Dayton beats Syracuse, it likely will play No. 2 seed Michigan State (29-5) in the second round Sunday. The Spartans play No. 15 Middle Tennessee State (24-9) in Friday’s second game at the Scottrade Center.

While Dayton would be a huge underdog against Michigan State, it can lean on the fact that it beat Iowa 82-77 on Nov. 26, and Iowa beat Michigan State twice in the regular season, 83-70 on Dec. 29 and 76-59 on Jan. 14.

5. Powerful statement: In the last nine seasons, Dayton is 30-11 against teams from the power five conferences: the ACC, Big Ten, Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Pac 12.

6. Block party: This is the best shot-blocking Dayton team ever. Thanks to center Steve McElvene’s single-season school record of 55 and 37 blocks by junior guard Charles Cooke, Dayton has 142. That’s 14 more than the previous record set by the 2009-10 team.

7. Point man: Dayton point guard Scoochie Smith played his best in the NCAA Tournament a year ago and came on strong at the end of this season, scoring 26 and 29 points in the last two regular-season games.

8. Senior leader: Senior forward Dyshawn Pierre bounced back from scoring four points in a 2-of-10 shooting performance in the regular-season finale against Virginia Commonwealth by making 12 of 25 shots from the field and scoring 32 points in two A-10 tournament games.

9. Difference maker: McElvene has avoided foul trouble in the last three games and played double-figure minutes in each game. He played 23 minutes against VCU and 21 minutes against St. Joseph’s. It’s the first time he has topped 20 minutes since Jan. 15 against George Washington.

10. Better shooting: This will be the first NCAA Tournament game for Cooke, a transfer from James Madison. After a five-game stretch in which he made 4 of 22 3-pointers (18.2 percent), he made 12 of 27 in the last five games (44.4).

11. Efficient scorer: Junior guard Kyle Davis has scored 10 points or more in 11 of 32 games. He averages 7.9. While he’s not a big scorer, he’s an efficient scorer. He shoots 50.3 percent from the field and made 21 of 39 shots (53.8 percent) in the last six games.

12. Free throws: This is Dayton’s worst free-throw shooting team (67.3 percent) since 2009-10 (65.7), but the Flyers built some momentum at the line in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They made 18 of 25 against Richmond (72 percent) and 13 of 18 against St. Joseph’s (72.2). It was the first time they shot better than 70 percent in back-to-back games since the first week of January.

13. Strong under pressure: Dayton is 8-2 in games decided by three points or fewer. Syracuse is 3-2.

14. Full roster: On Selection Sunday, Miller said he expects to have all hands on deck Friday. Kendall Pollard was “pretty banged up for the tournament,” he said, and injured his arm on a collision late in the game against St. Joseph’s. But he expects Pollard and everyone else to play

15. Defensive excellence: Dayton ranks 14th in the nation in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. That’s a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions. Syracuse is 38th. Michigan State is 19th.

16. Tournament team: In three holiday tournaments, three conference tournaments and two NCAA tournaments in the last three seasons, Dayton is 18-8.

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