A group of kids from St. Louis awaited the Dayton Flyers at the Marriott Grand Hotel on Wednesday evening. They had red balloons and UD signs and were excited to meet the Flyers. An hour earlier, they greeted Dayton’s old rival, Xavier, at a different hotel.
The Flyers and Musketeers may not cross paths under the Gateway Arch down the street this week or even at the Scottrade Center, where they play Friday. Even though they start the NCAA Tournament in the same city, they wouldn’t play each other until the Final Four.
Dayton (25-7) has a bigger rivalry these days with Syracuse (19-13) if two NCAA tournament games in three seasons make a rivalry. The No. 7 seed Flyers play the No. 10 Orange at 12:15 p.m. Friday in the first round of the big dance, and Dayton coach Archie Miller pronounced his team ready to go when he stepped off the bus in front of the hotel.
“Guys were excited to get on the plane,” Miller said. “Once you get into town, you start to get the March feel of the tournament. We’ll take tonight and get something to eat. We’ll start preparing for Syracuse a little bit more on film. Tomorrow we get into it.”
The Dayton players meet with the media at 12:50 p.m. Central time Thursday. Miller’s press conference is at 1:05. A 40-minute practice, which is open to the public, at the Scottrade Center starts at 1:30.
“Everybody’s all excited to play,” Miller said. “We’ve got a great opponent. We’re playing against an ACC team. Syracuse has a really good team. It’s going to be a hard game for us. Once you get to tomorrow and you get to the arena, you start to get the feeling that you’re in the tournament.”
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Dayton will make its third tournament appearance in three years. It will be the eighth tournament game for senior Dyshawn Pierre and juniors Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis and Kendall Pollard.
“We’ll be focused,” Miller said. “If you’re not focused for this one, you don’t have a pulse. This is the biggest stage you can be on. We have some guys who have been here before, so they know what to expect. At the same time, they also know how hard these games are.”
Dayton beat Syracuse 55-53 in the second round of the tournament in 2014 in Buffalo, N.Y. Pierre led the Flyers with 14 points. Dayton won despite shooting 55.6 percent at the free-throw line (10 of 18). Syracuse lost, in part, because it missed all 10 of its 3-point attempts.
Asked if the Flyers will watch film of that game to prepare for this one, Miller said, “Their personnel is a lot different. We can watch maybe our offense against them a little bit to see what worked and what didn’t work. You have different personnel and different teams. It’s going to be hard to duplicate some things. I know the game was a really hard-fought game. It’ll be the same on Friday.”