The NCAA Tournament is approaching and bracketology season is in full swing. Our “making the case” series continues with a look at the Dayton Flyers.
Dayton’s magical 2019-20 season was cut short due to COVID-19, and the program is thus still seeking its first NCAA Tournament under head coach Anthony Grant. Could this be the year for the Flyers to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2017? Possibly, but the team sits right on the projected bracketology cutline with one of the more intriguing team sheets in the country.
Dayton currently sits on the outside looking in for most bracketologists. The Flyers are the fifth team out on the Bracket Matrix while being featured in only 17 of 126 fields (13.5 percent) as of Feb. 24. Unlike several others on the bubble, though, Dayton appears to be trending in the right direction towards potentially reaching the field. The Flyers have won five straight games by an average of 17.2 points to not only improve their record but also their efficiency metrics.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee looks at each team’s total body of work, though, and not just the last few weeks of the season. Dayton’s rough start – which included home losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay – is still on its team sheet, but so are the team’s nonconference wins over Kansas, Miami-FL, Belmont and Virginia Tech. Dayton can boast some elite wins but also horrendous losses, making it one of the most interesting case studies from a bracketology perspective.
With that in mind, Dayton is the next team in our “Bubble Babble” series, which dissects at-large resumes of bubble teams and “makes the case” for their possible selection. Let’s take a deeper look into how Dayton stacks up with the rest of the bubble in terms of metrics, quadrant records and historical precedent.
Quality wins are a great place to start
Dayton’s case for an at-large bid starts with its solid collection of quality victories. The Flyers are just 2-2 in Quad-1 games but one of those victories came at a neutral-site over a projected No. 1 seed. Knocking off Kansas, even if it was several months ago, remains a massive win for the Flyers and gives them a feather in their cap that almost no other bubble team can match. If the committee looks deeper into bubble teams and asks about a team’s best win, Dayton is going to win that conversation every single time.
The other key fact is that Dayton’s record in quality games is quite good relative to the other teams hovering around the cutline. The Flyers are 7-5 across the top two quadrants, not only owning more wins against that caliber of competition but also a favorable winning percentage. The Atlantic 10 does not afford as many opportunities for high-level victories as other conferences, but Dayton has proven capable of taking advantage more often than not.
Here are the Q1+2 average records of “bubble teams,” along with their metric averages, over the past two NCAA Tournaments compared to this year’s Dayton. For reference, these bubble teams are defined by NCAA Tournament No. 10 seeds through NIT No. 1 seeds:
As is shown in the chart, Dayton has a much higher winning percentage in Q1+2 games than the average bubble team over the past few years. Additionally, its quality metrics are right on par with being a possible No. 10 seed and a good tick ahead of the teams directly on the cutline. Dayton is also 5-4 on the road — not an elite mark, but being better than .500 away from home is something that might draw the attention of the committee relative to other teams.
The color-coding of the chart shows Dayton’s biggest weakness, though. The Flyers rate at just 58.8 across the two resume metrics (KPI and SOR).
Can Dayton overcome the bad losses?
Dayton has three Quad-4 losses on its team sheet. Figuring out the biggest detractor from the team’s at-large resume is as simple as that. The Flyers dropped three straight home games in the early portion of the year, all to teams rated lower than the NET top 250. Not only do all of those losses fall under Quad-4, but there is no hope of any of them jumping into Quad-3 before the end of the year.
The reality of the situation is that it is hard to climb out of such a hole. Only three teams over the past two NCAA Tournaments have earned at-large bids with even one Quad-4 loss on their resume. None of the at-large-caliber teams (nearly 100) over the last two dances lost more than two Quad-4 games during the season.
In order to take a deeper dive into some recent history to determine how hard it will be for Dayton to overcome such losses, it is necessary to expand the definition of “bad losses.” Qualifying “bad losses” as defeats in Quad-3 or Quad-4, here are the teams that entered the last two Selection Sundays with metric averages better than 55.0 (Dayton is currently at 49.3) and at least three Q3+4 losses:
On the bright side, all of the teams that fit those parameters did make the NCAA Tournament, although their three Q3+4 losses fell more in Quad-3 while all of Dayton’s are in Quad-4. Those teams also tended to have better metrics than Dayton’s current numbers. An argument could be made that Dayton’s team sheet is most comparable to 2019 Arizona State, though:
Dayton’s metrics are a mixed bag
Dayton has been rolling lately. The Flyers have won five consecutive games by an average of 17.2 points and that has led to a jump in their efficiency rankings. They are now averaging in the mid-40s across BPI, KenPom and Sagarin — a solid mark that rates comparably with other bubble teams.
Overall, though, Dayton’s metrics are a bit of a mixed bag. The quality metrics are solid, but the resume metrics are not up to the same standard. The Flyers are currently slotted at No. 54 and No. 63 in KPI and SOR, respectively, for an average resume rank of 58.5. For reference, the lowest-rated team by resume metric rank to earn an at-large bid over the last two tournaments was 2021 Utah State at 52.5.
There are 25 teams over the past two Big Dances that have finished in the top 50 in either quality metrics or resume metrics but outside of the top 50 in the opposite. Eight of the 13 that were more resume-focused reached the NCAA Tournament. Only two of the 12 quality-focused teams were selected. Continued following of that precedent would be bad news for Dayton, which currently fits the latter criteria.
Those numbers do not express much confidence in Dayton’s ability to make the tournament. Improving their resume numbers prior to Selection Sunday is essentially mandatory at this point. If the Flyers maintain their current status, they will need to diligently apply deodorant on Selection Sunday. Thankfully, though, their projected team sheet does show some opportunities to add to their resume.
Diving deeper into the team sheet
While the last section leaned more towards Dayton not making the field, there are opportunities remaining to improve resume metrics and quadrant records. Namely, this is due to the Flyers still embracing a pair of Quad-2 opportunities left on their regular season schedule.
They will play host to Davidson and travel on the road to face Richmond over the next couple of weeks. Winning both would be huge, especially considering the former victory would mean adding a win over the projected field.
Dayton also has a Quad-4 road game at La Salle on the schedule before the Atlantic 10 Tournament. That is an absolute must-win. It is a stretch in the first place to be a serious at-large contender with three Quad-4 losses; adding a fourth would essentially end all hope.
Here is the overall look at Dayton’s current quadrant record nitty gritty:
As is shown by the NET ratings of Dayton’s opposition, there are not many games on the team sheet set to change quadrants any time soon. The ones that could change quadrants, though, would all help Dayton’s positioning by moving up quadrants.
The home win over St. Bonaventure (NET 82) is worth noting, for instance, as that victory could potentially leap into Quad-2. Miami-FL (NET 61) or Belmont (NET 67) finding a way to creep into the top 50 could hand Dayton another Quad-1 win over two as well.
The most important thing for Dayton right now is to simply win the games on its schedule. If the Flyers can win each of their remaining three games, they would move to 9-5 in Q1+2 games. As previously discussed, that would be a favorable record compared to the rest of the bubble.
Dayton’s overall at-large status
Dayton has work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. While the Flyers can boast the excellent neutral-site win over Kansas, those three Quad-4 losses are not going anywhere and are greatly dragging down their at-large potential. And while their quality metrics have improved to be in comparable position to the rest of the bubble, they still need to improve their resume numbers. Historical precedent with regard to resume metrics is not on their side.
With a few regular-season games left, as well as the Atlantic 10 Tournament, there is still time for Dayton to improve its status. There are currently six A10 teams rated in the NET top 100 – Dayton included – so there will be opportunities in the conference tournament for the Flyers to add to their resume as well. Beating any of those other five teams would land in Quad-2 (beating Davidson would be a Quad-1 victory).
While Dayton will likely need to improve its resume metrics more to offset those Quad-4 losses, it has given itself a decent baseline to work with for the remainder of the season. The Flyers have a strong 7-5 record in Q1+2 and quality metrics that are on par with the rest of the bubble. If the committee compares how bubble teams fare against good competition, Dayton will have a leg up on most. The Flyers own three wins over my projected field, including a No. 1 seed.
Dayton’s current at-large potential hinders on how much the committee weights its 7-5 record in Q1+2 against three Quad-4 losses.