NCAA selection committee members often insistent Tournament brackets are made without consideration for narrative. Apologies for appearing as though I am broadcasting on a short-wave radio signal from a remote, desert location, but it seems there's no such thing as coincidence when it comes to the Big Dance.
To wit, the Atlantic 10 Conference's Dayton Flyers and Missouri Valley Conference champion Wichita State Shockers rank as two of the best and most consistent mid-major programs in college basketball. Wichita State's 2013 Final Four and Dayton's appearance in the 2014 Elite Eight are the two deepest Tournaments any mid-major conference teams have made in the last half-decade.
Oh, and should Wichita State win Friday, a likely Second Round date with Kentucky looms. Kentucky ended Wichita State's pursuit of a perfect season in 2014… in the Second Round.
Whether *wink wink* coincidence, or the selection committee actively pursuing intriguing matchups, Wichita State vs. Dayton is a tremendous First Round offering. Both teams have the qualities necessary to make a run to the Tournament's second weekend –and perhaps further. But one has to advance past the other to entertain thoughts of a Sweet 16.
The selection process did both a disservice: Wichita State ranks eighth nationally in the KenPom.com metrics, with Dayton checking in at No. 35. The uneven seeding makes for an outstanding pairing, nonetheless.
South Region: No. 10 Wichita State Shockers (30-4) vs. No. 7 Dayton Flyers (24-7)
Time: 7:10 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Line: Wichita State -6
Keys for Wichita State
The departures of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker – key cogs in Wichita State's success for the previous four seasons – seemingly left the Shockers in rebuild mode for 2016-17. Wichita State even struggled during a summer tour of Canada, suggesting the era of Top 25 rankings and deep NCAA Tournament runs might be on hiatus for the year. Then, head coach Gregg Marshall's squad flipped the script.
Wichita State compensated for the loss of star power with a total team look. No Shocker averages more than Markis McDuffie's 11.8 points per game, but five of his teammates post between 7.2 and 11.2 a night. That offensive balance makes Wichita State difficult to defend, evident in a No. 12 offensive efficiency ranking.
Because the Shockers do not rely on any one scorer heavily, they need not panic if one McDuffie or Landry Shamet aren't hitting early. Shaquille Morris and Darral Willis both shoot well over 50 percent from the floor, and two low-post powerhouses should be able to get looks in the paint against an undersized Dayton defense.
Keys for Dayton
Dayton can and will score effectively – but so does Wichita State. And when the Shockers put up point totals in the 80s or above, they're doing so because they're winning by 20-plus. So while the Flyers average better than 76 points per game, their best course of action is a slower tempo game. The proof is in recent results; Dayton dropped its final two in the regular season to fall to a No. 7 seed in the bracket, surrendering 87 points to George Washington and 73 to Davidson.
Effective ball control is paramount, particularly because Dayton's lack of size up front hurts its ability to get second-chance points. Keep the turnovers low against a stifling Wichita State defense, and find the best look at the basket – even if it comes late in the shot clock.
Wichita State opponents have a tendency to get caught in the proverbial quick sand, forcing shots early in the clock. Illinois State fell behind big in the Missouri Valley Tournament championship game, and Arizona did likewise when the Wildcats – coached by the brother of Dayton head man Archie Miller, Sean Miller – faced the Shockers in last year’s Tournament.
Wichita State's seeding suffered because of its unimpressive strength of schedule. Perhaps the Shockers' lack of exposure to top-tier opposition this season will haunt them when faced with a Dayton team that's seen Tournament participants Saint Mary's, Northwestern, VCU, Rhode Island, East Tennessee State, Winthrop and Vanderbilt.
But, more than likely, Gregg Marshall's March acumen will shine through once more, and the balanced approach of the Wichita State offense will provide scoring opportunities against a sound Flyers defense. Wichita State has the pieces to not just beat a good Dayton team, but move onto the second weekend.