Dayton-St. John's Preview
Dayton is making its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, but the Flyers plan on sticking around a bit longer in this one.
Seventh-seeded Dayton begins what it hopes will be a deep tournament run Sunday in what's essentially a road game against No. 10 St. John's at Carnesecca Arena.
The Flyers have been part of the last three NCAA tournaments, winning one game as a No. 8 seed in 2010 before falling in the first round as a No. 11 seed in each of the last two.
"We're not just happy being here anymore," Dayton coach Jim Jabir said. "It's the highest seed we ever had. We want to play on Tuesday, very, very badly. Just getting that first game in and going home is not enough for this team. To be a national program we need to get out of the first weekend and that's a goal."
It's been a record season for Dayton (27-2) as the Flyers won their first Atlantic 10 regular-season title before falling to Saint Joseph's in the conference tournament semifinals. The team has already surpassed the school record for wins.
Not bad for a squad that lost a lot to graduation last year and has the sixth-youngest roster in the country. The Flyers used a balanced offense that features four different players averaging in double figures.
"The six returners that we had coming back got together and wanted this not be a rebuilding year," senior Sam MacKay said.
MacKay is one of those players averaging at least 10 points, while sophomore guard Andrea Hoover (12.2) leads the way. Hoover averaged 15.4 points in her final seven games leading up to the tournament.
While the Flyers' roster had huge turnover, the Red Storm return most of their team from last season's regional semifinal run. The biggest change was at head coach when assistant Joe Tartamella took over for Kim Barnes Arico, who left for Michigan.
The Red Storm (18-12) struggled in the early part of the season, losing three games on the final possession before turning it around with victories in eight of their last 10 contests. They have reached the past four NCAA tournaments after only making it four times total before their current run.
"It's extra gratifying," Tartamella said. "The seniors get to go out playing in four straight tournaments. Our goal has always been consistency."
Dayton is ranked 18th in the current AP poll, and that could be bad news for St. John's. The Red Storm are 0-6 against Top 25 teams this season.
St. John's is led by Shenneika Smith, who averages 16.7 points, and Nadirah McKenith, who scores 12.9 per game. McKenith is one of eight players in the country to average at least 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.
The winner will face either second-seeded Kentucky or No. 15 Navy on Tuesday.