No. 17 Saint Mary's visits Dayton in BracketBusters knockoff
Guard play wins in March by consistently passing tests all season.
No. 17 Saint Mary's and Dayton are driven by dynamic guards setting the table, which could make for a riveting Saturday afternoon (2 p.m. ET) meeting with two of the nation's leading mid-major programs match up at UD Arena.
It's a hostile venue few volunteer to visit because of the frenetic pace and style of play encountered, as coach Archie Miller pointed out recently.
“We had a lot of things fall through that prevented us from really moving faster,” Miller said of the scheduling oddity that brought the reigning West Coast Conference champion to Ohio. “The thing we wanted to do the best was secure a series this year starting at home with a bona-fide NCAA tournament team. We were able to get that later than we wanted.”
Dayton returns the favor next season with a visit to the 3,500-seat home of the Gaels.
For the Flyers, who are knocking on the door in the AP poll, the game could be meaningful, but Miller's rotation is down two key players from an athletic frontcourt. That trusts even more of the burden on battle-tested backcourt mates Scoochie Smith and Charles Cooke.
Flyers forwards Josh Cunningham and Kendall Pollard are sidelined indefinitely and Miller has used sophomore forward Sam Miller and junior guard Darrell Davis for increased minutes to stretch his rotation.
The Gaels are fighting for the type of consistent national prominence Archie Miller and the Flyers – whose senior class stands 17 wins shy of the school record for victories by one class – have achieved. Randy Bennett, the all-time wins leader at Saint Mary's College, has driven the program to consistent success even as Gonzaga lords over the West Coast Conference.
The 2016-17 program is chasing an NCAA Tournament appearance after missing the field despite 29 wins last season. The engine at both ends of the court is point guard Emmett Naar. He controls the offense and dominates the ball for a club averaging only 6.0 turnovers per game. Saint Mary's relies on balanced scoring and perimeter shooting. Keeping the tempo in their favor won't be easy against Dayton's in-your-shirt pressing defense.
Naar believes the difference in this year's team is depth. Even in scoring 110 points to get to 2-0 on Wednesday night in pounding Prairie View A&M, Naar was focused on balance.
“I don't think anyone scored 20, which is pretty good,” Naar added. “Having a deep bench like that is amazing. For the other team it's more guys to worry about, more guys to scout. It just adds a lot to our team.”
The only previous meeting between these teams was a Dayton win in 1957. But Bennett brought his 2013 team to this venue for the 2013 tournament play-in game.
“All you've got to do is look them up. They've had great success. (Bennett) does a great job. They return just about everybody from a team a year ago that won the regular-season WCC,” said Archie Miller.
Up next for SMC are games against San Jose State and UAB before the Nov. 30 visit to Pac-12 neighbor Stanford.
Dayton plays Nebraska at 8:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night in the first round Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim, Calif.