7 things to know about Dayton Flyers vs. Wichita State Shockers

Kendall Pollard: ‘Everybody’s counting us out’

Kendall Pollard watched ESPN this week and saw everybody picking against the Dayton Flyers.

“Jay Bilas, Vitale, Obama,” said Pollard, thus becoming the first person to ever put those three names in a row.

Jay Bilas knows his basketball. Dick Vitale has seen the Flyers play as recently as the 2015 Advocare Invitational. Former President Barack Obama, who revealed his bracket picks Wednesday, congratulated the Flyers on Twitter three years ago when they beat Syracuse. If he were being loyal to his Chicago roots, Obama might have picked a team with three natives of the Windy City.

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Pollard will put the slight to good use. The No. 7 seed Flyers (24-7) are six-point underdogs against No. 10 Wichita State (30-4) at 7:10 p.m. Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I’m excited to get out there and play,” said Pollard before a public practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Everybody’s counting us out. They have to go out there and play just like we do. We’ll see.”

Here are seven things to know about Dayton’s ninth NCAA tournament game in the last four seasons:

1. Great memories: Coach Archie Miller showed the Flyers film of past NCAA tournament games to remind them of what is possible on the biggest stage.

“It gave me goosebumps,” Pollard said.

The Flyers beat Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford in 2014, reaching the Elite Eight for the first time in 30 years. They almost returned to the Sweet 16 in 2015, losing a lead late against Oklahoma in the second round after wins against Boise State and Providence. Last year, they lost 70-51 to Syracuse in the first round.

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Pollard said Miller wanted “to show us how hard we used to play before we were the big, bad Flyers when we were really the underdogs.”

2. Outside defense: The Shockers rank fourth in the nation in 3-point percentage (40.8). Dayton gave up 24 3-pointers in its last two games, losses to George Washington and Davidson.

“We did a lot of scouting, and the 3-pointer is a challenge for us in this game,” Dayton senior Kyle Davis said.

3. Peaking Shockers: Wichita State brings a 15-game winning streak into the tournament. It’s the second-longest streak in school history. The 2013-14 team was 35-0 before losing to Kentucky in the second round.

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Coach Gregg Marshall pointed to his improved defense and a number of other factors as the reason his team has played better and better as the season has progressed.

“Shaq Morris got healthy from a mid-season thigh injury,” Marshall said, “and I was finally smart enough to hand the ball to a freshman point guard, Landry Shamet. That took Conner Frankamp off the ball, and he could concentrate on scoring. Those three things I think along with a couple of guys like Zach Brown and Rashard Kelly accepting their roles on our team and becoming great defenders and energy givers, and it’s been a nice experience for me as a coach to watch our team. It’s almost been like time lapse photography, watching a flower bloom. That’s what it’s been like to watch our team develop into a cohesive juggernaut, if you will.”

4. Deep bench: The Shockers have 10 players who average between 4.0 and 12.0 points per game.

“Their depth is as good as any team in the country, and it’s evolved through the course of the season,” Miller said. “I think they’ve done a really great job of changing things from November to December and then into January.”

5. No help: Wichita State beat Arizona 65-55 in the first round last season. The Shockers led by double digits most of the game. Arizona is coached by Archie’s brother Sean Miller, who didn’t have any advice this week for Archie.

“I haven’t seen a team do that to one of Sean’s teams maybe ever,” Archie said. “I think that was the most impressive thing about it.”

6. Mirror image: Dayton and Wichita State are similar in a lot of ways. They play in conferences outside the power five and yet compete well against teams in those conferences. The Shockers are just a few steps ahead of Dayton, having played in six straight NCAA tournaments with a Final Four appearance in 2013.

That Final Four run motivated Miller, proving to him that his program could do the same.

“I kind of look at Wichita State as a program that gives a lot of places like ours the faith that they can play with anyone,” Miller said. “They can beat anyone. And I think their game last year was great evidence against Arizona that they don’t really care who they’re playing.

7. Crowd side: Dayton will see more blue than red in the stands Friday. No. 2 seed Kentucky, which led the nation in attendance last season, plays No. 15 seed Northern Kentucky in the second game of the evening session. Of course, UD fans will descend on Indianapolis on Friday in droves to celebrate the NCAA tournament berth on St. Patrick’s Day.

“When Dayton fans come to the game, you see nothing but red when you look around the stands,” Dayton senior Charles Cooke said, “and Dayton fans really travel well. They give us a big boost at home. They give us a big boost on the road.”

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