It might sound like inflated hype or, at least, a bit of oversell, but Kyle Davis was sounding a lot like both Muhammad Ali before he fought the seemingly invincible Sonny Liston back in 1964 and Joe Namath before he guided his 18-point underdog New York Jets against the mighty Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
“We’re gonna shock the world,” Davis said as he sat in the dressing room at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Thursday afternoon, a day before his Dayton Flyers would meet Wichita State here in the NCAA Tournament opener for both teams.
Ali and Namath, both of whom brashly predicted victory, pulled off the stunning upsets.
There was no boast in Davis’ tone and — at least if you go by the tournament seedings — a Flyers victory wouldn’t be an upset.
UD is No. 7 in the South Region. Wichita State is seeded 10th.
But the Shockers, four years removed from a Final Four appearance, are 30-4, ranked fifth in the nation in rebounding margin, are beating opponents by more than 19 points a game and their Sagarin Rating is 11th in the nation (UD is 40th). They easily could have had a better seed.
The Flyers, who are 24-7 and won the regular-season Atlantic 10 title, are coming off two disappointing losses, falling to George Washington in the regular-season finale and then getting stunned by Davidson in their first game of the A -10 tournament last Friday.
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Since the NCAA Tournament pairings were announced, the Vegas oddsmakers and many of the TV talking heads and denizens of social media have all jumped on the Wichita State bandwagon.
Davis, the 6-foot senior guard and defensive specialist, has especially felt the overshadowing of late.
He was the guy victimized by Davidson sharp shooter Jack Gibbs in the final minute of the A-10 game in Pittsburgh. To be fair, he was playing tight defense and was supposed to get double-team help that never arrived against the league’s top scorer.
Gibbs ended up hitting two hard-to-believe 3-pointers in the final 51 seconds to give Davidson the 73-67 victory.
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“Yeah, it was supposed to be a double team and did I get any help? No,” Davis said. “But like Coach has always told me, when I’m I out there, play like I don’t need no help. I never needed help before and this time I just couldn’t step up in the big-time moment and get the stop.
“The go-ahead 3 that put them up was in my face and then the 3 that iced the game was in my face.”
When the game ended, Davis spent little time in the dressing room and headed straight to the team bus. He hadn’t talked publicly about the game until Thursday afternoon.
“Yeah, I went straight to the team bus and I was beating myself up,” he said. “I thought about it the whole plane ride home and what and what I could have done different. I should have gotten a steal, should have gotten a rebound — all kinds of thoughts. It made me think back to my freshman year when Langston Galloway hit that three and we lost to St. Joe’s.
“I remember how Coach Miller told me then, ‘Great players make big shots. Move on from it. We’ve got more games to play.’ I did that then and I knew I had to do it now. And by the time we got home, I was turning the page.”
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And the Flyers needed that from Davis. He’s their grittiest player and, arguably, their heart and soul.
With that in mind he was asked how he’s going about lifting his teammates back to the dominating form they showed through much of the season.
“Funny you should ask that,” he said. “Jeremiah Bonsu just asked me the same question.”
Bonsu, the senior walk-on who never plays but is the vocal uplifter of this squad, was sitting next to him.
“I told him exactly what I’ll tell the guys: ‘If you’re not ready to get up in March, then there’s something wrong with you,’ ” Davis said. “ ‘This is the biggest stage of anybody’s career.’ ”
He paraphrased a tweet Bonsu had sent out about brushing “haters” away.
“And Coach had a speech with us last night, too, and hopefully all the guys listened to it and are ready to step onto the court and play their hearts out,” he said.
He said it’s something the team has banked on in recent years:
“Some people that watch us don’t realize the adversity we’ve been through.”
He talked about the team two years ago that lost three guys mid-season, including the squad’s two tallest, and with just seven players went 27-9 and won two games in the NCAA Tournament.
But the biggest loss was this past May when their beloved big man, 6-foot-11 Steve McElvene, died suddenly from an enlarged heart.
McElvene’s mom has stayed close to the team via social media and Thursday said she will be at Banker’s Life Arena tonight with a life-size cutout of her son.
“Even just a picture of him in the crowd will mean a lot,” Davis said. “He’s not with us physically, but he’s been in our hearts all year. We’ve played in his honor and now I’d like to win this one for him.“
This will be the ninth NCAA Tournament game Davis has played in since coming to UD from the south side of Chicago.
That success is especially sweet because he said he was doubted long before he got to Dayton:
“I’ve had a chip on my shoulder since I was growing up. Everybody said I was too short and wouldn’t be able to do this or that.
“They said I wasn’t good enough to play in the Big East or any power-five conference and that motivated me to prove them wrong. And then I finally found a school that wanted me.”
Davis has now played in 133 games for the Flyers and started 89. He and the other two seniors who came in with him — Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard — have won 102 games, more than any other four-year players at UD.
Davis leads this year’s team in steals and field-goal percentage (for those with at least 40 attempts). He’s third in assists and averages 8.1 points. He was voted the A-10 sixth man of the year.
Some of his most glorious outings have come in the NCAA Tournament.
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Two years ago he smothered Boise State’s Derrick Marks, the Mountain West player of the year, and forced him to shoot a game-ending airball that enabled UD to escape with a 56-55 win in the First Four.
The next game against Providence he was put on Kris Dunn, the Big East co-player of the year who is now with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and forced him into seven turnovers and 4-for-13 shooting.
Davis didn’t want to dwell on those glorious moments Thursday, same as he didn’t want to wallow in the Davidson loss six days earlier. All that’s in the past and what counts now is the moment at hand.
“All of that shows that anything can happen in March,” he said. “And right now I just want to live up to March Madness. I want us to make another run in the tournament.”
He wants to shock the world.