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The Atlantic 10 Conference, consistently undervalued due to its less than "flashy" make-up, year in and year out produces at least one tourney team that produces a couple unexpected upsets. When Cinderella story Dayton meets No. 1 Florida in Memphis on Saturday night, the Flyers will be heavy underdogs in what is the biggest line of the Elite 8. Opening at +10.5 in most books, Dayton will face its biggest challenge to date against a championship-or-bust Gator team.
To call Dayton an underdog is truly an understatement if you take a minute to look at their resume. A 6-seed in the A-10 tournament, Dayton was quickly dismissed by a far more talented St. Joseph's team in the 2nd round and was one of the last teams to get into the field of 68. Their regular season biggest wins were against Gonzaga (November) and conference foes Saint Louis, Massachusetts and George Washington.
Those four teams were a combined 1-4 in the Big Dance. The bottom line is that the Flyers didn't provide us with a track record for success to go on and therefore were overlooked. Wins over Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford to get to the Elite 8 are impressive, but don't exactly tell us what to expect Saturday.
Florida is going to be a new test all in itself due to the ways they can beat you. Whether it's from Scottie Wilbekin at point, Casey Prather flashing around or one of the big guys down low, they usually have an edge somewhere.
The formula to beat Florida is to shoot well and make three-pointers efficiently as both the Gators losses this year came when Wisconsin hit 9-of-20 from downtown and Connecticut went 11-of-24 from behind the arc. If Dayton's leading scorers, Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver, aren't hitting threes, there may not be a scenario in which they score enough to compete with Florida.
Florida went 5-of-20 from three against Pittsburgh in the round of 32, but the three-ball was one of the reasons they beat UCLA on Thursday. An undersized UCLA team clogged the middle leaving Michael Frazier II with wide-open looks that simply cannot occur. Frazier will eat anyone up if he's given the time. A player to watch will be Florida guard Kasey Hill, who was the Gators most impressive performer behind Frazier last game with six points, six rebounds and 10 assists off the bench. Dayton just does not have a player to match him or Dorian Finney-Smith on the second unit. And of course you can't forget about Wilbekin and Prather, Florida's two best scorers.
As for the Flyers, expect them to attack as much as possible, which is how they beat Stanford. Sibert and Oliver are obviously huge pieces, but it may fall on the rest of the roster to stay competitive against Florida. They have an extremely deep rotation that goes 11 deep, which includes guys like Vee Sanford and Scoochie Smith off the bench, both of whom can make a difference. Dyshawn Pierre and Khari Price also need to be kept in check, while Matt Kavanaugh will be solely used to stop guys like Young and Yeguete.
While Dayton's run to the Elite 8 should tell us anything is possible, it's going to be extremely difficult to stop this Florida team that has minimal weaknesses. The question for the bettors, though, is if they can cover this double-digit spread. If the shots are falling, there's no reason Dayton can't cover here.
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