The Dayton Flyers have taken the nation by storm.
Now ranked #4 in the AP Top 25, the Dayton men’s basketball team has its highest ranking since 1956 and is shaping up to be a real March Madness contender. Oddsmakers have gotten behind them, too, ranking them fourth in odds to win the national championship (+1500) and a favorable +275 to reach the Final Four at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Bettors are paying attention, too. According to DraftKings, Dayton has taken 13% of the total Final 4 futures handle — the most of any team in the country. The Flyers have also accounted for 5% of the National Championship futures handle, good for third most behind only Kansas (+700) and Baylor (+900).
So, who are the Dayton Flyers?
The Flyers are led by electric scorer Obi Toppin, who is building a convincing resume for this year’s Wooden Award; he sits as the favorite to win the award (-125) per DraftKings. Toppin is averaging just under 20 points and 8 rebounds per game so far this year. At 6’ 9,” the Flyers’ forward jumps out of the gym and made a name for himself last season with a few SportsCenter Top 10 dunks.
Toppin has scored double digits in every game thus far (exception: vs. Grambling, where he played his fifth-fewest minutes and attempted just five field goals) and has surpassed 20 points 13 times so far this year. He is shooting almost 70% (69.3%, 2nd) from the floor and stretches the floor with an effective, but not deadly, three-point shot.
Dayton’s success isn’t just limited to their star forward– four players are averaging 10 points per game, including junior guard Jalen Crutcher (15 points per game). Crutcher is an extremely effective shooter, shooting over 50% from two, 40% from three, and 85% from the free throw line, and leads the team in assists.
After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, head coach Anthony Grant (3rd year) is leading Dayton to new heights. Former head coach Archie Miller led Dayton to four straight tournaments, including a Sweet 16 and a Final Four before taking the head job at Indiana. Under Miller, the Flyers were an eleven seed each time they made a run in the tournament, making them a fun underdog to root for. But after Miller left, the Flyers had back-to-back 10-loss seasons (first time since 2013), missed the tournament, and sunk back into irrelevancy.
That is, until this year.
A real threat in the Tournament?
Dayton was nowhere to be found in AP’s Preseason Top 25 rankings, but quickly turned heads with early-season wins over Georgia and Virginia Tech. They further helped their cause by playing a tight game with #4 Kansas, taking them to overtime and eventually falling by just six. Dayton was tripped up just once more, this time to Colorado in overtime yet again. Since then, Dayton has ripped off 17 straight wins and are positioning themselves for a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But are the Flyers a good bet to make the Final Four or even win the whole tournament? The answer won’t be totally clear until the regions are set and Dayton’s path can be analyzed. Currently, they are 0-2 against teams currently ranked in the Top 25 and have just one win against teams in the top 50 of ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) rating (Saint Mary’s, 37th). Their strength of schedule (95th) isn’t promising, but Dayton has a track record of making tournament runs.
With possibly their best team ever and a high seeding coming, the Dayton Flyers can be counted on for a couple wins come March. Stars win games, and Dayton has one of the biggest in the nation, with an excellent counter. Toppin can absolutely lead Dayton on a run this postseason and, with the help of Crutcher, the Flyers make an interesting bet. They’ve proven they can hang with anyone in the country, and could be a great underdog pick against some of the other top-seeds (projected: Gonzaga, Baylor, San Diego State). Who knows, Dayton themselves could just wind up as one.
Exciting surprise teams immediately steal the hearts of the nation and the favor of Vegas, but it can be easy to be swept up in Dayton-mania. If the Flyers play their cards right, they could just pay off.