The last time Dayton and Ole Miss played each other in basketball, I was negative four years old. I was merely a gamete, swimming about my father's left testicle, hoping to defile the ovoid cell of the person who would eventually become my mother. [ED: Biology nerds, don't get all huffy and point out that sperm cells don't lay dormant for years on end. We know that. It's a joke.]
Dayton won that day in 1980, and now, 30 years later, it's time to exact our revenge on one of the grandest stages of Tuesday mid-week college basketball, no, New York, no um lets see, them all? the NIT can offer.
A week ago Ole Miss wanted to be in the Big Apple. The thing is, the Red Raiders did too. The Rebels fought through two tough overtime periods at home against a pesky, well-coached Texas Tech team to make it to this point.
Dayton fought just as valiantly, however, capturing a trip to NYC after beating Illinois in front of a packed crowd in Champaign. Illinois is a lot like Ole Miss in that many felt they had a fairly legitimate claim to be playing big boy basketball with the big boy teams (you know, like New Mexico State).
Yes, tonight's NIT Forgotten Four opener will likely be a close, hard fought game. It will likely come down to a few defensive stops or big offensive plays that the Rebels must make to get to a championship game against either Rhode Island or North Carolina.
Ole Miss has averaged nearly 80 points per game on the season but has averaged more than 80 points in the NIT. Terrico White has a lot to do with this (THANKS FOR JOINING US TERRICO!) as does our improvement all-around on offense. It really does seem that the Rebels are playing well offensively against everyone right now, and they are, but we can't fail to mention that a two-overtime period game plus playing a Memphis "defense is for bitches" Tigers team does help that average.
Why is this noteworthy? Because Dayton will bring one of the tougher defensive assignments Ole Miss has faced this year into Madison Square Garden. The Flyers only allow 62 points per game and are led by the two Chrises: Wright and Johnson.
Wright seems to be an all-around player, scoring nearly 14 points per game, snatching seven boards per game and tallying 49 blocks on the season. Johnson nearly scored 20 against Illinois after averaging roughly 12 points and seven rebounds per game on the season. Both of them are dangerous, physical, and smart underneath the basket and it goes without saying that Dayton would truly be a completely different squad without those two.
Neither team will have a decided size advantage. Wright and Johnson are both above 6'6'' in the low post and could provide a competitive match-up against Murphy Holloway, Terrance Henry or Reginald Buckner. Deaundre Cranston may be a liability against either player because he's a potential liability against any player.
The Flyers also bring a wealth of experienced guards into this game. Of the six guards on its roster, only one is not a senior. Dayton protects the ball fairly well though they average 14.6 turnovers per game compared to the Rebels' 12.1. Our biggest turnover liability is Chris Warren. If he can tone down the mistakes, we should have an advantage when it comes to maintaining ball control.
A statistic that sticks out is a 6-12 mark in games decided by fewer than 10 points for Dayton. The Rebels, meanwhile, are 9-6 in the same category. Basically, they lose close games, we (sorta) win them.
These are the games when Chris Warren and Terrico White have stepped up and knocked down shots from all over the court. They just refuse the lose the games. Warren always has that fire, and it seems tournament play has stoked White's. These are also the games when we seem to amplify our presence underneath the basket with Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner bringing a ton of effort with every second they earn on the floor.
This is going to be a tight game, but Ole Miss will find a way to shut down the Flyers down the stretch and pull away late to win this game.
Ole Miss 78