CU men's basketball preview: Dayton Flyers, NIT first round
TIPOFF: Tuesday, 9 p.m., CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPN2; Radio — 760 AM (joined in progress on 850 AM following Rockies spring training game).
RECORDS: Dayton 21-11; Colorado 21-12.
COACHES: Dayton — Anthony Grant, 2nd season (35-28; 228-138 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (187-122, 243-188 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Dayton — F Obi Toppin, Fr., 14.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg; F Josh Cunningham, Sr., 13.6 ppg; 6.3 rpg; G Jalen Crutcher, So., 13.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg. Colorado — F Tyler Bey, So., 13.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg; G McKinley Wright, So., 13.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.6 apg.
NOTES: Dayton coach Anthony Grant was the head coach at Alabama in 2011 when the Crimson Tide eliminated Tad Boyle's first CU team in the NIT semifinals...The winner will play either Norfolk State or top-seeded Alabama in the second round later this week. Officially, second round games can be played Thursday through Sunday, but given the Alabama-Norfolk State game is Wednesday, the winner between CU and Dayton won't play again until at least Friday....CU did not play any NCAA Tournament teams this season outside the three from the Pac-12 — Oregon, Arizona State, and Washington. The Buffs went 2-3 against that trio and 0-1 against the rest of the NIT field (a Nov. 20 loss at San Diego)...
Success in tournament play often is more about attitude and emotion than it is Xs and Os.
An argument can be made that is even more the case in the NIT, where a 32-team cast of misfits ranging from those stung from missing the cut for the NCAA Tournament to hungry up-and-comers compete for college basketball's top consolation prize.
The Buffs twice previously reached the NIT under ninth-year head coach Tad Boyle, whose club will make its third NIT appearance under his watch with a first-round date late Tuesday night against Dayton at the CU Events Center.
One encouraging sign for Buffaloes fans? Boyle believes this edition of the Buffs profiles more closely to his first CU team in 2011, which used its snub from the NCAA tourney to fuel a Final Four run in the NIT, than the veteran bunch in 2017 that flamed out in the NIT's first round.
"We're fortunate to be in this tournament and we're going to make the most of it," Boyle said. "This team loves each other. They love playing together. They had a lot of fun in Las Vegas (at the Pac-12 tournament). It didn't last as long as we wanted it to.
"We've been that team that was snubbed. Our first year here we were the No. 1 seed in the NIT and the first team out of the NCAA Tournament. So we've been in that role. A couple years ago in 2017 we had a senior-laden team that I'm not sure how excited they were to be there. This group, we don't have a senior playing for us. They're young. This will be great postseason experience for us. We want to make it last as long as possible."
Dayton arrives with a sharp-shooting team that led the Atlantic 10 in field goal percentage overall (.503) and in league play (.499). The Flyers do most of that damage by getting good looks inside, with redshirt freshman Obi Toppin (.662) and fifth-year senior Josh Cunningham (.642) ranking second and third, respectively, in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season in field goal percentage. Behind that league-leading field goal percentage, Dayton also led the Atlantic 10 in assists per game (16.5).
"They have two really good post players and we're going to have to limit their touches," CU forward Evan Battey said. "They shoot the ball well and they have a balanced attack. We just have to lock in, defend, and hopefully get out of here with a win."
As in past seasons, the NIT will utilize a set of experimental rules, including resetting the shot clock to just 20 seconds following an offensive rebound. The tournament will use the international distance for the 3-point line, moving it back roughly one foot and eight inches to 22 feet, 1.75 inches. The lane will be widened from 12 feet to the NBA width of 16 feet. Perhaps most significantly, the team foul totals will be reset at the 10-minute mark of each half, with the elimination of one-and-one free throw opportunities.
Instead, the opposition will shoot two free throws beginning with the fifth team foul of each 10-minute segment. Among the rules tweaks, Boyle believes the changes to the foul-total rules might be the most impactful for his club.
"We're a good free throw shooting team, so I'm not sure that gives us an advantage," Boyle said. "We like the one-and-one, because you have to earn that second shot. You get eight free fouls per half. Before you got six. The idea is to bring physicality out of the game, not put it in the game. In my mind, giving two extra fouls per half brings more physicality into the game. I think that's a little counterintuitive."