McKinley Wright was supposed to be a member of the Dayton basketball program. When the Flyers visit the CU Events Center Tuesday night for a first-round battle in the NIT, Colorado’s sophomore point guard will encounter some familiar faces on the opposite bench.
Two years ago Wright had already signed with Dayton out of North Robbinsdale, Minn. But when former Flyers coach Archie Miller took the job at Indiana, Wright re-opened his recruiting and eventually landed at CU. Still, Wright says he remains in touch with several of the Dayton players he will battle Tuesday (9 p.m., ESPN2).
“It is what it is. It’s funny it ended up like this and we’re playing them (Tuesday),” Wright said. “I still communicate with some of those guys on their team. It’s still all love. No hard feelings. Some of the fans there might think there’s hard feelings, but between me and the players we still communicate here and there. It’s going to be fun.”
Wright was supposed to be part of the same recruiting class at Dayton as current Washington sophomore Nahziah Carter, who also re-opened his recruiting after Miller moved to Indiana. Wright will get another shot at his almost-former team on Dec. 21 of next season when the Buffs and Dayton meet in the Chicago Legends doubleheader at the United Center.
Oddly enough, the other game of that Windy City doubleheader will feature Iowa taking on Cincinnati. Those two teams also collide this week in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle is on the NCAA rules committee, and so he will get a firsthand look at a number of rules tweaks the NIT once again is implementing.
Among the slight changes that will be on display Tuesday will be a longer 3-point line (22 feet, 1.75 inches) and a shot clock that will reset to just 20 seconds following an offensive rebound. The lane will be wider, moving from 12 feet to the NBA width of 16 feet. And finally, team foul totals will be reset after the 10-minute mark of each half, while one-and-one free throws will be eliminated. Beginning with the fifth foul of each 10-minute increment, teams will shoot two foul shots.
“They’re doing it as an experiment to gain data,” Boyle said. “I’m on the rules committee, so we’ll look at last year’s NIT date, combined with this year’s NIT data, from the 3-point line and the widening of the lane. The reset at 20 seconds, I think that’s a…I don’t want to say a foregone conclusion, but there’s overwhelming support I think for that.
“Data is going to be collected from this tournament, added to last year’s tournaments data, and it will help the committee make decisions. There’s certain rules I’m indifferent to. There’s certain rules I feel pretty strongly about. I’d love to see the five-second closely-guarded come back personally, but I don’t think it is. If you talk to a hundred coaches you might get a hundred responses.”
Boyle had high praise for Dayton redshirt freshman Obi Toppin, a 6-foot-9 forward who leads Dayton in scoring at 14.2 points per game.
“Their big freshman (Toppin), he’s a future NBA guy. There’s no doubt about it in my mind just from watching three games on film,” Boyle said. “They’ve got some guys who can make shots. They’ve got toughness. They’re a quality team and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
CU volunteer assistant coach Nate Tomlinson was the point guard on the 2011 Buffs team that reached the NIT Final Four, setting the stage for the 2012 Pac-12 Conference tournament championship and three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in the following years.
While the 2011 bunch was an older team than the 2019 edition, Tomlinson nevertheless sees a few similarities between the fourth-seeded 2019 bunch and his No. 1-seeded 2011 team.
“We were a little bit disappointed we were in the NIT in the first place. We really felt we deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Boyle said. “The springboard might have come from some resentment it definitely brought us together as a program.
“As far as a springboard for the years to come I’m not so sure, but I do think it helped us in the postseason the next year as a young team to get that postseason experience. In 2011 we were a little bit older. But as far as playing well at the end of the year, in that aspect yes. This team has the hunger we had back then. This team still has disappointment because we thought we could do something special in Las Vegas that we didn’t accomplish. As far as having that hunger, I think the teams are very similar.”
The final NET rankings for Pac-12 Conference going into the NCAA Tournament and NIT were as follows:
63. Arizona State
87. Oregon State
206. Washington State
Dayton finished at No. 69
Dayton finished with a 1-8 mark this season against NCAA Tournament teams, including a 1-2 mark against Atlantic 10 Conference tournament champ St. Louis, which defeated the Flyers in the quarterfinals. Dayton played a tough nonconference schedule that included road or neutral-court losses against NCAA tourney foes Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi State, and Auburn. The Flyers were 1-1 against the NIT field, winning at Davidson and losing to Butler…This will be the first season since the 1980-81 campaign that the Buffs will not play a single ranked foe…CU and Dayton have met just three times, and this will be the Flyers’ first visit to Boulder since a 77-59 Buffs win on Jan. 10, 1987.