Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
When: Thursday, April 1st, 7:00 PM
Live Stats: SCACC Hoops
Records: UNC 20-16; Dayton 24-12
NIT Results: UNC def. W&M, Miss. St, UAB, URI; Dayton def. Illinois St, Cincinnati, Illinois, Old Miss
This is obviously very weird but for the 2nd straight season UNC has a chance to end the season as a champion. Last year was the bigger prize in the NCAA Tournament. This season it is the NIT. A championship run, even in the NIT, is a journey of sorts. All of us have memories of watching UNC journey its way through the field in 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009. There were great moments which we still talk about, nail biting games and performances the like of which we believe we will never see again. Strangely enough, this run through the NIT has been very similar albeit on a much smaller scale given the stakes. Each game has been special in its own right. You have Larry Drew's game winner vs Mississippi St. You have the rally from down four to force OT vs Rhode Island. I assume the prospect of losing and your season being over causes players to operate with a different mentality. That has been the case here. In many ways these Tar Heels finally decided to grow up and step up their games. Some of it has been ugly but as a window to the future it has been encouraging to say the least.
UNC faces a very tough defensive team in Dayton who is ranked 7th overall by Pomeroy in defensive efficiency. On the offensive end the Flyers are 93rd overall which is to say they have enough offense to beat you considering how well their defense rates out. The Flyers also do a good job on the offensive glass which puts pressure on the Heels to cut down on the number of 2nd chance points. Dayton also is a deep team with no one over 28 mpg and ten players with at least 14 mpg so a faster tempo is not going to necessarily wear them out. In terms of weaknesses, Dayton is slightly more turnover prone than UNC with a TO% of 21.5% vs UNC's 20.9%. The Flyers do not have a great deal of size. There are two 6-10 players on the roster but they do not factor in much.
In short I think to win this game UNC has to play some tough minded and focused defense to create turnovers and use the transition game as not to allow Dayton a chance to set up their defense. UNC also has more size on the interior and should use it. The wild card continues to be John Henson. On one hand he can be bumped but on the other hand, it is very difficult to account for his length and athleticism. I also think UNC needs major step-up games from Deon Thompson and Will Graves. Some perimeter shots have to fall otherwise I think Dayton can effectively bottle up the middle. And Marcus Ginyard needs to do more than just rebound.
All that being said, I have a bad feeling about this one, especially since UNC cannot seem to win two straight games at MSG. I am going with the Pomeroy prediction.
Dayton 69 UNC 65