Shortly after Dayton muscled their way past a resilient Stanford team, the oddsmakers quickly mounted massive Elite Eight odds against the tournament’s last known Cinderella. The Flyers have opened as +9.5 dogs against the grizzled Gators and will attempt to make history yet again as a raging upstart in the South Region Finals. Calling this “David vs. Goliath” even seems like an understatement.
There’s no doubt that Dayton deserves to be here. Narrow victories over Syracuse and Ohio State in the opening weekend caught the attention of the country, but many handicappers (including myself) doubted if they would be able to get past a tall and disciplined team from Stanford. Well they did and pounded the Cardinal by ten points.
Do they have your attention now?
The bench for Dayton is probably the most undersold element of the team, and depth has everything to do with their success. The reserves amassed a whopping 34 points as Dayton continued to use a 12-man rotation to find hot hands. On Thursday night there were plenty, and when Dayton needed buckets, the ball always seemed to find its way in to the basket. Don’t tell that to the oddsmakers though. They’re barely giving Dayton a chance at competing with the hard charging Gators if you go by the Elite Eight odds alone.
But gambling men like you and me are known to take chances, and this line just seems like it’s too big, even for Florida. The Gators dispatched UCLA in almost comically routine fashion, burying the Pac-12 champs 79-68 with their hard nosed defense. While Florida doesn’t dip in to the well as deep as Dayton, their bench is also wildly productive and produced 23 points in the stomping of the Bruins.
Florida is very capable of blowing teams out, which is why the Elite Eight odds favor them so heavily. They’ve crushed LSU by 18, Missouri by 23 and South Carolina by 26 in road games this season. No matter the location, the Gators always show up and their towering frontcourt and hyper efficient scorers always seem to get theirs. Florida has been shooting the lights out all tournament long and are coming off a 50-percent shooting rate against UCLA.
The problem is that Dayton just seems blessed, and going through 12 talented and promising young men gives them an advantage here. The main strength of Florida isn’t just their defense, or their ability to produce offensively. What Florida excels at is staying disciplined in close games. They rarely lose their cool. So even if Dayton feels like brewing an upset on Saturday, the Gators will retain their focus and continue to pound out points. This is a quality that very few teams in the tournament have shown. A lot of squads start airing out ill-advised three pointers as a white flag wave. Not Florida. They will wear you down like a giant piece of fine sand paper and take a million punches to the nose and smile the entire time. They’re unwavering confidence is a little unnerving to be honest.
Still, having so much delightful talent on the roster will help Dayton survive the episodes where Florida tries to completely overwhelm them. It’s not necessarily a matter of talent; it’s a war of attrition and when you have a full team that is chomping at the bit, you simply have more able bodies and fresh legs that can maintain the tempo.
Dayton has been a loveable underdog and a berth in this stage of the tournament is obviously well deserved. But the buck stops here from a figurative standpoint. Florida will not crack, but Dayton will never give up so this point cushion in the Elite Eight odds is a must-take for the dog.