By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW YORK – Throw out the term “mid-major” to Dayton basketball players, and you receive some minor opposition.
“We know what that means, but we don’t look at it like that. It makes you want to out-work everybody out there,” Flyers forward Chris Wright says.
While the term will not appear in the dictionary, it’s used to differentiate teams from those in the “power conferences,” another term that won’t appear in the dictionary.
Mid-majors make up half the NIT Final Four Field, and the “majors,” represented by Ole Miss and North Carolina, won’t face one another unless they both win.
Ole Miss takes on Dayton tonight at 6 at Madison Square Garden with the Tar Heels and Rhode Island, another Atlantic 10 Conference member, to follow.
Dayton (23-12) has been tabbed by some analysts as one of the hottest teams still playing. The Flyers’ road to New York included road trips to two power conference schools. Dayton came up big each time, winning by 15 at nearby Big East rival Cincinnati, then winning 77-71 at Illinois in a game they led by 17 points at one point.
Over the last four years, Dayton is 9-4 against teams from BCS conferences, 3-1 this year. The Flyers have won four of their last five against the Big East.
Dayton lost five of its last seven within the A-10 before going on its NIT run.
“They get the ball out fast, and the go, and we’re going to have to be really good in transition D,” Ole Miss guard Chris Warren said. “We really don’t look at them as a mid-major. We know everybody has good players.”
Wright, the Flyers’ 6-foot-8 All-A-10 forward, in scoring (13.8 ppg), rebounding (7.1 rpg) and blocked shots (1.4 bpg). He’s been at his best against the BCS with four of his 12 career double-doubles then.
Wright had 27 points and 10 rebounds as Dayton eliminated West Virginia from the NCAA tournament last season. He had 15 points and 10 rebounds in a losing cause against Kansas State this season.
“I feel like guys from our conference can play with anybody,” Dayton guard Marcus Johnson said. “We don’t get caught up in all that, but when people talk about mid-majors it does put a little chip on your shoulder.”
Looking to advance
For Ole Miss, the competition may be more against itself than against the team at the other end of the floor.
“We want to win a championship,” said sophomore guard Terrico White, whose 21.7 NIT scoring average is about seven points higher than his regular season average.
Ole Miss (24-10) was here two years ago but did not advance to the championship game.
Non-conference wins against Kansas State and UTEP had the Rebels in the NCAA discussion until late in the season, but they were unable to pick up an additional top 50 RPI win that most likely would have gotten them over that hump.
ESPN college basketball personality Fran Frischilla, the emcee at Monday’s NIT media day, called Ole Miss a team that “will most likely be in the NCAA tournament next year.”
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy says his players dealt with NCAA disappointment quickly. He says the Rebels are eager to accomplish something not done at the school before but that this really isn’t about rescuing a season for the label of under-achievement.
“There weren’t a lot of expectations on this team. We weren’t supposed to be a preseason top 25 team, and we weren’t. We created those expectations by the way we played in our non-league and in showing that we have a quality basketball team.
“Now we’re here, and we just want to play with energy and focus. You only have so many opportunities to play for a championship.”