The winner will advance to face fourth-seed La Salle in Friday’s quarterfinal round.
Dayton is seeking its first tournament title since 2003. The Flyers closed out the regular season by winning three of their last four games, although they lost to George Washington in Saturday’s finale.
Butler, a former Horizon League member, is making its A-10 tourney debut. The Bulldogs were ranked in the top-10 at one point this season but sputtered a bit down the stretch with recent losses to Saint Louis and VCU.
Butler leads the all-time series, 12-10. The Bulldogs beat Dayton in January, 79-73, despite top scorer Rotnei Clarke leaving the court in a stretcher after hitting his head in the first half and reporting loss of feeling in his hands. Clarke, who was ultimately diagnosed with a severe neck sprain, was able to return to the floor two games later to help the Bulldogs knock off now top- ranked Gonzaga.
Despite their low seeding, the Flyers are certainly not to be taken lightly, as they have shot 50 percent or better from the floor in six straight games. On the season, they sport the A-10′s best field-goal percentage (.474) and three point field-goal percentage (.383).
Kevin Dillard (15.3 ppg) and Lee Sanford (12.3 ppg) lead the squad in scoring. Dillard’s ability to get to the free-throw line has proven to be a big difference for the Flyers. He is 43- of-46 at the charity stripe over his last 10 games. Dillard also leads UD in assists (4.5), 3-pointers made (53), free throws made (137), free-throw percentage (.895) and minutes (32.8). Josh Benson and Dyshawn Pierre both rank in the conference’s top-10 in field goal percentage.
The Bulldogs are headlined by Clarke, a first-team all-conference guard who leads the team in scoring with 16.7 ppg, which also ranks fourth in the conference. A 42-percent shooter from beyond the arc, Clarke is good for 3.5 threes a night and will no doubt be a focal point after missing most of the first meeting with Dayton. Senior center Andrew Smith is second on the team with 11.1 points and a team-best 5.8 rebounds per tilt, while freshman Kellen Dunham (10.2 ppg) is a strong contender to be named the Atlantic 10 Newcomer of the Year.
The Bulldogs are among the conference’s best defensive teams, ranking fourth in scoring defense (63.8 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (.415). Butler’s success in tournaments is not a well-kept secret. Coach Brad Stevens led the team to three Horizon League Tournament championships in five years and also a pair of national runner-up finishes in the Big Dance.
Many expected Butler to move right to the top of the pecking order in its inaugural (and likely only) A-10 season. Although the Bulldogs battled through their share of ups and downs, they are certainly as capable as any other team of winning this tournament. But first, they must get past a Dayton squad that is shooting lights-out over its last half dozen games.
Predicted Outcome: Butler 89, Dayton 84