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SportsLine 2020 NCAA Tournament simulation: Dayton's road to the championship

The SportsLine Projection Model, using the latest bracketology before the postseason was canceled, forecasted Dayton would have won the title. Here is the Flyers' road to the championship.
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Only 35 schools have won a national championship in men's basketball. The SportsLine Projection Model forecasts that Dayton would have been the 36th had the 2020 NCAA Tournament been held. The Flyers, led by Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year and All-American Obi Toppin, have not lost a game in regulation this season.

They finished 29-2, with both defeats coming in overtime at a neutral site out of conference – to Kansas and Colorado. The Flyers won every true road game for the first time since 1954-55, closed on a 20-game win streak (tied with 1951-52 team for best in school history) and finished 18-0 in the A-10 for the first time.

Dayton has never won a national championship, with the 1966-67 team losing in the title game to a powerhouse UCLA club led by Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). But the Model projected a first title in 2020 for the Flyers. Here was Dayton's hypothetical road to a championship, with Coach Anthony Grant's team projected as the No. 1 seed in the East Region.

Odds courtesy of PointsBet sportsbook's Patrick Eichner. 

Round of 64

Dayton (-18) vs. No. 16 Winthrop: The Eagles were co-champions of the Big South Conference in the regular season and won the conference tournament to earn the school's 11th all-time berth to the NCAA Tournament. These schools played last on Dec. 3, 2016, with Dayton winning 83-67. The Model projects a final score of 85-70, so the Flyers would not cover the hypothetical spread. In the past five NCAA Tournaments, No. 1 seeds are 9-11 ATS against No. 16 seeds. Three of the four underdogs covered in 2019.

Round of 32

Dayton (-7.5) vs. No. 8 Saint Mary's (Calif.): The Gaels were an at-large team from the West Coast Conference, finishing third in the regular-season standings and losing to Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament final. This would be a regular-season rematch, with Dayton beating Saint Mary's 78-68 (Flyers -3.5) at a neutral site in Phoenix on Dec. 8. The Model projects the Flyers to fail to cover here as well, winning 79-72. Top seeds are 16-4 SU in the past 20 NCAA Tournament games against No. 8s and 9-11 ATS. The last No. 8 to beat a No. 1 was in 2017 when Wisconsin upset Villanova.

Sweet 16

Dayton (-3.5) vs. No. 4 Louisville: The Cardinals finished tied for second in the ACC regular season but closed the season a bit shaky with four losses in their final seven to slip to a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance. The Model projects the Flyers to squeak out a 75-73 victory. Dayton has won and covered the spread in the past three in the series, but the schools haven't played since December 2007. Top seeds have won 15 of the past 20 against No. 4 seeds and are 11-7-2 ATS. The most recent No. 4 to upset a No. 1 was Michigan State over Virginia in the 2014 Sweet 16.

Elite Eight

Dayton (-1.5) vs. No. 3 Michigan State: The Big Ten's Spartans were preseason No. 1 in both polls and favorites to win the national title but had some hiccups along the way and fell out of the Top 25 briefly at one point. However, led by All-American point guard Cassius Winston, the all-time Big Ten leader in assists, MSU closed winning five games in a row, four over ranked teams. The Model favors Dayton to win 75-74. If Michigan State had a good run in the Big Ten Tournament, it likely would have been favored here. These schools haven't played since December 1992. Top seeds have won 13 of the past 20 against No. 3s, but it's a 10-10 ATS split.

Final Four

Dayton (pick'em) vs. No. 3 Duke: The Blue Devils are easily the most popular college basketball bet in the country – both for and against, much like Notre Dame in football -- and would be favored in this game with a solid run in the ACC Tournament. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's team finished tied for second in the ACC regular season.  As good as Duke has been over the years, this would be its first trip to the Final Four since 2015 when the school won it all. The Model forecasts another one-point win for Dayton, 78-77. These teams last met in December 2002.  As noted above, top seeds have won 13 of the past 20 against No. 3s, but it's a 10-10 ATS split.

National Championship

Dayton (+2) vs. No. 1 Gonzaga: Only one current Atlantic 10 Conference school has won a national championship, and that was LaSalle in 1954 -- although the Explorers were an Independent team then. The Model projects Dayton to become the first school to win it all as a member of the A-10, a third straight one-point victory in the 2020 Big Dance: 79-78. It also projects Tobbin to win NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Dayton and Gonzaga last played in November 2013, with the Flyers winning 84-79 at a neutral site. The Flyers were underdogs just once this season, losing at +4 vs. Kansas (the betting favorite to win the 2020 NCAA Tournament) 90-84 in overtime on Nov. 27 in Hawaii. 

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