Dayton had the early buzz with a win over Gonzaga. The Flyers had a strong showing at the Maui Invitational with a shelf-life win over Cal and a one-point, "good" loss to Baylor.
But a 2-1 showing in Maui doesn't complete any team’s résumé.
Losing at Illinois State and at home to USC -- this particular season -- can certainly poke holes in an NCAA bid application and mute a bit of the excitement of Dayton’s early-season surprise. Winning on a last-possession 3-pointer at Ole Miss got the Flyers going again last week and maybe put them back in the conversation.
Now the A-10 schedule begins Saturday against red-hot Saint Louis on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. ET.
The Billikens have won five road games and are coming off an escape at Rhode Island to start conference play.
Dayton is the only A-10 team that hasn't played a league game yet.
The door is open for the Flyers to gain some momentum atop the league with UMass, VCU, SLU and, perhaps, George Washington, even after the Colonials fell to La Salle on Thursday.
"To compete for an A-10 title, we must be in the upper half in defensive statistics," Dayton coach Archie Miller said. "Offensively, through 15 games, you could argue we have the most efficient offense in the league. ... When we defend and rebound like we have in our best versus our best competition, we can beat people. That's our whole goal daily."
If that's the case, then this could be one of the more difficult games in which to score. SLU won't be budging on defense either. Jordair Jett scored 31 points for the Billikens in a 59-58 win at URI. They held Vanderbilt to 49 points. The only losses for SLU were against undefeated Wisconsin in Mexico and at home against undefeated Wichita State. There's not too much to complain about with that slate.
"We have to be able to play in transition on makes and misses and flow into the half court with great movement and screening," said Miller on how to beat SLU. "You cannot stand or expect to move the ball otherwise. Getting it inside to players is essential. Must find a way to crash glass and get extra opportunities."
So much of the A-10 race could be decided by scheduling. UMass gets VCU and SLU at home but has to go to Dayton and GW. Dayton plays VCU and GW at home but twice against SLU (one at home). GW, now down 0-1, gets UMass at home, has to go to Dayton and SLU and plays VCU twice. SLU has the roughest schedule with Dayton and VCU twice, at UMass and home versus GW. The season ends for the Billikens with a brutal three-game stretch, at VCU, Dayton, at UMass.
All that means Dayton has to make its mark Saturday at home.
"Post-Maui, we struggled at times defensively, and it cost us the USC game," Miller said. "We deteriorated, and individuals kind of forgot how we got some success. Post-Christmas, we have found it again and have played really hard. It's led to two home wins and a tough road win at Ole Miss.”