That player with his shorts around his knees is the only thing keeping me from writing the most optimistic season preview for a Dayton basketball team that has ever been written. We’ll get to him a little later.
Two years ago 11 seed Dayton shocked Ohio State (not really a huge shock), Syracuse (a huge shock), and Stanford (not even an upset) before finally falling to a clearly superior Florida team in the Elite 8. It’s the longest tournament run Dayton has gone on in my lifetime and nudged them closer to a national spotlight than they have been in decades.
Last year, although they didn’t quite have the same tournament success, they still managed to assemble one of the most remarkable seasons of any team in the country. Playing with only 6 functional scholarship players (sorry Bobby Wehrli a.k.a. “Wehrlibird”) and nobody over 6’6” they managed to put up a 25-8 regular season record (13-5 in the A10) and win 2 more tournament games before running out of gas with a 9 point lead against Oklahoma in the round of 32. Part of the reason they ran out of gas, of course, is that the selection committee gave the Flyers an extra hurdle to clear by putting them in the First Four for reasons nobody has been able to even badly explain. At least it was a home game, I guess. But I’m over that. Honestly, I am. Really. Ok, moving on.
Offseason Optimism Builds on a Strong Core
So one can clearly see why the optimism level was running high for Flyers fans heading into this summer. One of the biggest benefits of last year’s undermanned squad was that several underclassmen got forced into playing significant minutes and all of them performed well beyond any reasonable expectation. Kendall Pollard in particular took a massive leap from his freshman campaign (he won A10 Most Improved Player) and became one of the better frontcourt players in the conference despite being only 6’6”. Scoochie Smith evolved into a sturdy point guard who showed an expanded scoring game toward the end of the season. Kyle Davis, while being unable to score unless he was taking an uncontested layup or corner three, emerged as possibly the best defensive guard in the conference. Darrell Davis – only a sophomore this year – might get knocked over by a stiff wind but he is the best shooter on a team with several quality shooters and should get substantially more substantial (see what I did there?) with a full offseason. Oh, and I still haven’t mentioned their most versatile and, arguably, best player. He’s certainly their most important player.
Replacing Jordan Sibert
Whenever the national media came around they seemed to focus on Jordan Sibert as the Flyers best player. Given the team’s success while Sibert was a Flyer you’ll hear nothing bad about him here, but it looks like the team will be able to replace his production. The aforementioned Darrell Davis should take a step toward replacing Sibert as a dangerous three point shooter to stretch the defense, but guy who will do most of the shoe filling will be Charles Cooke. Cooke – a James Madison transfer – is a big guard with a scoring touch. All I have to go on here is a quality sophomore season at James Madison (14.3 ppg), 18 points against Indiana in a second round (real first round) NCAA tournament game, and a solid track record of scoring guards transferring to UD. The previous guy to do that was…oh, nice! Sibert. The rest of their recruiting class should add some depth and size, but I’m not really going to address those guys because: 1) I haven’t seen them play; 2) I don’t feel like digging through scouting reports behind paywalls; 3) even if I did do that digging, mid major recruit scouting is more art than science; and 4) I have better (well, more impactful) things to write about.
I’ve Avoided This Long Enough
Remember when you could talk about the Blackhawks or Flyers without having to address sexual assault allegations? Me neither. First a disclaimer: I don’t have any opinions about what actually happened. You don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not poking that bear.
Here’s what I do know. Dyshawn Pierre was the most valuable player for the Flyers last season. He is their best rebounder and probably their best post defender. He’s an exceptional passer who can score in the post or hit a three. One of the biggest reasons why UD handled VCU’s “havoc” defense so well last year is because they could have Pierre act like a point forward to bring the ball up the court and VCU wouldn’t press as much because they couldn’t have one of their bigs so far out of position chasing Pierre around in the backcourt. He’s also not playing until at least December 22 because he’s not enrolled at UD.
In May another UD student accused Pierre of rape. If you want to read more about the allegations just google his name – the stories aren’t hard to find. The Montgomery County prosecutor declined to prosecute after an investigation this summer but UD suspended him for the semester anyway. Making things even messier, Pierre then sought an injunction in federal court to prevent UD from enforcing the suspension. That claim has been rejected. Here’s a short summary of events.
Given this background, there is obviously a ton of uncertainty about how much Pierre will play this season – if he plays at all. Yesterday, Archie Miller hinted that Pierre would return in a radio interview, which means he would be eligible to play against Miami (OH) on December 22. Unfortunately for the Flyers, he’s going to miss some important games no matter what. Which leads me to….
Strength of schedule is always a goose in Dayton’s engine. Nobody wants to schedule home and homes with them because…you know what? I’ll address this later in a much, much, much longer rant. It’s just tough – we’ll leave it at that for now. Their best chances to bolster their nonconference SoS (mostly) all happen before Pierre could possibly play, which obviously isn’t ideal. They get Avery Johnson’s Alabama squad at home as part of ESPN’s college hoops kickoff next Tuesday then they’re guaranteed a game against Iowa in the first round of the Advocare Invitational in Orlando in November. Depending on how that tournament shakes out they could also play Xavier, Wichita State, Alabama (again – weird), and/or Notre Dame. That Dayton-ND game could be something on this blog….
Then, on December 12 the Flyers travel to current #18 Vanderbilt. After Pierre’s potential return they play Arkansas at home and then…Rhode Island twice? As you can see, the strength of their schedule falls in the beginning. This might be a problem for their tournament prospects unless they can figure out how to compensate for Sibert and Pierre’s absences, and I’m not sure they can.
Outside of drawing Rhode Island twice during conference play, though, they only play the other A10 contenders (Davidson, VCU, George Washington, maybe Richmond) once each and three of those four games are at home where UD has won 22 straight games.
If Pierre doesn’t play all year I’m struggling to see how this team makes the tournament. He’s that important. That being said, there are only a handful of coaches in the country I would trust with a fix-on-the-fly roster and Archie Miller is one of them. As is my wont, I’ll lean optimistic and give them wins over Alabama at home, Iowa in the first round of the Advocare Invitational, Arkansas at home, and then give them a 12-6 conference record (this might be pessimistic, actually). As long as they don’t blow a game against one of the other crummy teams dotting their schedule that should work out to a 21-9 record and, depending on how the teams they play perform, that should be enough to get them a low seed. Or – and I’m not sure I could take this – another invitation to the First Four. Let the games begin?