This has already been an unexpectedly turbulent season for the Flyers and it’s only late November. The season preview I drafted went out the window when Josh Cunningham’s ankle exploded on the last play of the game against Alabama. The ceiling on Dayton’s season also went down on that play.
Unfortunately, that ceiling has done nothing but fall since the Syracuse debacle that ended their 1015-2016 season. There are several things that hamper some of the mid-major or low-major schools (whatever you want to call Dayton…I just don’t care about that label at this point). They usually struggle to rack up a strong RPI because their conferences are loaded with duds and nobody wants a home-and-home with a strong team. The biggest one, though, is the lack of quality size. Guard play around the country is relatively even. I don’t think, for example, that the guards who typically play for Kansas and Michigan State are leaps and bounds ahead of the guards that play for Butler or Xavier or Dayton or Wichita State. They’re better, sure, but it’s not an insurmountable gap. The big men, however, are a different story.
This disparity makes perfect sense when you consider that the pool of available basketball players who are 5’10 – 6’4” is a hell of a lot larger than the pool of available 6’9” and up players. There just aren’t that many humans that tall. The ones that exist who can play even a little are snapped up by the major programs and there’s very little depth there for the remaining teams to recruit. This is why Dayton’s roster heading in to this season looked so promising. They had four players in their frontcourt players who looked like plus players in almost every matchup and who looked like a nightmare waiting to happen for the rest of the A10. So far this season, those four guys have played a combined two games. Three of them won’t play again this season and the fourth hasn’t been healthy for two years.
Big Steve McElvene tragically died this summer. Obviously, the basketball part of that equation is far less important but he looked like he was going to be a special player. Then 6’10” Kostas Antetokounmpo was ruled academically ineligible for the season. Dayton has been down the NBA player’s little brother road before with Frank Iguodala to very mixed results, but a top-100 recruit doesn’t suit up for UD all that often. We’ve been over what happened to Cunningham. Kendall Pollard, he of the “if that guy could stay healthy he’d really round this team out nicely” Pollards, still hasn’t played this season as he recovers from yet another injury. The promise was there, but at this point I’d just settle for the guy playing ten fully healthy games by the end of the season. Not holding my breath.
Without these guys, Dayton’s size will be a disadvantage all year. The two guys they’re slotting in now – Sam Miller and Ryan Mikesell – are really not back-to-the-basket guys. Miller would be better suited as a stretch forward or a pick-and-roll guy, at least that’s what he looked like last year since he took more than half of his shots from behind the arc. Mikesell is not a “big man” at all, but he does have a decent offensive game. Defensively, though…woof. Without a healthy Pollard, this is what they have to work with.
It’s going to be a struggle all year to win games when you are likely getting hammered on the boards and struggling to keep opponents from attacking the rim with abandon. Still, if there’s a guy who can figure out how to polish this turd, it’s Archie Miller. This group has sort of done this before with their undermanned run two years ago, but that group was deeper than this one. That is especially true on offense where the only guys who can create their own offense are Charles Cooke and Scoochie Smith. The rest of the team…not so much. Darrell Davis and John Crosby might give you a half here and there, but relying on either seems like a dangerous idea. Still, they are 4-2 with one decent win so things could be worse. How’d we get here you ask? Let’s find out.
Game 1: Austin Peay 68 – Dayton 96
They got really close to a palindrome score, which is always fun. Honestly, that’s the most interesting thing about this game. Dayton got a cupcake at home and they devoured it.
Game 2: Dayton 77 – Alabama 72
Now this was a strange one. I can’t remember seeing a team get a road win when it gets beaten 40-28 on the glass (including an astonishingly bad 18-5 offensive rebounding deficit), shoots 60% from the line, and takes 15 fewer shots. And yet that’s what Dayton did in this game. Obviously the headline from this game was Cunningham getting hurt on the last play but Dayton’s rebounding problems were already on full display in this one. It’s a good thing they tossed basically the basketball equivalent of a perfect game: every shot they took was either in the paint or behind the arc. Solid offensive scheme, that. Alabama looked a lot better than they did last year, though.
Game 3: St. Mary’s 61 – Dayton 57
I could only catch this one on the radio, but it sounded like the Flyers were going to run out of their own gym for most of this game. At one point early in the second half they were chasing 17. A furious comeback later and this game was actually (very) briefly tied. I guess the comeback should make them feel a little better about this one, but this game was doomed to failure from the tip. It seems unlikely that Dayton will be more vulnerable at any point this season since this was their first game with a fully depleted frontcourt and St. Mary’s could very well be the best team UD plays all year. Still – losing at home is something this team hasn’t done much of.
Game 4: Nebraska 80 – Dayton 78
I don’t have much to say about this that I didn’t already say on Twitter. This was a game Dayton should have won and they seemed to know that. The Cornhuskers aren’t a good team (I could still get proven wrong about that, but I’m not holding my breath), and yet there was Dayton giving them open shot after open shot. It’s obviously to Nebraska’s credit that they hit them, but I don’t see this team racking up 80 very often this year. This was the second straight game where Dayton made an improbable comeback after being down huge early, but those games are only beneficial if you win.
Game 5: Portland 74 – Dayton 84
The Flyers vs. the Pilots! That was probably the most exciting thing about this one. The final score indicates a closer game than this seemed to be, but honestly nobody cares. One Dayton had to have and they got.
Game 6: Dayton 17 – New Mexico 10
Yeah, fine, it was actually 64-57 but this was a serious rock fight until the teams traded 8-0 runs during the final 2 or so minutes. Luckily for me, Dayton got the final 8-0 run. Games like this will probably be unfortunately frequent for a team with only two creative offensive players. Whether this game looks like a decent win (like Alabama) or like a win over a slightly better Portland remains to be seen.
Coming up are three lousy games against Winthrop, St. Joseph’s (Indiana), and East Tennessee State at home. Dayton should take those three before heading to Chicago to play Northwestern in front of yours truly. Should be fun.