With the tragic passing of beloved Big Steve, NCAA ruling Kostas Antetokounmpo ineligible, and injuries to both Kendall Pollard and Josh Cunningham, the 2016-17 season did not start off as planned for Dayton. Picked to win the Atlantic 10 in the preseason, the Flyers entered this year with sky high expectations. Seeking its fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance, Dayton hopes to recapture some of the Elite Eight magic from 2014. Led by one of best senior classes in Flyer history, Dayton certainly possesses the talent and experience necessary for another special season. At 9-3 overall, the Flyers have some work left to do, though, if they want a chance to achieve their goals.
While Dayton did not put together the type of non-conference season it is accustomed to, the Flyers did manage to grab some solid wins. In the second game of the season Dayton traveled to Tuscaloosa and downed Alabama. The Flyers also defeated quality teams like New Mexico and most recently Vanderbilt. Dayton’s best non conference win, however, came on December 10th against a sneaky good East Tennessee State squad. Archie Miller’s squad dominated the Buccaneers 75-61 in a game that marked the return of injured star forward Kendall Pollard. Since the loss to the Flyers, ETSU has gone on to win at Mississippi State and nearly beat Tennessee. Currently the Buccaneers hold a 9-3 overall record and could easily go on to win the Southern conference.
Although Dayton picked up some solid wins, the Flyers failed to come away with any standout victories in the non-conference. In past seasons, the True Team typically managed to pull off a few impressive upsets that looked great on the resume in March. Unfortunately, injuries, scheduling, and a few slow starts prevented Dayton from beating a nationally ranked team this year. If the Flyers want to please the committee come tournament time, they need teams like Alabama, ETSU, New Mexico, and Vanderbilt to put very strong conference showings together.
Suffering only three losses in non-conference play, Dayton did a nice job of avoiding any disastrous defeats. The Flyers lost back to back games early in the season to nationally ranked Saint Mary’s and Big Ten foe Nebraska. Both of those losses, however, came without the services of Kendall Pollard and Josh Cunningham. Falling at the hands of Saint Mary’s is far from a bad loss. Nebraska, on the other hand, might not look so great in March.
Dayton’s only other non-conference loss came against Northwestern at the United Center. Based on the incredible season the Wildcats are putting together, the Northwestern loss should not harm the Flyer’s tournament hopes too much. Whether the committee gives Dayton grace because of injuries or not, the Flyers did a solid job escaping potential bad losses. In order to make the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight year, Dayton must continue avoiding a bad loss in conference play.
Non Conference Grade: B-
All in all, Dayton put together a fairly average non-conference resume. The Flyers lost each of their three opportunities for big time wins, but did not suffer a devastating loss. With a few nice wins against above average teams, Dayton can hope it did enough in the non conference to find its name on the bracket in March. Each of the Flyer’s preseason goals are still in reach, but the True Team must continue to get healthy and stay healthy. Kendall Pollard finally seems 100% and a late season return of Josh Cunningham remains a possibility. If Cunningham can return sometime in late February, the Atlantic 10 and rest of the country better watch out. When asked what Pollard and Cunningham bring to the Flyers when they are both on the court together, Archie Miller laughed and simply said “A lot.” While Dayton only managed to put a slightly above average non-conference resume together, the Flyers remain the favorite to win the A-10 and return to the NCAA tournament.