It’s no secret that Flyer fans weren’t particularly thrilled with Dayton’s start to the regular season. The Flyers won a tough road game over Alabama but proceeded to fall short in the games that mattered for the rest of non-conference play. Dayton’s losses to St. Mary’s, Nebraska, and Northwestern came in similar fashion: come out of the gates with no offensive production and try to claw your way back in the final minutes. While Dayton kept these games misleadingly close, they trailed by double-digits at some point in all three.
But things are changing at the start of Atlantic 10 play. Even without leading scorer Charles Cooke, Dayton’s played superb basketball in its last two contests. The Flyers have taken down Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, and brutal starts seem to be a thing of the past. Certainly, Dayton’s offense has picked it up. The Flyers knocked down 14 threes in a dominating road win over the Bonnies. We’re beginning to see this team play with more consistency, more poise, and most importantly, the Flyers are making more shots.
But the most important part of Dayton’s success as of late has been its defense. The Flyers would not be where they are right now if they didn’t have one of the best defenses in the league. Especially since the start of conference play, the Flyers are locking down on the other end of the floor, and that’s seemingly leading to easier buckets on offense.
Dayton forced 20 turnovers in its conference opener against La Salle. While the Flyers struggled immensely from deep (3-22), their defense picked up an enormous amount of the slack, and they got a double-digit victory. Even Rhode Island, a team that seldom turns the ball over, gave it away 18 times against the Flyers. Even on an off night from long range yet again (Dayton went 4-12 from deep), the Flyers buckled down and used their defense to take one away from the Rams.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Dayton currently has the best steal percentage and forced turnover percentage in the A-10 since the start of conference play. The Flyers are also limiting teams to a 47.0% effective field goal percentage, which is 2nd in the league behind Rhode Island. The Flyers have been feisty. Fighting without Charles Cooke these last few games, this team is playing with grit and using its defense to win games.
What this means for Dayton is that it does not have to rely on a great offensive night to beat teams in the Atlantic 10. Dayton can have cold nights shooting the basketball (as we’ve seen frequently this season) and still win basketball games. And the most impressive part about Dayton’s success has to be the fact that Archie Miller’s team is playing through a number of injuries. Kendall Pollard missed the first 6 games of the season. Josh Cunningham has been out since the Alabama game. Charles Cooke has played less than 30 minutes of league ball. Yet, the Flyers are on top of the league standings and look to push forward with a manageable schedule ahead.
Dayton’s defensive intensity is a great sign for this team. The Flyers are, yet again, looking like an NCAA Tournament team, and in a league full of question marks and just a few truly dominant teams, it looks like the Flyers are going to roll once more. If Dayton wants to beat out Rhode Island, VCU, and whoever else may challenge for the A-10 title, it starts at the defensive end, and that’s just what the Flyers have been doing.