Three games in to what has already been a unique season, the Dayton Flyers find themselves traveling to Atlanta for a critical game. With a shortened and ever-changing slate of non-conference games, the Flyers are looking to add a notable win to their resume before it’s too late. In order to do so, Dayton will leave UD Arena for the first time this year to battle Mississippi State. With fellow Atlantic 10 teams (Richmond and Saint Louis) already downing Kentucky and LSU, the Flyers will look to continue the A-10’s recent success against the SEC. There won’t be any fans in attendance, but Dayton and Mississippi State are scheduled to tip-off at 3:00 ET Saturday on ESPNU
Entering Saturday’s game at 3-2 overall, I think it’s fair to say Mississippi State’s start to the season has been underwhelming. After dropping their first two contests against Clemson and Liberty, the Bulldogs got themselves back on track with three wins over sub-par teams. Nevertheless, Mississippi State is a talented SEC team. The Bulldogs currently check in at No. 78 in Kenpom and I fully expect them to rise as the season progresses.
Led by a trio of sophomores who account for 74% of their points, the Bulldogs have been a top-heavy team. As you might imagine, Dayton’s path to victory on Saturday will center around its ability to stop the young guns of Mississippi State. The young guns to pay attention to are Iverson Molinar, DJ. Stewart Jr. and Tolu Smith. Molinar, a 6’3″ guard, has been the Bulldog’s star this year. Averaging 18 points, five rebounds, three assists, and shooting a preposterous 66.7% from three, Molinar can do it all. To make life tougher on a defense, Molinar has a skilled sidekick in Stewart Jr. This year, the 6’6″ guard is averaging 16.4 points on 47.1% three point shooting. Last but not least, Tolu Smith, a 6’10” forward, has been controlling the paint with an average of 15 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Ultimately, if Dayton wants to beat Mississippi State on Friday, the Flyers will need a strong defensive effort from guys such as Rodney Chatman, Ibi Watson, and Chase Johnson.
If you’ve watched Dayton so far this season, I think you’ll agree that the Flyers are a work-in-progress. Still searching for their new identity after losing Obi Toppin, Trey Landers, and Ryan Mikesell from last year’s team, Anthony Grant seems to be in experimental mode. From playing a walk-on in key situations to alternating big man combinations, Grant has utilized a variety of lineups so far this season. While I can’t say which lineup Grant will choose to use the most on Saturday, I do know one thing: Dayton has more than enough talent and experience to win this game. Led by Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson, the Flyers start four seniors and a redshirt junior – all of whom know what it takes to win. If I were Dayton, I would trust my veterans to play smart, win their individual matchups, and challenge the young guns of Mississippi State to keep pace over the course of 40 minutes. If there’s a timeless trend in college basketball, it’s that young teams play in spurts. I think the Flyers will look to capitalize on Mississippi State’s inconsistency, wear them down, and take over in the 2nd half on Saturday.
As you may have guessed, I am picking the Dayton Flyers to beat Mississippi State and improve to 3-1 on the year. I think Rodney Chatman’s defensive prowess will slow down Bulldogs’ star Iverson Molinar. Consequently, Mississippi State’s offense will stall for periods of time as it will be tougher to get their supporting cast involved. I fully expect Dayton’s veterans to control the pace of this game from start to finish and ultimately grind out a 74-66 victory.
Featured Image Via Keegan Gupta