After winning their final game of the regular season to earn a share of the Atlantic 10 title, the Dayton Flyers suffered a rather disappointing end to the 2015-16 campaign. Syracuse defeated Dayton in the first round of the NCAA tournament and went on to play in the Final Four. Despite the losses of Dyshawn Pierre and Bobby Wehrli, the Flyers are back and looking to have themselves another outstanding year. With four senior starters, Dayton hopes to live up to lofty expectations and justify their preseason #1 A-10 ranking. If the Flyers play their best version of True Team basketball, Archie Miller’s squad could not only earn its fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance, but also make the 2016-17 season a year for the record books.
Dyshawn Pierre may have been one of the best all-around players to ever put on a Flyer uniform. The consistency he brought to offense, defense, and rebounding every night went unmatched in his Dayton career. As a sophomore, Pierre helped lead Dayton to the Elite Eight and followed it up by making two more tournament appearances; resulting in a total of five NCAA tournament wins. In his senior season with the Flyers, Pierre averaged 12.6 points to go along with 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Pierre shot over 84% from the free throw line and the leadership he brought to Dayton proved invaluable. The Flyers will have a tough time replacing the 6’6″ forward as he is now playing in Germany for Lowen Braunschweig.
Bobby Wehrli, better known as the Wehrli Bird, will go down as one of the greatest walk-ons in the history of Dayton basketball. After the Flyer’s two big men were kicked off the team in 2015, Wehrli found his number called upon as the tallest player remaining on the team. The junior forward stepped up and played well, earning himself a scholarship and a lot of recognition from the Flyer faithful. Wehrli finished the 2014-15 season averaging 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. Although he did not play nearly as much in his senior season, the Wehrli Bird retained his scholarship and continued seizing every opportunity available. Dayton fans certainly will not forget Wehrli’s contributions any time soon.
While the Flyers may not have a lot of new faces this year, the ones that are coming in posses a lot of talent. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, redshirt sophomore Josh Cunningham seems primed to burst on to the college basketball scene. Cunningham was rated a top 100 player by ESPN coming out of high school and transferred to Dayton after playing his freshman year at Bradley University. At 6’7″ Cunningham will add some size and strength to the Flyer’s lineup. With the high praise Cunningham has been receiving for his ability to control the post, expect him to start alongside Kendall Pollard and lock down the paint for Dayton.
Trey Landers, a 6’5″ freshman shooting guard could provide a nice spark off the bench for the Flyers this year. Coming out of high school, ESPN rated Landers as the 3-star player. Landers won an Ohio high school state championship in his junior year at Wayne. Xeyrius Williams, a 6’8″ sophomore forward at Dayton, was also a member of this Wayne championship team. Now reunited, watch out for both Landers and Williams to shine when they see time on the court together.
Side Note: 4-star freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo will not play for Dayton this year as the NCAA deemed him a partial qualifier. Antetokounmpo will be able to practice with the team for the second half of this season and should make a huge impact when he is eligible to play next year.
While Dayton has a lot of talent returning, the most notable players coming back have to be the four seniors. Scoochie Smith, a 6’2″ point guard out of the Bronx, New York, runs the show as the Flyer’s floor general. Last season, Smith averaged 11.7 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game. In the recent A-10 preseason awards, Smith earned all-conference second team honors. Fellow senior guard Kyle Davis also received preseason all-conference honors. Davis’s ability to lockdown opposing players gave him a spot on the A-10 defensive team. Standing only 6’0″ Davis does always plays tough and has some magic when it comes to getting difficult shots to fall.
Another key returner for Dayton is senior forward Kendall Pollard. Despite battling injuries throughout last season, Pollard averaged over 10 points and nearly five rebounds a game. In order for the Flyers to have the success they desire this year, Pollard must be fully healthy. Arguably Dayton’s best returning player is 6’5″ redshirt senior Charles Cooke. Cooke spent his first two years of college at James Madison University before transferring to Dayton where he has become one of the A-10’s, and nation’s, top shooting guards. If Cooke lives up to his All A-10 first team hype, and somehow finds a way to improve off of his 15.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game from last season, his star-power could take the Flyers far.
With four seniors coming back, Dayton’s starting lineup will certainly not lack any experience. Smith, Davis, and Pollard, seek to become the all-time winningest class in Flyer history. The trio also has a chance to make their fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance: something Dayton basketball has never achieved before. Add in Cooke, an A-10 Player of the Year candidate, and the Flyers seem ready for another huge tournament run.
Although Archie Miller said this year was tougher than any other to put a schedule together, Dayton will face some tough challenges as the season unfolds. The Flyers will open the season at home on November 11th against Austin Peay before going on the road to play Alabama. Following that game, Dayton will return home for a match-up against Saint Mary’s, who could very well be ranked inside the top 20 nationally at the time. Despite playing three challenging games to start, there is no rest for the weary as the Flyers will travel out to California to compete in the Wooden Legacy tournament. Dayton finally gets some, what should be, easier games following the tournament before they take on Northwestern and Vanderbilt to finish up non-conference play.
As for Dayton’s conference slate, the Flyers will play some of the tough two-way match-ups they have been waiting for. The True Team will face St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island, VCU, Saint Louis, and Duquesne twice. The games against URI and VCU could very well decide who takes home the A-10 regular season title. Dayton will travel to George Washington to take on the Colonials in its last game of the regular season. Playing Davidson, VCU, and GW to close out the season will certainly be no easy task. All in all, the Flyer’s 2016-17 schedule offers them a tough test from start to finish.
With such lofty expectations for the 2016-17 campaign, the pressure on Dayton is rising. The Flyers return such a wealth of talent that the possibility exists for this basketball season to be the best in school history. When the True Team rallies together they can give any team in the country a run for their money. Picked to win the A-10, Dayton has a serious chance to not only grab a conference championship, but also make their fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance. A lot of things must happen, however, before the Flyers can even think about making more noise in the Big Dance. One thing is for sure: Archie Miller’s squad should be a lot of fun to watch this year.