The Flyers won the 2016-17 Atlantic 10 league outright behind the winningest senior class in Dayton basketball history. Kyle Davis, Kendall Pollard, Charles Cooke, and Scoochie Smith led the Flyers to one of their best seasons in a long time, and it ended with a 4th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament despite an early exit in the A-10 Tourney. Dayton would go on to lose a tight battle to Wichita St. in the opening round, and graduating seniors wouldn’t be the only offseason departures. Head coach Archie Miller accepted a head coaching job at Indiana, leaving the Dayton position vacant. The Flyers signed former VCU coach Anthony Grant as their next head coach, and Grant did a nice job hanging on to a majority of the Flyers’ incoming recruits and current players. With a lot of question marks and an abnormal dynamic (frontcourt heavy), the Flyers look to make it back to their 5th straight NCAA Tournament despite their leader Archie Miller coaching another squad.
Davis has been inching his way along throughout his career at Dayton, serving as a role player off the bench; this year, expectations should be a bit loftier. Despite averaging just 20.8 minutes per game last year, Davis managed to knock down 40 of 104 (38.5%) of his three point attempts, a drastic improvement from his sophomore season. While he hasn’t seen playing time increase all that much in his first 3 seasons, Darrell Davis should see plenty of time on the court this year. Someone’s going to have to make up the backcourt minutes lost in Kyle Davis and Scoochie Smith. While Davis hasn’t had a ton of opportunities to showcase his talents in big games, he does two things well: makes threes and limits turnovers. That’s exactly what Anthony Grant is going to need out of him next season as he takes on a bigger role with the Dayton Flyers.
If you’d have asked who Dayton was going to start at point guard just a few months ago, no Flyer fan would have a clue. With the hiring of Anthony Grant, recruit McKinley Wright decided to decommit from UD, and rising junior John Crosby announced he’d be leaving the program — until he changed his mind. Crosby will return to Dayton next season, and more than likely, he’ll share minutes at the starting PG position with Jalen Crutcher. Though Crosby wasn’t exactly on the floor all the time last season (he averaged just 13.3 points per game), he was one of only 4 Dayton players to play in all 32 games. He served the role of back-up point guard pretty effectively, but Scoochie Smith’s sneakers are big shoes to fill.
Crosby certainly brings a lot of question marks to next year’s team. For one, his 1.15 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t going to fly in a competitive Atlantic 10. Crosby needs to be better with the basketball — particularly, less careless. I also don’t know what to make of Crosby’s shooting ability. He shot 45.5% from deep his sophomore year compared to 27.3% as a freshman, but 22 shot attempts per season isn’t that great of an indicator. The truth of the matter is: John Crosby really served as a placeholder when Scoochie Smith needed a breather, and he’ll have to be so much more than that this year. Dayton’s success next season may depend heavily on point guard play, especially in a league dominated by impressive guards like URI and St. Bonaventure’s sets.
If you’re looking for a crucial player on this Dayton roster, look no further than Josh Cunningham. The Bradley transfer flew under the radar last season after missing time due to injury. What people forget is that Cunningham got off to a really good start to the season. In the Flyers’ first two games, Cunningham went for 25 points and 9 boards in just 34 minutes total. Of course, after suffering a horrible leg injury on the road against Alabama, it’d be tough for Cunningham to get back to the same level. But that was last season, and with a fresh start, Cunningham has a chance to be an all-conference player.
Though limited last year, Cunningham shot nearly 60% from the floor, a very impressive feat for any player in the A-10. During his freshman season at Bradley, Cunningham ranked top 10 in the MVC in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be one of the league’s best on the glass next year. Dayton ranked 9th in the A-10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages last year; the Flyers aren’t used to out-playing their opponents in the paint. That could change this year with Cunningham and some big freshman at Anthony Grant’s disposal.
Literally and figuratively, Williams is going to be Dayton’s “X”-Factor in 2017-18. There are few players in this league that made as big of a jump as Xeyrius did as a sophomore. Williams averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 boards per game, which is already impressive, but his efficiency was off the charts. The sophomore had the 3rd best offensive rating in the conference, and he led the league in three point shooting at 45.1%. Williams was top 20 in the Atlantic 10 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, turnover rate, and block percentage. In addition, he hit 58.5% of his two point attempts.
How did Xeyrius Williams manage to put up such dominant numbers? There’s a chance opposing teams kind of forgot about him. Dayton’s foes had enough to worry about with Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, Kyle Davis, and Kendall Pollard on the floor; it was tough to handle the other guy Xeyrius too. I don’t know if we’ll see Williams shoot the ball at the same rate as a sophomore; I can almost guarantee you that his numbers will go down as he takes more shots. Simply put, he’s going to have to be the man for Anthony Grant in 2017-18. As we’ve seen with star players in this conference like Jordan Price of La Salle, putting the team on your back can hurt efficiency, even if you average 20+ points per game. That’s the direction Xeyrius Williams is heading, but I’d expect him to be the Flyers’ best scorer and all-around player in 2017-18.
I guess there should be an asterisk next to Miller’s name, because we’re not so sure if he’ll be on Dayton’s roster next season. The rising junior had one heck of a drunk night that got him thrown in jail; he’d end up losing a fight to a guy that he thought was Jack Gibbs. Needless to say, it may have been cool to see Sam Miller on Barstool Sports, but this is not a good representation of the university, and I’d be shocked to see the Flyers dismiss this incident. Should Sam Miller, by some miracle, suit up in a Dayton uniform next season, he won’t play that big of a role. He only made 3 field goals in the months of February and March last season, and it didn’t look like Sam Miller was going to be an integral piece of this program moving forward. It’s unfortunate news for the Flyers, but Sam Miller wasn’t that important to this basketball team.
Landers only played 52 total minutes across 9 games last year, but during that time, he scored a total of 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. That’s a point almost every 2 minutes and a rebound every 4 minutes. The freshman rarely entered the game but played really darn well when he did. I understand that Smith, Cooke, Davis, and Pollard pretty much ran the show, but I would’ve given Trey Landers a couple more chances on the floor. So here’s something interesting to watch: does Anthony Grant give Trey a chance to be more of a role player off the bench next year? It’d behoove him to take a chance on the young gun, because he’s yet to show reason not to believe in him.
No McKinley Wright? No problem says Jalen Crutcher. The 3 star commit from Memphis, Tennessee has a chance to be Dayton’s first freshman starting point guard since Scoochie Smith 4 years ago. At 6-3 and 170 lbs., Crutcher certainly has the build and physique to compete against the top guards in the league. I could see him developing a game similar to DeJon Jarreau of Massachusetts last year. Crutcher averaged 18 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals per game his senior year of high school. I see Crutcher coming in and making an immediate impact for a team that’s got a huge hole at PG.
It’ll be interesting to see who ultimately wins out the spot of starting point guard between John Crosby and Jalen Crutcher. While Crosby is listed as a true point guard and probably prefers playing at the 1, he spent a lot of time flip-flopping between the 2 and the 3 last season. Will Anthony Grant keep Crosby as a 2 and focus Crutcher at the helm? A lot of it depends on how quickly Jalen Crutcher can adjust to the collegiate level; in all honesty, he may be Dayton’s best incoming freshman, and that’s saying a lot considering this 2017 recruiting class is loaded.
Dayton got a 3 star shooting guard that had offers from Kansas St., VCU, and Butler among others; he won’t be a pushover. Davis is a 6-4, 170 pound freshman that should help alleviate backcourt losses. He and Jalen Crutcher should see serious minutes in their first years along with John Crosby and Darrell Davis. This will be the first time in awhile that the Flyers will have a better frontcout than backcourt. That means Jordan Davis is really going to have to play beyond his years in the Atlantic 10 this season to keep up. I’d look for Davis to step up and be one of the better freshmen in the league, and with a core of forwards in the middle, this team could really exceed expectations.
Recognize this last name? Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks has a younger brother, and he’s ready to take the floor for the Flyers next season. The redshirt freshman should be one of the most exciting Atlantic 10 players to watch in 2017-18, and he’ll add some much needed size to this roster — 6’10” inches of it to be exact. Kostas has some of the longest arms you’ll ever see; he’s disruptive on defense, he’s quick all over the floor, and of course, he can hammer the ball down with ease. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kostas start his freshman season and try to fill the shoes of Kendall Pollard and Charles Cooke. After being ruled ineligible to play during the 2016-17 season, the Flyers will be counting their lucky stars that they’ve got this guy for 4 more seasons.
Looking for a sleeper freshman in the Atlantic 10 next season? Czech Republic forward Matej Svoboda could be your guy. The 6’7″ commit is one of Dayton’s only true wings next year, a position that was played flawlessly by Charles Cooke the past few seasons. The best part about Svoboda is that he can absolutely fill it up from downtown. He’ll give Dayton another three point shooting threat, making the Flyers one of the better three point teams in the Atlantic 10; they ranked 2nd in the conference in that metric in 2016-17. Along with Xeyrius Williams and a backcourt of freshman guards, Matekj Svoboda should help the Flyers stay relevant from long range in the conference, something they’re historically known for doing.
Obadiah Toppin provides Dayton with yet another piece to a puzzle it typically doesn’t solve: size. The Flyers grabbed a commitment from this 6-9 Baltimore, Maryland native over Georgetown, Rhode Island, and Illinois. Give him a couple of seasons, and he could develop into a serious post threat under Anthony Grant. If one thing’s for certain, Dayton will have an available array of big men to compete with the Rashaan Holloways and Justin Tillmans of the conference.
The last true Dayton “big man” I can remember was Matt Kavanaugh, and he was one of the better rebounders the Flyers have seen in awhile. But with Jordan Pierce suiting up under Anthony Grant next season, Kavanaugh may have met his match. Pierce is one of two incoming freshman taller than 6’10”, but unlike Kostas Antetokounmpo’s long and slender build, Jordan Pierce is big and bulky. The 2 star power forward weighs in at 245 pounds, and he’ll be carrying a lot of weight in Dayton’s frontcourt next season — literally. Pierce averaged 13 points and 9.5 boards as a senior in high school. He should be primed for a solid freshman season with the Flyers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn big minutes in the post.
Here’s an issue (if you want to call it that) that Dayton hasn’t had in a long time. How’s it going to allocate so many big men down low? Will the Flyers go more versatile and keep Xeyrius Williams and Kostas Antetokounmpo down low, or will they go with a meatier lineup in the paint with Pierce and Cunningham snatching up every rebound that comes their way? A combination of both would be best for this team, and with perennial big men Mo Alie-Cox, Hassan Martin, and T.J. Cline having graduated, this could be Dayton’s year to absolutely dominate in the post.
Ball St. (Home), Nov. 10th
This shouldn’t be much of a game to start the season; Anthony Grant should start his career at Dayton 1-0, barring some absolute meltdown. As maybe a small asterisk, you should keep in mind that the Cardinals destroyed Saint Louis at the beginning of last season, but Dayton’s better than last year’s Billiken squad, and Ball St. is coming off a mediocre year.
Charleston Classic (Neutral), Nov. 16th, 17th, 19th
Dayton gets a shot at the Charleston Classic this year, a pre-season tournament that normally sports an impressive field. Dayton gets a first round date with Hofstra before playing either the winner or loser of Clemson/Ohio. Depending on the outcomes of the other games, Dayton will get either Auburn, Temple, Ohio, or Old Dominion on the final day of the tournament. Honestly, I can see plenty of scenarios in which Dayton wins this pre-season tournament. There’s no team that’s significantly better than the Flyers in this field. Clemson will take a step down after the loss of Jaron Blossomgame; Auburn will be just alright next season. Temple’s on the rise, but they’re by no means a top 25 team. Especially considering Dayton drew Hofstra in the first round, it has a great shot of walking away from Charleston with a 4-0 record.
Akron (Home), Nov. 25th
Here’s a nice little in-state battle between Keith Dambrot’s former team and the young Dayton Flyers. The Zips brought in former Illinois head coach John Groce, and even though an impressive 2016-17 campaign didn’t land this team a spot in the NCAA Tournament, it was still one of the better mid-majors in the nation. Akron will be back and should give the Flyers a scare at home. I’d expect Dayton to win this one, but it’s not as easy of a game as it might sound.
Auburn (Home), Nov. 29th
This is the start of a home-and-home series between the two schools that will return to Auburn in the 2018-19 season. If I had to guess, I say that these two teams meet in the championship game of the Charleston Classic and get a rematch at UD arena just a few weeks later. It’d be interesting to see Dayton play Auburn twice, and if the Flyers could get 2 wins, it’d probably look pretty good on the team’s resume. I’d expect Auburn to finish in the top half of the SEC, so this should be a good test for Dayton. The Flyers went down to Alabama last season and were able to steal a win. Let’s see if they can take down Auburn at home.
Mississippi St. (Away), Dec. 3rd
Dayton’s getting its full share of the SEC next season. The Flyers will travel to play Mississippi St. on the road next season, and this could be a 50/50 game that goes either way. The Flyers will likely be a slightly better team (Jon Rothstein picked the Bulldogs to finish 10th in the SEC), but this is a matchup I could see going either way. The two teams will play a return game at UD Arena in the 2018-19 season.
Tennessee Tech (Home), Dec. 6th
This should be an easy matchup and a win for the Flyers, in dominating fashion.
Penn (Home), Dec. 9th
Usually it’s the Philadelphia teams getting a shot at Penn, but this year, Dayton gets to host the Quakers as well. A home matchup against this Ivy League squad should result for another W for the Flyers.
Georgia St. (Home), Dec. 16th
I’m looking forward to this matchup; Georgia St. likely isn’t going to be that great next year, but Ron Hunter is always a fun coach to watch. He’s the guy that fell off his stool after his son downed Baylor in the NCAA Tournament.
Saint Mary’s (Away), Dec. 19th
The tough thing about home-and-home series is when you have to go on the road. This will not be an easy game by any means. The Gaels return Jock Landale, a star center who absolutely deteriorated Dayton’s frontcourt last year. While the Flyers will be improved down low, they’ll really have to dig deep to stay competitive in this one. Saint Mary’s roster runs way too deep, and this team could be even better than it was last year.
Wagner (Home), Dec. 23rd
The Flyers get one final tune-up game before heading into conference play. Would probably scratch it in as a win, but you should keep in mind that this Wagner team upset Connecticut on the road last season.
Home – Davidson, Fordham, George Washington, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Louis, VCU
Away – La Salle, George Mason, Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, Duquesne, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Louis, VCU
Dayton has one of the more difficult conference slates. Having to face Rhode Island, Saint Louis, and VCU twice will likely mean at least 3 conference losses. Factor in a road game against Saint Joseph’s as well, and you’ll realize that the Flyers are really going to be tested away from home. This also means that Anthony Grant’s squad is going to have some big opportunities in league play; if he wants to make the NCAA Tournament as Dayton’s first-year head coach, he’ll have to beat St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island, and VCU at home.
There are so many question marks surrounding this team; it’s difficult to make a prediction when the Flyers could realistically finish anywhere between 2nd and 10th. I’m going to guess the Flyers finish somewhere in the 5-6 range in conference play and narrowly miss out on the NCAA Tournament. Dayton has a solid non-conference schedule, but I don’t see enough big win opportunities to propel this team into the Big Dance. Dayton could surprise us all and make a run back to the tourney in Anthony Grant’s first year, but it’s more than likely going to take a year to reload. But with some young talent and a lot of room for growth, Dayton has quite the ceiling in the coming years.