Tip-off: 8:00 ET, Wednesday, December 8
Where to Watch: ESPN+
Off to one of the most ludicrous starts in college basketball history, Dayton is ready for another test as it hits the road to take on the SMU Mustangs. Following three straight abysmal home losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb, and Austin Peay, Dayton bounced back to beat Miami before stunning the college basketball world with an upset of No. 4 Kansas. The Flyers went on to take down Belmont in the ESPN Events Invitational championship game, then returned home to defeat Alabama State and Northern Illinois by a combined 77 points. Now, Dayton looks to keep is newfound momentum alive against the 7-3 Mustangs.
SMU enters this contest riding a four-game win streak, posting double-digit victories over UNLV and Vanderbilt in its last two games. The Mustangs are led by senior point guard Kendric Davis, who has carried the team in scoring in all but two games this year. On the season, Davis is averaging 20.3 points, 5.6 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game, while shooting over 40% from three. Davis is surrounded by a plethora of veterans, as SMU’s top six scorers (also the top six minutes leaders) are all seniors. Two of those six seniors are Marcus and Micheal Weathers, who, as many A-10 fans will remember, previously played at Duquesne. Averaging 78.3 points per game, the Mustang’s veteran offense vows to challenge Dayton’s defense in every aspect on Wednesday night.
A large part of Dayton’s recent success can be attributed to the play of true freshman point guard Malachi Smith. Over the last five games, the two-time A-10 rookie of the week is averaging 12 points, 5.6 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.2 steals. Smith’s aggressive defensive motor will be crucial in slowing down Kendrick Davis and the Mustang’s offense. In addition to Smith, Dayton needs its bigs, Toumani Camara and Daron Holmes II, to control the paint against SMU’s veteran forwards. Finally, the last key to Dayton’s recent success has been the three point shooting of Kobe Elvis, Koby Brea, and Mustapha Amzil. With that trio knocking down deep shots on a more consistent basis, Dayton has been able to spread defenses out and create more room for Holmes, Camara, and Smith (on drives) to operate in and around the paint. The Flyers need to continue replicating this recipe for success if they want to leave Dallas with a win.
Maybe I’m buying into Dayton’s recent success a little too much, but I like the Flyers to come out on top in a hard-fought game. I believe Malachi Smith’s defense will greatly temper the scoring ability of SMU’s Kendric Davis. Additionally, despite being the younger duo, I think Holmes and Camara will be the two most talented forwards on the court, both offensively and defensively. The Flyers should not struggle to find success on offense either, given SMU’s mediocre defense. That said, in addition to playing at home, the Mustang’s experience edge poses a major advantage that should not be overlooked. Dayton’s youth will have its work cut out for it, but I ultimately believe the Flyers come out on top with a 77-72 win on Wednesday night.