Tip-off: 7:00 pm ET
Television: Spectrum Sports 1 (SW Ohio region) and ESPN+
In its first regular season game back at full capacity since the 2019-2020 season, UD Arena is bound to be rocking on Tuesday night. Last week, Dayton announced it is sold out of all season and single-game tickets for the entire year. With five true freshmen and six redshirt freshmen on its roster, many Dayton players are still getting used to the experience of playing in front of the home crowd. As a result, I expect the Flyers to match the fans’ energy (and nervousness) in what should be an exciting season-opening game.
Picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic 10, Dayton is looking to rekindle some of its star power from two seasons ago. A roster that features the nation’s 22nd ranked recruiting class, 10 players standing 6’6″ or taller, and highly touted transfers such as Elijah Weaver and Toumani Camara, the Flyers’ talent is undeniable. The questions, however, surround Dayton’s youth. As one of the youngest teams in the entire country, the Flyers will operate at an experience deficit against every team it faces this season. That said, despite its preseason kenpom ranking of No. 84, many around Dayton feel the team is more than capable of “overachieving” (at least in the eyes of national media) this year. Time will tell whether the Flyers’ talent can make up for its inexperience, but there is no shortage of youthful optimism (pun intended) around Dayton as the 2021-22 season gets underway.
Many questions still surround Dayton’s starting lineup and minute distribution. While I fully expect both to fluctuate throughout the course of the season, players such as Camara, Weaver, and Mustapha Amzil are likely to lead the way in minutes early on. Zimi Nwokeji, Daron Holmes, Kobe Elvis, Koby Brea, and R.J. Blakney should also see substantial amounts of playing time. Aside from those eight, the extent to which Anthony Grant will utilize Malachi Smith, Lynn Greer III, Kaleb Washington, Richard Amaefule, and Moulaye Sissoko remains unclear. I do expect two or three of the later five to end up redshirting.
Illinois-Chicago (UIC) Flames
Coming off a less than stellar 9-14 season, UIC hopes to leave last year in the rearview mirror as it travels to Dayton for a sizable season-opening challenge. With four seniors and five graduate players on its roster, UIC will have a definitive age advantage over the Flyers on Tuesday night. Thanks to the influx of graduate transfers, UIC now has six players who averaged double digits in scoring last year. While it may take some time for the Flames to develop chemistry on the court (10 of their players are transfers), I expect them to be notably improved from a season ago. That said, UIC was picked to finish just eighth in the Horizon League and comes in at No. 264 in kenpom’s preseason rankings. Veteran leadership from guys like Maurice Commander, Michael Diggins, and Brandon Battle puts the Flames in a position to potentially overachieve their lowly national expectations. UIC would love nothing more than a close game at Dayton to help jumpstart its season.
Given its veteran makeup, I think UIC will give the Flyers more of a challenge than the majority of fans likely anticipate. That said, I ultimately expect Dayton’s talent to prove too much for the Flames to overcome. Toumani Camara should be the best player on the court Tuesday night and I think he will prove just that. UIC will have its hands full trying to deal with Camara and Daron Holmes in the paint, while also accounting for the Flyers’ variety of three point shooters. Presuming Dayton plays through Camara and connects on its open jumpers, I like the Flyers by a final score of 81-66.