Basketball has returned again.
As it has every year since its inception in 1969, the University of Dayton Arena will find itself on 17 different occasions filled to the rafters as the 105th season of Dayton basketball begins.
Yet the way the program looks this year is unlike any other team that has been seen in recent memory. A large roster turnover has left just four players from last year’s team that earned a No. 2 seed in the National Invitational Tournament and only features 10 eligible scholarship players in total.
Head coach Archie Miller sees it, and said the product being put on the floor has to play well.
“No expectations right now,” Miller said, who is entering his second year as the program’s leader. “It’s a different group. We got new guys, young guys mixed in with some returning guys who have obviously been through it with our staff for a full year. I like our kids.”
It can be tough to gauge any expectations when you have a lineup that is in constant disarray, such as what UD has seen so far because of numerous injuries and setbacks.
Matt Kavanaugh was suspended from the university on Oct. 24. Sophomore forward Alex Gavrilovic missed most of the preseason because of mono, as did freshman forward Dyshawn Pierre because of an injured ankle. Freshman guard Khari Price missed the season opener against Arkansas State University because of an injury as well.
Miller said the team though has the ability to play through anything because the team doesn’t know any different.
“Our team has not been together from the start of the summer or through the season,” Miller said. “We have not taken the practice floor one time without having less than two scholarship players out. … We’re playing guys out of position. Guys are learning two or three positions
on the run, it’s tough.”
One guy who hasn’t had such problems is senior guard Kevin Dillard. His return gives Dayton a much needed playmaker at the point guard position, as shown by being named to the All-Atlantic 10 preseason first team.
Dillard said he’s looking forward to the challenges the team will face this year.
“It’s not a one-man show when you play at Dayton because we have some key aspects next to me,” he said. “I’ve got some good teammates, people that can really do things with the ball and on the defensive end.”
Among those teammates is senior forward Josh Benson, who returns this year after suffering a torn ACL midway through last season, which Miller said brings back the vocal leader of the team. Joining him in the front court are a pair of high school teammates in freshmen forwards Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott, both played together at Columbus Northland High School for the previous four years.
A pair of transfers also get to join the fray, as junior guard Vee Sanford and sophomore forward Matt Derenbecker become eligible this season after having to both sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules.
“I think the two guys who sat out last season, Vee and Matt, benefitted tremendously from having a year under their belt with us,” Miller said. “Even though they didn’t play, they did everything.”
Dillard said he sees the chemistry getting better every day between all of the newcomers and returning players.
Dayton’s non-conference does not include many road trips, but has no lack of name programs attached to them.
In traveling to the Charleston Classic, Dayton will face Pac-12 opponent Colorado University, before facing either Boston College or Baylor University, who made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship last season. Dayton also will make a return trip to the University of Alabama and go west to face the University of Southern California in the first of a home-and-home series.
Murray State University and Illinois State University highlight the home schedule prior to the beginning of revamped play in the Atlantic 10. UD will open with a pair of newcomers to the conference in traveling to Virginia Commonwealth University and hosting Butler University.
“Our non-conference schedule is very challenging,” Miller said. “I don’t necessarily know if every name will pop off the sheet of paper, but I know at the end of the season, these resumes that are going to be stacked up all over the country, we’re going to have a good one because the programs that we’re playing are all trying to compete for their league championship or make the NCAA tournament.”
Miller said the team plans to rely on its defense a lot more this season. He doesn’t think the team will look to shoot the ball quickly during possessions and sees the team’s strength coming in its transition game
both ways down the floor.
He said he likes what his team has done throughout the offseason and is looking forward to seeing what happens this season.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to put it all together and see the unique roles and combinations and chemistry because we have a room full of guys I think have taken a lot of pride going into the season,” he said.
Dayton was selected in the preseason Atlantic 10 poll to finish eighth this season. With what he describes as a trial by error process this year, Miller said the commitment is where it needs to be from the players to compete.
Competing is what the team has to do to earn a chance to get to the top of the conference and play for a championship, he said.
“Nothing is easy, and we’re a work in progress and like everybody,” Miller said. “I think we’ll have to earn the right to be good every day.