By: Roberto De La Rosa-Finch – Online Editor
They’re average. Well — technically — below average, but the men’s team has been average this season. And there’s nothing wrong with being average. In the NCAA, we have Villanova and then we have Mississippi Valley State, who hasn’t won a game all year.
But, when I projected the Dayton men’s squad to lose 14 games this season a lot of my friends were looking at me crazy. They’re current on pace to do that and maybe a little worse. Before we get to what’s really wrong, we have to lay some groundwork.
Well…what’d you expect?
Flyer Faithful, I can completely understand your frustration and boos directed towards your home team during the game but — didn’t you see this coming?
Not a lot of people were expecting Dayton to swing with the .500 line like Hellzapoppin but fans couldn’t really have expected elite play, right?
It’s difficult to have a stellar season right after the leaving of Indiana coach Archie Miller, who got paid big bucks for turning the program around and taking Dayton to the Elite Eight (the highest round since the Flyers lost to UCLA in the National Championship in 1967). Not to mention the departure of five seniors, one of which has made it to the NBA.
Players had to regroup, look to a their new leader in coach Anthony Grant and learn how to play together with a new team. The latter is still very much in the process.
Nonetheless, as much understanding as a fan can take, as of late, Dayton isn’t accustomed to driving to UD Arena to watch a sub-par team.
Remember the riots on Kiefaber?
Since 2012, the Flyers have been in the top five of the Atlantic 10 (winning the conference twice) and have made four NCAA tournament appearances. Plus, in that span, Dayton has had four seasons of at least 24 plus wins.
In fact, in the last five seasons, they’ve had at least 10 wins by this time of the year. To find a season when the Flyers didn’t have that many by 15 games in you’d have to go all way back to 2006 when Dayton started off the year 8-7.
So the fans aren’t crazy. They do have a right to ask “what’s up?”
And the answer to that question was clear as day in the team’s last matchup against UMass Saturday afternoon.
Looking in a mirror
UMass and Dayton were nearly identical teams, before tip-off and also during the game up until the last 19 seconds.
Coming into Saturday, both teams scored about 71 PPG and shot just over 70 percent from the free throw line, according to Atlantic 10 statistics.
Both averaged about 15 assists per game and over the last three games prior, they both averaged right around 24 three-point field goal attempts per game.
Plus, they ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in opposing rebounds (Dayton then UMass) and both gave up and exact 70.6 PPG on defense. Need I say more?
Playing against a very similar team highlighted the reasoning behind Dayton’s run of the mill play. No it wasn’t that is wasn’t a Friday. It wasn’t that Dayton has the third toughest schedule in the nation (which is a factor, no doubt). It wasn’t even really about having a new coach. Or losing five seniors. Or an injury or two.
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So…what was it then?
Effort. Effort for the entire game. Grant voiced it loud and clear during the post-game press conference.
“I thought their (UMass’s) energy, for most of the game, was better than ours,” Grant said.
“Again, the end of the first half, beginning of the second half kinda told the tale.”
In the first, Dayton got out to a 10-point lead. With less than a minute remaining, the Minutemen cut that to three. Grant and players voiced their frustrations in the locker room stating that they could play harder and rebound better.
Yet, right out of the second half gate, Dayton turned the ball over on consecutive possessions and UMass went on a 7-0 run to take a 34-32 lead.
Grant told reporters that the team played hard in the last 10 to 12 minutes but that it takes a lot longer than that with the team that they have in order to be able to beat anybody in this league.
“That’s the thing we’ve got to be able to understand. We just don’t have the margin of error not to show up for 40 minutes with the focus, energy and effort that it takes. It’s hard right now, obviously, as a coach to figure out the buttons that need to be pushed and the combinations that we need to be able to go with that we can get a level of consistency out of.”
On the other side of the floor, coach Matt McCall, who worked with Grant at the University of Florida for five seasons (including the program’s first national championship team in 2006), spoke the words we were expecting to hear from Grant if Davis’ layup fell.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a group after a game,” McCall said. “Just the resilience, the fight they showed to keep competing…”
“I thought our group was extremely connected. And when we’ve shown that this year, we’ve shown that we can win some games — and win some big games — and when we haven’t shown that, out there on the floor or in practice, we’ve struggled.”
If you didn’t believe me before about UMass and Dayton being similar, well…there.
McCall expounded about how being connected is the most important part of the game.
“The execution, the offense, the defense — that’s great — but we gotta play the game connected and play the game for each other, and I felt that way every single time out tonight.”
This is what’s wrong with Dayton. They can’t seem to play connected, together, with chemistry and for each other for 40 minutes. It’s one thing to say and another to do, but Grant believes that the team is capable. He’s just unsure how to get the players to reach that level every time they step out onto the hardwood.
“There’s an immaturity that we have to be able to get past as a team. There’s been a lot of talk among myself and our players. Just our need to be able to close halves the right way — beginnings and endings.”
“We’ve got to — definition of insanity, right? — keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We’ve got to be able to learn at some point, at some time during the season to be able to really understand the opportunities that are in front of us.”
It’s very easy to guess whether or not the Flyers will win this season, the formula makes vector calculus look like algebra.
When Dayton shoots 50 percent or better from the field, they’re 3-0. When they shoot 40 percent or lower, they’re 0-3. When they only have two players in double-digits (*cough* *cough* Davis and Cunningham *cough* *cough*) they’re 0-4. When they have four or more, they’re 5-1.
The ability to put out consistent effort and maturity will change whether or not Dayton falls on either side of the spectrum this season.
“It’s three games in right now, as disappointed as I am today, we still have (15) games left in conference play,” Grant said.
“Opportunities all over the place. When you’re dealing with young people, they just have to continue to figure it out, in terms of what it takes to have the results that we want and we’re in that process right now.”
The Flyers look to figure out that process and get over their recent loss Tuesday evening against Richmond in Virginia.
“We gotta find out what we’re made of. What type of competitors we are, what type of team we want to be.”
Photo Courtesy of Griffin Quinn – Staff Photographer