Sports Staff Writer
Obi Toppin (cover photo) has emerged as UD’s star player. Courtesy of Atticus Hughes
After Dayton’s impressive showing in its three Maui Invitational games, people are starting to take notice of the Flyers’ stellar squad. They are off to a strong 5-1 start, with their only loss coming to the 4th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks during an overtime battle in Maui. During the tournament, Dayton thrashed Georgia 80-61, then went on to trounce Virginia Tech 89-62 the following day.
The team made up of established players and transfer competitors has been catching the eyes of the college basketball world. But why has UD been slept on until now?
For starters, Obi Toppin has emerged as one of college basketball’s brightest stars in the opening of the season. In just six games, he has averaged 23 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. This by itself is impressive, but the teams he is putting up these numbers against aren’t nobodies. Georgia, Virginia Tech and Kansas all know Toppin’s name after this past week in Hawaii, where he wreaked havoc for three games straight.
Although the nation has been taken by surprise by Toppin’s performance in the early season, Flyer fans know that he is picking up right where he left off last season. The A10 rookie of the year had quite the coming out party a season ago, averaging 14.4 points per game. He also shattered the UD single-season dunk record with 83 dunks in a season (the previous being Chris Wright with 66). The Brooklyn native declared for the NBA draft without an agent after last year’s season, but decided to come back for a sophomore campaign.
Toppin is being talked about as a legitimate first-round pick. His freaky athleticism paired with his size isn’t something you see often, and there were numerous NBA scouts at the tournament this past week. If he keeps it up, Toppin could be a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA draft.
Toppin isn’t the only factor aiding Dayton to success this year. Junior guard Jalen Crutcher has been a floor general and leader for UD, alongside transfer guard and defensive hound Rodney Chatman.
Crutcher put up a season-high 20 points in Dayton’s win against Georgia, along with impressive assist numbers in the following two games. He had nine assists in a win against Virginia Tech, and eight against Kansas. More impressively, he hit a deep, game-tying three in the Kansas game with seconds left on the clock to send it into overtime.
Chatman, the transfer from Chattanooga, has been a fantastic addition to Dayton’s lineup. His on-ball defense has made him a stand-out early in the season. He held Georgia’s star and projected #2 overall draft pick Anthony Edwards to just six points, while forcing him to give up three turnovers. The next game, Edwards put up 37 against 3rd-ranked Michigan State. Chatman picked up a couple of early fouls in the Kansas game, and his absence was felt on the defensive end.
Another addition that has paid off for UD early in the season is Michigan transfer Ibi Watson. After sitting out last year, he has meshed well with the team and has been a solid 6th-man. He has been a threat from three-point range thus far, hitting 7 threes off the bench in his last three appearances. Watson dropped 16 points in the loss to Kansas, his career-high. He crammed a put-back dunk at the half-time buzzer during the Virginia Tech game, showing off his leaping ability.
Seniors Ryan Mikesell and Trey Landers have also proved their worth during the early stages of the season. Mikesell had 19 in the loss to Kansas and was the go-to scorer in overtime, while Landers dropped 13 in the win over Virginia Tech. Both of the team veterans bring poise to the floor. It is evident that they are experienced, which will be invaluable during the A10 season.
Other players like Chase Johnson, Dwayne Cohill and Jhery Mathos have shown glimpses in the early season. These young players know that they have a role to play like most other players on the team, and that if they stick to it then this season could be special.
Dayton is looking to reach the NCAA tournament this year for the first time since Archie Miller departed in 2017. Their new head coach, Anthony Grant, is looking to make Dayton a regular guest at the big dance once again.
We are a long way away from March, but with the way that Dayton has looked in the opening stages of the season should be promising to the Flyer faithful. The team has an imposing line-up that is versatile around the board, a young coach that is ready to demonstrate his aptitude, and a fan base that is craving success.