For the University of Dayton men’s basketball team, it’s the decided motto to make this season successful.
“[Head coach Archie Miller] is always emphasizing being ready to play every day and to come to play every day,” senior forward Devin Oliver said. “Togetherness is what we’ve been preaching in the offseason, to just come together as a team. From my viewpoint, togetherness is tighter than its ever been since I’ve been here.”
Coming off a 17-14 year that came to an end without playing in a postseason tournament for the first time since 2007, Dayton is looking to this motto to collect itself.
“Togetherness,” sophomore forward Devon Scott said. “At times, we kind of fell apart last year. [Miller] stressed to spend more time off the court and compliment each other.”
It was easier for Dayton players to accomplish this feat during the offseason with at least 75 percent of the team’s roster coming back for the first time in four years.
Gone is leading scorer Kevin Dillard and shot blocker Josh Benson, who take with them 56 starts from last season. Returning is a core group in Oliver, redshirt senior guard Vee Sanford and sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre, who make up 72 percent of the returning points scored from a potentially high powered offense that looks to maintain its high level of efficiency.
Along with a trio of freshmen, the team also gets two veteran players added to its roster: senior center Matt Kavanaugh, who sat out last year after being suspended by the university, and redshirt junior guard Jordan Sibert, a transfer from the Ohio State University.
Many familiar faces can be a good indicator of what to expect from a squad, but Miller said he has not taken any sort of predictive approach with his team.
“Love the group. Had a good preseason,” Miller said. “In terms of expectations, I don’t have any right now. Very, very locked in on just improving every day.”
Some of those improvements would begin on the defensive end on the court. Dayton’s scoring defense was average among all Division I teams last season, ranking 175th in the country. Opponents shot 43.4 percent against UD, not even good enough to place in the top 200.
Help began with the new practice rules set by the NCAA beginning this season, allowing teams to start practicing 42 days in advance of their first games. Miller said the new rules allow his staff to focus on building the team’s defense, which typically is needed during that time.
The first exhibition game Dayton played against Ryerson University Oct. 26 provided initial optimism as UD’s defense held Ryerson to 38 percent shooting.
However, the second exhibition against the University of Findlay Saturday, Nov. 2, provided foresight into an element that deals with more than fundamentals to stop your opponent from scoring.
A newly written NCAA rule put in place this season defining how hand-checking will be called by officials against defenders saw 70 fouls called between the two teams, making mixing and matching potential line ups while trying to adjust to the necessary style of play a large factor in a team’s success.
Of course, the quality of the opponent can play the biggest role, and Dayton certainly has challenges ahead.
In-season tournaments are one of the early scheduling highlights for any team, and for Dayton, they have been venues where the team has found success, winning four of the last nine tournaments it has competed in since 1999. Along with being great opportunities for resume building against top competition, Dayton gets the best of everything as it will go back to the site of one of its greatest triumphs this season.
UD heads to the EA Sports Maui Invitational from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27 to face a field headlined by three top-25 teams in the preseason Associated Press poll, including No. 8 Syracuse University, UD’s first round opponent No. 15 Gonzaga University in a midnight EST tip and No. 25 Baylor University, a potential second round opponent.
UD is one of only two schools outside of the power six conferences to win the tournament in its 29-year history with its 2003 championship. Gonzaga is the other, in 2009. UD has also knocked off two ranked foes, only falling to the then No. 1 team in the country, the University of Arizona, on its way to a third place finish in its first Maui appearance in 2000.
Dayton also will get set before it makes the trip west for a game in Atlanta, Ga., facing its former head coach, Brian Gregory, and Georgia Tech Nov. 20.
Other scheduling highlights include Iona University Dec. 19, the highest scoring team in the country last season, and a team that has made regular trips to UD Arena during its NCAA Tournament appearances the previous two seasons.
A return game Dec. 22 against the University of Southern California, now coached by Andy Enfield, who led Florida Gulf Coast University to the Sweet 16 last season and home games against each of the top six teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference’s preseason poll will provide many quality match-ups as well.
For now, Dayton players have joined each other in talking up the talents their teammates possess, on and off the court.
It began during the first day of practice Sept. 27, when it was announced by Miller that Oliver and Sanford were voted as captains by their teammates.
“It feels great,” Oliver said. “We vote as a team and just for my teammates to feel I should be in that position, and look at me as being worthy of that position shows me a lot about my teammates. Shows me a sense of togetherness about our team.”
That word, togetherness, appears again.
It is how Dayton’s players and coaches plan to work with one another to make this season different.