Roberto De La Rosa-Finch
The Dayton men’s basketball team will have their home- and season-opener 7 p.m. Wednesday against the North Florida Ospreys.
The opener will begin 13 games of non-conference play stretching through December.
Conference play determines seeding for the Atlantic 10 Tournament and often demonstrates which team will excel in the NCAA Tournament; but prior to the March-filled-atmosphere games in January, Dayton will butt heads with schools outside the A10.
It is here where the Flyers typically figure out what they’re made of before the most crucial part of the season.
Coming off of a subpar 14-17 season, with leaving stars and incoming transfers, the Flyers are striving to regain some past success. To stop the dancing with the .500 line and return to playing in mid-March, Dayton has to address some issues.
Here are the three things — or three-pointers — to remember for the Flyers non-conference play:
Coach Anthony Grant has been stressing the need for improvement on the defensive end. Dayton ranked 216th (out of 351 Division I schools) in scoring defense last year. The past lack of prowess made stopping opponents the number one priority in the offseason.
“We’re going to pride ourselves on the defensive end,” junior guard Trey Landers said.
Landers and sophomore guard Jordan Davis proclaimed defense will be their identity this season.
“Create havoc on the defensive end, and create that into offense,” Davis said at a media session Oct. 30.
Landers said the Flyers will be pressing their opponents more frequently and raising the intensity on defense.
With a starting five listed under 6-foot-10 again, Dayton may continue their troubles in protecting the rim. The Flyers ranked last in the A10 in blocks (2.4), and 31 of their 78 blocks came from departed Kostas Antetokounmpo.
However, Grant hasn’t spoken to 6-foot-8 center Josh Cunningham about stepping up as a shot-blocker.
“Have you seen Josh play?” Grant said in response to the senior blooming into a rim-protector.
“Obviously, we don’t have a major shot-blocker, but we have guys that have a physical presence at the rim with Josh and (Obadiah Toppin). Those guys will do a great job,” Landers said.
Dayton is relying on their length and versatility to guard multiple positions and create turnovers. “We feel like we’ll be just fine,” Landers claimed.
Outside of UD Arena
Dayton held a 1-10 away record last season; 2-13 if you include neutral sites.
Although Dayton had the toughest schedule in the conference last year, an away record that far under .500 won’t help them during tournaments this season.
Luckily, only two of the Flyers non-conference games are away. Their performances in those matches will illuminate how much Dayton’s mental fortitude has improved from last year.
New Faces on a Nine-Man Roster
Dayton welcomed six new faces to the program (four transfers and two freshmen) this offseason. Newcomers bring new attitudes, play styles, tendencies and mindsets. Team chemistry is often not easily acquired, but Davis believes the Flyers are a tight-knit group.
“From day one we all gelled, so from there we had no problems there,” Davis said. The guard said the team is always hanging out on and off the court. The chemistry will have to prove itself apparent during tough situations this season; especially if Dayton is unlucky with health.
For a nine-man roster, just a couple of injuries could be severely detrimental. Redshirt junior forward Ryan Mikesell — who is coming off of two hip surgeries that sidelined him last season — sat during Dayton’s “secret” scrimmage against the Pittsburgh Panthers Oct 27.
Mikesell sat due to a minor ankle sprain, but a serious injury from him and another Flyer this season could stretch Dayton too thin.
Make sure to follow @FlyerNewsSports for live coverage of the game. Recaps will be posted on Twitter, so check your feed after the final buzzer for quotes, stats and takeaways from Dayton players and coaches.
Photos courtesy of Griffin Quinn.