In a national college basketball landscape that tends to overlook and maybe even undervalue the Atlantic 10 Conference, there might be a tendency to label Dayton a “sleeper” or potential “surprise.”
The fact of the matter is this might be the most pressure-packed season in many years for the No. 24 Flyers and sixth-year coach Anthony Grant. Expectations are through the roof in Dayton, which will host Lindenwood for their season opener on Monday.
Dayton usually lives just off the mainstream national radar, but it sells out every game and has a fanbase hungry for sustained success and vengeance for the lost NCAA Tournament of 2020, when an Obi Toppin-led team looked like a lock for a No. 1 seed before the pandemic struck.
Dayton is ranked in the AP preseason poll for the first time since 2009. The team is a heavy favorite to win the Atlantic 10 and returns all five starters from a team that looked an awful lot like an NCAA Tournament team coming down the stretch, but fell into the NIT despite wins over eventual national champion Kansas, Elite Eight entry Miami and ACC Tournament champ Virginia Tech. A three-game, metric-killing November losing streak to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay was tough to overcome.
The nation’s youngest team, per KenPom.com, went into the offseason knowing more was on tap.
“We talk about it every day,” sophomore guard Koby Brea told the Dayton Daily News. “We wanted it last year, but we understand that things happen and it’s just a part of our growth. Even though we wish we would have made it last year, we were glad it happened the way it did because it made us so much hungrier.”
The A-10’s preseason all-conference team is loaded with Flyers. Sophomore guard Malachi Smith and junior forward Toumani Camara made the second team, but the player who will have everybody’s attention is first-team sophomore DaRon Holmes II.
Holmes was A-10 Rookie of the Year last season and made second team and All-Defensive. The 6-foot-10 NBA prospect averaged 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and averaged 20 points per game over the Flyers’ final five. But it’s on defense where he truly pops, blocking 2.3 per game and serving as an overall menace.
Holmes, Smith and Camara are joined as returning starters by 6-foot-6 swing R.J. Blakney and 6-foot-2 guard Kobe Elvis, who teams with Brea as perhaps the conference’s best 3-point shooting tandem.
With all the returning talent, minutes for newcomers could be scarce, but 6-foot-9 Georgia transfer Tyrone Baker should work his way in and Mongolia native Mike Sharavjamts — by way of Willoughby, Ohio — was a late star in recruiting circles and will have a chance to shoot his way into the rotation
Lindenwood will visit Dayton to get its first taste of Division I basketball. The university in St. Charles, Mo., moved up from Division II beginning this season. The Lions will compete in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“All of a sudden so many more doors open for you,” Gerdeman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over the offseason. “You’re automatically in the mix for a larger pool of players. The (Great Lakes Valley Conference) was a really good league, and we were always looking for guys who might be D-I players. We’ve been patient not to take the first guys we come across who we like. We’re making progress and doing it at the right pace.”
The Lions have two starters back in guards Kevin Caldwell Jr. and Brandon Trimble.
–Field Level Media