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The Other Top 25 preseason rankings: No. 9 Dayton Flyers

Experience and depth make the Flyers an A-10 contender and a potential at-large team.

NCAA Basketball: Dayton at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

2018-19 Record: 21-12 (13-5 Atlantic 10), First Round NIT loss to Colorado
Key Returning Players: Obi Toppin (F, So.), Jalen Crutcher (G, Jr.), Ryan Mikesell (F, Sr.), Trey Landers (G, Sr.), Dwayne Cohill (G, So.)
Key Losses: Josh Cunningham (graduation), Jordan Davis (Middle Tennessee)
Key Newcomers: Rodney Chatman (G, R-Jr., Chattanooga), Chase Johnson (F, R-So., Florida), Jordy Tshimanga (C, R-Jr., Nebraska), Ibi Watson (G, R-Jr., Michigan)

Year two of Anthony Grant’s tenure at Dayton was a positive step forward for a program that had built a reputation as one of the most consistent mid-majors in the country. A dominant interior presence propelled the Flyers to a third place finish in the A-10 and a 20-win season, and Grant brings back a deep roster with a healthy mix of returning core pieces and talented newcomers.

The A-10 is projected to be especially strong at the top, and the Flyers will be one of the teams that should be in the mix for the top spot. Preseason metrics like their chances, too. KenPom’s preseason rankings have the Flyers at No. 57, behind only VCU (No. 23) in the A-10. T-Rank puts them at No. 47, again behind only VCU (No. 9). The Flyers even received a vote in the Preseason AP Poll! To put it simply, Dayton fans should expect to be in the thick of the A-10 race and could make a run at a return to the NCAA Tournament.

Key Non-Conference Games

Dayton traditionally schedules well in the non-conference slate, and this year isn’t any different. The headline this year is a trip to Hawaii for the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. Supplement that with neutral site games against Saint Mary’s and Colorado and you have plenty of opportunities on the docket to add some strength to the postseason resume before A-10 action gets going.

Nov. 25 vs. Georgia (Maui Invitational)
Nov. 26 vs. Michigan State/Virginia Tech (Maui Invitational)
Nov. 27 vs. BYU/Chaminade/Kansas/UCLA (Maui Invitational)
Dec. 8 vs. Saint Mary’s (Air Force Reserve Jerry Colangelo Classic)
Dec. 21 vs. Colorado (Chicago Legends)

Three Things to Watch

Does Obi Toppin make the leap?

Contrary to what ESPN and the content farms might have wanted you to think, there were other freshmen in college basketball last year not named Zion Williamson! Obi Toppin was one of them, and he put together one of the best freshman campaigns in the country last year. Here are some accomplishments from his freshman season:

  • A-10 Rookie of the Year
  • First Team All A-10
  • Led Dayton in scoring at 14.4 points per game
  • Second in the country in dunks (83)

Toppin went through the NBA Draft process before ultimately deciding to return to school for his sophomore year, immediately making himself one of the top returning players among the mid-major ranks. He’ll no longer have to share the paint with Josh Cunningham, and he should enter the season as the go-to guy for the Flyers. Even as a freshman, Toppin was about as efficient as they come. He was 11-21 (52.4%) from three point range during his freshman year, but an insane 190-281 (67.6%) from inside the arc. Of his shots inside the arc, Toppin converted on 80 percent (!!!) of his shots at the rim, but just 43.8 percent of two-point jumpers. Shot selection will be something to monitor as he tries to expand his repertoire in his sophomore year. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be shocking to see an uptick in scoring, rebounding and defensive numbers as Toppin makes a case for A-10 Player of the Year.

Impact transfers

Grant has done a great job rounding out this roster with players that bring different skill sets to the Flyers’ rotation. Rodney Chatman should be able to slide in and fill the hole left by Jordan Davis’s departure in the backcourt. The Chattanooga transfer is a capable scorer that can get to the hoop and create for teammates. He’ll be a nice complement to Jalen Crutcher. Ibi Watson will be another transfer guard that could see plenty of minutes running the offense. The Flyers will have plenty of options to mix and match different backcourt pieces throughout the season.

In the frontcourt, Grant can turn to Chase Johnson or Jordy Tshimanga to have an immediate impact. Johnson is a former top-100 recruit that was just recently ruled eligible for the entire season after transferring from Florida. He’ll be able to add a little bit of a scoring punch in the post while also helping out on the glass. Tshimanga only played spot minutes at Nebraska, but proved himself to be a great rebounder during his limited time on the floor. At 6’11” and nearly 270 pounds, it’ll be hard for anyone in the conference to match his sheer size and physicality.

Capitalizing on resume building opportunities

As mentioned above, the Flyers should have aspirations to be an NCAA Tournament team. With the expected strength at the top of the league, it’s conceivable that the A-10 could be in the mix to have three or four teams in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. Dayton expects to be in that mix, but they’ll need a strong non-conference showing. According to T-Rank, there are two Quadrant 1 games on the non-conference slate: neutral site games against Saint Mary’s and Colorado. The Flyers could potentially have one or two additional Q1 opportunities in Maui, depending how the bracket falls into place, which makes the first round game against Georgia that much more important.

In A-10 play, the Flyers need to pick up a few wins against teams like VCU, Davidson, Rhode Island and Richmond. A team with tournament aspirations needs to beat other teams in their conference with tournament aspirations? What a shocking revelation! But it’s the truth. The A-10 is a really good conference, but it’s not deep enough for a team to build a tournament by racking up wins against lesser teams. Dayton is talented enough to be a tournament team, and the path to it is there for the taking. But per usual, the opportunities are not as plentiful as Power 5 teams with similar hopes. There is always going to be additional pressure on the Flyers to take advantage of those opportunities when presented with them.

X Factor

Trey Landers

As one of three seniors on the roster, Landers is probably the closest thing the Flyers have to a do-it-all wing. He’s a fantastic rebounder for his size at 6.7 rebounds per contest and offensive and defensive rebounding rates that were the best on the team. He’s a capable creator and can get to and convert in the paint (63.8% at the rim). He’ll also probably get the task of defending the opposing team’s best wing player on a lot of nights. Toppin dominates the highlights and headlines, and guys like Crutcher and Chatman will probably have the ball in their hands the most, but Landers fills in the gaps on the floor that will help the Flyers grind out wins.