4. Dayton Flyers
Eight minutes. That is all that separated the Dayton Flyers from a second consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance before the Oklahoma Sooners came back to beat the Flyers, 72-66. After off-season rumors put Archie Miller at the top of every major job opening, the fifth year head coach signed a contract extension through the 2021-22 season, calming the fears in Flyer nation that the one of the hottest coaches in the country will be back on the sidelines.
Dayton loses two key pieces in Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre. Sibert, an Ohio State transfer, averaged 16.1 points per game and hit the biggest shot of the season with a 3-pointer with under a minute left that pushed the Flyers past Boise State in the First Four. Sibert was supposed to be the only loss for the Flyers but Pierre was suspended from the University following a May sexual assault allegation. He is currently suing the University and I find it very hard to believe that Pierre will ever be back in a Dayton uniform.
The loss of Pierre has caused doubt in the minds of the Flyer Faithful but Dayton still returns a strong nucleus from a 27-win team and added depth will keep Archie Miller's squad at the top of the Atlantic 10.
The team will lean on their three junior captains: Kendall Pollard, Dayshon "Scoochie" Smith, and Kyle Davis. These three are on track to be the winningest class in school history with a combined 53 wins through their first two years, and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Pollard was the A-10's most improved player after averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game a year ago. He is one of the strongest players in the league pound for pound and is a match-up problem anywhere inside the 3-point line. Scoochie Smith is coming off a season where he averaged 9 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds per game. At 6-2, he is one of the bigger guards in the league and has the body to finish around the rim. He also gained a reputation as a solid 3-point threat as he shot almost 40 percent from three last season.
Kyle Davis is arguably the best on-ball defender in the league. He held Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield to a combined 8-for-26 from the field in last year's NCAA tournament games. That is the same Dunn and Hield who were named two of the top three players in the country by CBS sports. If Davis can improve his 22 percent 3-point percentage, it will be hard for Archie to take him off the floor.
The Flyers also return sophomore guard Darrell Davis and senior Bobby Wehrli. Davis was primarily used as a catch-and-shoot 3-point specialist as a freshman and he embraced that role. He was streaky at times but the 6-4 guard shot 45 percent from beyond the arc and made 10 straight threes during a four-game stretch in conference. Wehrli started the year as a walk-on but after Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott were kicked off the basketball team last December, he was given a scholarship and became a regular in Miller's rotation.
Archie also brings in six newcomers who provide much needed depth as the Flyers played the majority of the season with seven scholarship players. Charles Cooke transferred in from James Madison and averaged 14 points per game as a sophomore for the Dukes. Cooke sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules and is projected to be the starting small forward. Steve McElvene had to sit out last season after being declared academically ineligible. The 6-11 freshman center has had a year to learn the offense and get into shape. He will be thrust into the action this year and hopefully become the paint presence that the Flyers have been missing for the past decade.
It will be interesting to see how Archie uses his four other freshman from this year's recruiting class. Miller has a history of throwing freshmen out there and giving them an opportunity to prove themselves early, which seems to pay off come conference play.
The loss of Pierre is big but the Flyers have more than enough weapons to overcome this setback and make up for his lost production. A week ago I didn't think the Flyers were going to get into the tournament without Pierre but after looking at this roster, this is a NCAA tournament team. The A-10 coaches and media picked the Flyers to finish first in the preseason poll, which shows the amount of respect that the Flyers have from the conference.
The one concern that I have for this team is its schedule. Their tournament hopes could come down to the Nov. 26 game against Iowa in the Advocare Invitational. A win puts the Flyers against a top 25 Notre Dame team and then a chance at either Wichita State or Xavier. A loss, however, means that Dayton plays Monmouth and then a game against Alabama or USC.
The Flyers also travel down to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt who is primed for a big year and could challenge for an SEC title. Other than that, the nonconference schedule is pretty weak. The Flyers host an Avery Johnson-led Alabama squad that is in the process of rebuilding during ESPN's 24-hour marathon and host a down Arkansas squad in late December. Conference play will give the Flyers a chance at some more quality wins but they need to perform well in the nonconference season.
A year ago, the Flyers won 25 games in the regular season, had an RPI of 32, finished second in the A-10 and lost in the conference title game to VCU. Their reward? Being the last at-large team in the NCAA tournament. Although every media outlet said that the Flyers were snubbed from a better seed, going 1-3 against top 50 RPI teams didn't help their case. A solid nonconference run and a top four finish in the Atlantic 10 puts the Flyers back in the NCAA tournament for the third straight season.