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Game Preview: Can the Chattanooga Mocs ground the Dayton Flyers?

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Chattanooga and Dayton meet Saturday in the renewal of a series that has been on hiatus since 1978. Can the Mocs ground the soaring Flyers?

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Chattanooga (6-2) at Dayton (7-1)

DAYTON, OH--With exams now having concluded, the Chattanooga Mocs get ready to hit the run for the stretch run prior to Christmas, as they will meet the Dayton Flyers in what is one of the more appetizing games in the SoCon heading into the weekend.

Saturday's meeting between the Mocs and Flyers at UD Arena marks the 11th all-time clash between the two, with the Flyers holding a commanding 8-2 all-time series edge. The lone two wins by the Mocs in the series came in 1975 and ‘76, as the Mocs posted wins of 78-73 and 65-63 in UD Arena.

The two haven't met on the college basketball hardwood since Jan. 16, 1978, when the Flyers were able to produce a resounding 97-68 win over the Mocs at UD Arena.

Dayton will be facing the first of two Southern Conference foes on its slate this season, as the Flyers will also be in action against Furman the following week, accounting for the only two Southern Conference foes the Flyers will meet this season

Dayton, which plays in the Atlantic 10, comes into the clash with a 7-1 record overall this season, including an impressive result their last time out against another high-profile program from the Volunteer State, as the Flyers posted an impressive 72-67 win at No. 21 Vanderbilt this past Wednesday night. Dayton's lone loss this season came against Xavier (L, 90-61) back on Nov. 29. The Flyers also have impressive wins over Alabama (W, 80-48) and Iowa (W, 82-77) earlier in the season.

Dayton is of course a proud basketball program, as it is a program that has made 16 NCAA Tournament appearances, and last season, the Flyers were losers to Oklahoma (L, 72-66) in the Big Dance. A year earlier, Dayton was impressive in 2014 NCAA Tournament, making it to the Elite Eight before the memorable run came to an end at the hands of Final Four participant Florida.

The Elite Eight appearance was only the second in the history of the program, with only the 1983-84 Flyers matching the feat. The Flyers did make as far as the national title game in 1966-67 under the direction of the legendary Don Donoher, as the Flyers would lose in the title game to John Wooden's UCLA Bruins (79-64).

Chattanooga comes in with a pretty good tradition of its own out of the Southern Conference, and few will soon forget the performance by the Mocs in the 1997 NCAA Tournament, which saw the Mocs make history by making it all the way to the Sweet 16 before eventually bowing out with a loss to Providence.

This season, the Southern Conference favorite Mocs enter the contest with a 6-2 record overall, and like Dayton, the Mocs have impressive wins of their own, posting victories against Georgia (W, 92-90 in OT) and over Big Ten member Illinois (W, 81-77) earlier this season.

A Look at the Flyers:

Dayton enters Saturday's contest beginning a two-game homestand against Southern Conference competition, welcoming Chattanooga in on Saturday night before hosting Furman the following Saturday at UD Arena. The Flyers have nearly been unbeatable at home in recent seasons, and sport a 26-game homecourt winning streak entering the showdown with the Mocs. Those 26-straight home wins rank as the seventh-best home-winning streak in college basketball this season.

The Flyers are led by head coach Archie Miller, who is the former sharp-shooting guard from NC State and also the brother of Arizona head coach Sean Miller.

UD Arena is one of the meccas of mid-major college basketball, and it is a program that is one of the most successful and elite mid-major basketball programs out there, with a strong tradition. It joins elite mid-major programs like conference rival Davidson, as well as Gonzaga and Wichita State as programs that you can expect to be at the very top of the mid-major ranks each season.

In 40 games against power five conference schools over the past nine years, the Flyers sport an impressive 29-11 overall record. It's a program that Furman head coach Niko Medved called the most-talented team his Paladins would face in the preseason, and certainly I should think Chattanooga's Matt McCall should echo those same sentiments.

It all starts with an outstanding backcourt that includes Charles Cooke (14.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.9 APG), Kyle Davis (7.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG) and Scootchie Smith (12.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.3 APG). Cooke is the player that is the most prestigious player in the backcourt for the Flyers, although it's clear that it isn't a one-man show for Dayton.

Cooke made a name for himself earlier this season with a big game on national television against Alabama. In that contest, Cooke dropped in 21 points and posted seven boards in what was a big 80-49 win over the Crimson Tide. Cooke was also a big factor in the second half in a come-from-behind win over William & Mary, pouring in 18 points. Cooke's top game of the season came in a win over Atlantic Sun member North Florida, posting 24 points and seven boards.

Cooke is in his first season on the hardwood for the Flyers after having transferred in from James Madison a couple of years ago. The 6-4 redshirt junior guard is shooting just 35.3% (6-for-17)from three-point range so far this season but is shooting 45.5% (20-of-44) from the field so far on the campaign. Cooke has scored in double figures in five of the eight games for the Flyers so far this season, with three 20-point performances already in his young Flyers career.

Cooke also ranks second on the team in assists, having handed out 11 helpers so far this season, and his six blocks also rank second on the club through the first eight games.

Cooke isn't the lone weapon the Dayton backcourt has to offer, however, as Scoochie Smith has been the player to have set the tone in nearly every game this season for the Flyers. In the Advocare Invitational, Smith was able to garner all-tournament honors after averaging 14.3 PPG and 6.7 RPG, along with dishing out 4.3 APG.

In the last outing, which was a win at No. 15 Vanderbilt, Smith scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half to lead the Flyers to the big road win. He scored a career-high 19 points in Dayton's win over Monmouth earlier this season, and scored 14 of his 15 points in the second half in a win over North Florida. In the lone loss of the season, which came against Xavier, Smith posted 13 points. All told, Smith has posted six double-figure scoring games out of eight games so far in 2015-16.

Smith started all 36 games for the Flyers last season and was a big part of the success the Flyers were able to acheive last season. Smith is shooting an impressive 44.8% (13-of-29) and is shooting 49.3% (33-of-67 from the field so far in 2015-16. He is easily the team leader with 13 assists so far this season. Smith's nine steals lead the team.

Davis rounds out the starting trio in the backcourt for the Flyers. The 6-0, 165-lb native of Chicago, Ill, is completes the junior trio in the backcourt and in many ways has been the "glue-guy" for this team this season. In an early-season contest against Iowa, he reached 16 points, which was just one point from tying his career-high 17 points he registered against Duquesne last season.

Davis is the team captain this season. Davis is the type player that can make a clutch steal or assist at opportune times in a game, and is also the Flyers' defensive specialist in the backcourt. He has logged a pair of double figure games this season, scoring 16 against Iowa and followed that up with 12 points against Monmouth. His 11 assists rank tied for second on the team.

Rounding out the starting five in the frontcourt for the Flyers will be Kendall Pollard (12.0 PG, 5.3 RPG) and Steve McElvene (7.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG).

Pollard, a 6-6 junior forward from Chicago, Ill, has been a reliable option time-and-time against throughout his career for the red and blue, especially when the Flyers are in need of a bucket.

He enters Saturday's contest with the Mocs having hit double-figures in six-straight games. He lead all scorers with 21 points the last time out against Vanderbilt in the win.

In total, Pollard has found himself in double figures in six-straight games comin into this weekend's contest and is shooting 51.4% (36-of-70) from the field so far this season. It is important to note that Pollard has struggled from the charity stripe this season, connecting on a meager 40% (22-of-44) from the charity stripe so far on the campaign.

Rounding out the starting five is the 6-11 McElvene. McElvene, a redshirt freshman, was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week this past Monday, using a 14-point, 16-rebound effort against Atlantic Sun favorite North Florida in a recent game against the Ospreys.

McElvene's first-career double-double came in the win over Alabama, as he posted 13 points and 11 boards in the win over the Crimson Tide. McElvene currently ranks third in the Atlantic 10 in rebounding, snagging 8.2 boards-per-game. He came close to registering a double-double the last time out against Vanderbilt, posting 10 points and nine boards in a win over the 21st-ranked Commodores. McElvene leads the team in field goal percentage (62.2%) and blocks (14).

The top players off the bench for the Flyers this season have been guard Darrell Davis (6.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG), forward Ryan Mikesell (6.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG) and forward Xeyrius Williams (4.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG). Mikesell was sensational in the season-opener, posting 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists without a turnover in a win over Southeast Missouri. For his efforts, particularly in that opener, garnered Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors in the opening week of the 2015-16 campaign.

As a team this season, Dayton is shooting 47.4% (213-of-449) from the field on the season, while holding opponents to 39.8% (187-of-470) from the field 2015-16. From three-point land, the Flyers have made good on 33.3% (132-of-199) from three-point land, while opponents are connecting at a 38.8% (99-of-163) clip this season. Dayton is averaging 75.9 PPG, while allowing opponents just 67.8 PPG.

A Look at the Mocs:

Chattanooga enters the contest looking for its third upset of an established program this season when it takes on Dayton on Saturday. The Mocs have suffered to respectable losses this season, with one loss coming against a team in Louisiana Monroe expected to compete for the Sun Belt crown this season, as well as Top 5-ranked Iowa State.

Chattanooga checked in at No. 10 this week in the latest CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major poll and the Mocs are receiving votes in both the Associated Press and the USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls. A win over Dayton would allow the Mocs to get off to their best start since the 2002-03 win and would put the Mocs 7-2.

The leader of the Mocs team is preseason Southern Conference Player of the Year Casey Jones (12.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG), who does so many different things to help this team be successful. Jones is athletic and cerebral as a player, and he's the type player that end up a gain with what some people would call a quiet 15 points at times, but also can explode to have that big game in 25-30 point range.

In all, he has scored 10 or more points in a game 54 times in his outstanding Mocs career. He is the only UTC player in the history of the program to have scored 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and has dished out 150 assists in his career.

The intangibles he brings to the team, such as diving for loose balls or his ability on the offensive glass are two elements to this game that make him one of the best players not only in the Southern Conference, but also in mid-major college basketball.

Jones is a complete player, who does a number of things well for the Mocs. Jones comes in having scored in double figures in five-straight outings, including 12 points the last time out against Tennessee-Wesleyan.

Jones is converting on a solid 49.4% (41-of-83) from the field so far this season, and as a three-point threat, he is shooting just 27.3% (3-of-11) from three-point range so far this season. Jones also leads the team with 31 assists this season.

It's areas other than scoring that makes Jones such a valuable players, such as his season-high seven assists in a win over Alabama State, or his career-high tying four blocks in the loss on the road at Louisiana Monroe. Without question, the best game he had of the season came against Georgia in the season opener, posting 23 points, six rebounds and dished out three helpers in helping the Mocs to the 92-90 upset overtime win over the Bulldogs.

With Justin Tuoyo (11.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 17 blks) having been injured recently, it's been up to Chuck Ester (7.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG) as of late to help lead the Mocs. Ester, a 6-7 athletic presence in the paint is not the shot-blocking presence that Tuoyo gives the Mocs, but he is athletic and has an explosive first step in getting to the hoop. Tuoyo could return Saturday night, and if he is able to go, he'll give the Mocs a shot-blocking presence in the paint.

Ester has a pair of double figure scoring games this season, posting a season-high 12 points in the win at Illinois, while also posting 10 points the last time out and had 10 points in the win over Tennessee Wesleyan the last time out.

The backcourt is comprised of a trio of veterans, led by point guard Greg Pryor (9.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG), who is underrated in many ways at his position among the league's other talented floor leaders. He reminds of former Mocs like Tyrone Enoch and Tim Brooks, who both had that unique ability to know when it was time to step up offensively when things weren't going well, however, when things were going well offensively, being an outstanding distributor of the basketball. He is shooting an impressive 44.8% (13-for-29) from three-point land this season, and he leads the club with 16 steals.

Tre' McLean (7.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and Eric Robertson (7.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG) round out the starting five for the Mocs. Both are important in terms of what they bring to the table for this team. For McLean, he's one of the most athletic players on the court and has perhaps improved his game as much as any player on the UTC roster this season.

McLean has found his way into double figures on three occasions this season, with his top game coming against Alabama State, posting 18 points and six assists. He is an excellent defender, having register 10 steals this season, but has struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter so far this season, connecting on just 8-of-31 (25.8%) from long range this season.

Over the past two seasons, the three-point marksmen has been Robertson. Through the first eight games in 2015-16, Robertson has made good on 15-of-36 shots from downtown, which computes to an impressive 41.7%. Robertson had his best outing against Illinois, scoring 15 points on five three-point field goals.

In fact, with the shooting of both Pryor and Robertson well over 40% from three-point range this season, the Mocs are shooting a SoCon-best 38.4% (76-of-198) so far this season.

Off the bench, head coach Matt McCall has a solid rotation of nine, and the four top players off the bench are athletic transfers Jonathan Burroughs-Cook (7.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG) and Dee Oldham (5.5 PPG, 1.4 RPG), while Duke Etheridge (8.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and Peyton Woods (4.1 PPG, 0.9 RPG) also provide strong support and veteran leadership as reserves.

As a team this season, the Mocs are averaging 79 PPG while holding opponents to 67.8 PPG. UTC has connected on an impressive 48.1% (222-of-472), which leads the SoCon as well as leading the SoCon in three-point field goal shooting, as mentioned about, at 38.4%. Opponents are shooting 42.9% (201-of-469) from the field and 33.3% (87-of-130) from three-point range on the campaign.

WHO WINS:

This game is made so much tougher for the Mocs due to the unknown status of Justin Tuoyo, as with him, I would certainly give the Mocs a realistic chance of ending the 26-game streak, however, if he is not 100% and being that another sellout crowd is expected at UD Arena, I have to go with the Flyers in a pretty close game.

Dayton 82, Chattanooga 77