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Game Preview: Furman Paladins on a mission against Dayton Flyers

Furman has a tough challenge as they travel to face the Dayton Flyers.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

DAYTON, Ohio -- Head coach Niko Medved's Furman Paladins head on the road to take on what might be termed as the toughest non-conference game when the Paladins take on the Dayton Flyers at UD Arena.

The Flyers were a team referred to by Furman head coach Niko Medved in the preseason as probably the most talented team on Furman's schedule in 2015-16, and that included UConn.

The game will represent a homecoming for a pair of Paladin players, who hail from the Buckeye state, in Paladin sharp-shooting forward Geoff Beans and talented sophomore point guard John Davis III, who hails from Beechwood, Ohio.

The Flyers come in with a 7-2 record overall this season, and it's a team that has a lot of nice pieces that could make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. The challenge will even greater for the Paladins considering Furman will be facing a Dayton club that will be seething following a 61-59 loss to Southern Conference favorite Chattanooga the last time out, snapping what was a 26-game home winning streak for the Flyers.

The Flyers have played a brutal schedule this season, with six of their seven wins on the campaign coming against teams in the top 100 of the RPI , with wins over Alabama, Monmouth, William & Mary and Vanderbilt so far this season, and Furman will mark the ninth-straight time this season Dayton has faced a team that has a winning record. Saturday's meeting is just the third between Furman and Dayton and first since 1994. Dayton claimed a 76-61 win almost exactly 21 years ago today (Dec. 21, 1994)

Dayton Tradition

When you talk about mid-major programs in NCAA Division I College Basketball, one of the more polished programs when you talk about the success level of mid-major programs. Gonzaga is kind of a recent enigma for mid-majors, and it has been a program that has made some noise in the past few seasons.

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).

The top scorer in the history of the program was Roosevelt Chapman, who scored 2,223 points in his standout career from 1980-84.

A Look at the Flyers

Dayton is off to a strong start yet again in the 2015-16 seson, and one of the favorites along with Davidson and VCU to win the Atlantic 10. The Flyers have been especially tough in the month of December, having finished the final month of the year with a winning record in 16-consecutive seasons.

Head coach Archie Miller is 7-2 through the first nine games of the season, and the it marks the first time Dayton has reached seven wins this early since the 2013-14 season.

One of the interesting things to keep an eye on when the two teams take the floor on Saturday evening will be the matchup down in the post. The Flyers come in with a pair of talented players in the posts, as both Kendall Pollard (12.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG) and Steve McElvane (7.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG). Pollard might be the best big man the Paladins have faced this season, and McElvane the best shot-blocker, which will be an excellent preparation for a player like Chattanooga's Justin Tuoyo.

Pollard is coming off a strong performance the last time out against Chattanooga, as he posted 20 points, marking his seventh-straight game in double figures. Both Pollard and McElvane are also shooting excellent percentages from the field as well this season, with Pollard connecting on 52.5% (42-of-80) from the field on the season, while McElvane has connected on 62.0% (31-of-50) from the field so far on the season.

McElvane has swatted away 19 shots on the season to lead the club, and had five blocks against the Mocs, which are tied for fifth-most in program history. The 6-11 redshirt freshman from New Haven, Indiana, has posted a pair of double-doubles this season, including a 14-point, 16-rebound effort in a win over North Florida.

The backcourt is a good mix of savvy, quickness and scoring ability, with the trio of Scoochie Smith (12.3 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.4 RPG), Charles Cooke (14.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG) and Kyle Davis (7.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG) as good as any backcourt the Paladins will see this season. Only UConn may have a slightly better backcourt, but even that remains debateable.

Smith is the straw that stirs the drink for the Flyers, and he is one of three players averaging in double figures for Dayton. He takes incredible care of the basketball, having handed out 41 assists, while turning it over just 17 times through the first 10 games.

The 6-2 junior guard from the Bronx, NY, has had some impressive outings this season, including 11 points and seven assists in the win over Iowa, while posting 15 points and four steals in an impressive 31-point win over Alabama. His season high in points came in a win over Monmouth, posting 19 to go with eight boards.

Against Chattanooga, Smith was solid with nine points and seven assists. He is Dayton's most prolific perimeter threat this season, having knocked down 14 triples this season and is shooting solid 43.8% (14-of-32) from downtown this season.

Cooke is the leading scorer for the Flyers, and he is a player similar in skill set to that of Smith. He is a good shooter from the perimeter (11-of-31), as the duo has combined to knock down nearly have of the team's 52 triples this season. His 11-for-31 performance from beyond the arc puts him at a 35.5% clip from beyond the arc in 2015-16.

Cooke had a season high 24 points in the win over North Florida, and had seven points, six boards and four assists in the loss to Chattanooga last time out.

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 44.9% (40-of-89) from the field so far on the campaign. Cooke has scored in double figures in five of the nine for the Flyers so far this season, with three 20-point performances already in his young Flyers career.

Davis rounds out the starting five for the Flyers, and the 6-0 native of Chicago, Ill, acts as a second point guard on the floor along with Smith, as both are excellent ball-handlers. Davis posted his best outing of the season against Iowa with 16 points, including a 6-for-7 performance from the line. Davis is the Daniel Fowler of Dayton, as the junior guard is widely regarded as the Flyers' best defender, and will likely draw the unenviable task of trying to guard Stephen Croone.

Davis is second on the team in steals this season, with 12 thefts, and he and Smith have combined to post 27 of the team's 60 steals this season. The Flyers are averaging six steals per game this season.

The top players off the bench for the Flyers this season have been guard Darrell Davis (6.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG), forward Ryan Mikesell (6.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG) and forward Xeyrius Williams (3.7 PPG, 3.1 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 47.7% (293-of-491) from the field on the season, while holding opponents to 39.8% (209-of-525) from the field 2015-16. From three-point land, the Flyers have made good on 32.5% (52-of-160) from three-point land, while opponents are connecting at a 39.4% (76-of-193) clip this season. Dayton is averaging 74.0 PPG, while allowing opponents just 67.0 PPG.

Quickly Noting The Paladins

With exams now fully in the rear view mirror for the Paladins, focusing on basketball and a key three-game road trip will now be of utmost importance, as Furman prepares for its grueling Southern Conference slate, which begins in early January with VMI.

With that game game a little less than two weeks out, the Paladins will have three tough games on the road, starting with Dayton, and then trips to Navy (Dec. 22) and UNC Asheville (Dec. 29).

The Paladins rebounded from a 20-point drubbing on their home floor last Saturday at the hands of Gardner-Webb by hitting the 90-point mark for the second time this season, with a 94-46 win over Bluefield.

The Paladins have hit 79 or more points in four games this season, which already eclipses last season's two times, which saw the Paladins accomplish 84 points in wins over Allen and Appalachian State.

The Paladins are obviously 4-0 this season when reaching 79 or more points, and come in averaging 73.1 PPG and that ranks sixth in the SoCon this season, and nearly 10 points higher than the 63.6 PPG the Paladins finished averging last seaon.

Furman also comes in ranking second in the SoCon in scoring defense, yielding just 62.9 PPG, and rank second in the SoCon in field goal percentage defense, at 41.9%, however, the Paladins have a pair of games against non-Division I foes. The strength of the Paladin basketball team this season has been their ability to rebound the basketball, ranking second in the SoCon in rebounding margin +11.8, as well as leading the SoCon in offensive rebounding (14.2 RPG).

Furman's 6-7 junior forward Kris Acox (8.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG) and 6-9 center Matt Rafferty (10.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG) have combined to record 10 or more rebounds in eight games this season, with Rafferty leading the league with five games this season with 10 or more boards, while Acox is tied for second with three total double-digit board games this season. The two have combined for five double-doubles, with Rafferty tied with Mercer's Stephon Jelks for the top spot in the league.

Stephen Croone (13.8 PPG, 3.3 APG), Devin Sibley (9.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG) and defensive specialist Daniel Fowler (6.7 PPG, 1.9 APG, 5.2 RPG) comprise the backcourt, while guards Andrew Brown (6.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG), John Davis III (5.4 PPG, 1.4 APG) and Kendrec Ferrara (6.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG) are the top contributors off the bench.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: Dayton 65, Furman 55