When I wrote my Red and Blue Recap, I was pretty encouraged by what I saw. Seeing them in two exhibitions, I feel the same way. This is a team unlike any Dayton team we have seen in a long time. They are led by a dynamic point guard and have true depth in the paint. The freshman class appears to be more college ready than any class going back to Brian Roberts and Trent Meacham (do we still hate him?). They have a coach who knows how to game plan and assistants who do more than call for line changes. There is a palpable sense of hope about this team.
Thing is, hope and fear are so intertwined sometimes it’s hard to separate the two. As Flyer fans, there is nothing we fear more than hope. No matter how much we want it, no matter how sure we are of the kick, Lucy is going to pull that ball away. And deep down we know it. Good players transfer, emerging stars get hurt, and the Ghost of Jimmy Carter makes sure whatever wild shot Xavier throws up in the final minute at the Cintas Center goes in. Hope is a jerk. Here we are, days away from a new season, and every single UD fan has that all too familiar uneasy feeling in their stomach. That feeling is hope, and it’s scary as shit.
So how can/will that fearful hope become the oddly soothing pain of disappointment once again? In no particular order…
There is no question Kevin Dillard is one of the best players in the A10, but this team has only 3 true guards on the roster, and the other two have the equivalent of a large cup of coffee when it comes to actually playing college basketball. Perhaps that’s not entirely fair to Vee Sanford, better players than him have gotten shuffled out of the rotation in worse programs than Georgetown, but that’s reality. He is an inexperienced junior. Khari Price looked solid in the exhibitions, but he is an unheralded freshman. Is anyone confident he can give more than 8 minutes per game? When the situation calls, Archie will have to turn to Devin Oliver, Dyshawn Pierre, or Matt Derenbecker to play minutes at guard. This team will need Dillard and Sanford to play at a high level for 30 minutes per game, if not more. We expect it out of Dillard, but we shouldn’t be anything more than cautiously optimistic about Sanford.
Oliver enters his junior year as perhaps the single most important player on the roster. A supreme athlete, he spent the majority of his first two seasons as a prototypical role player. He is the best on ball defender on the roster, an above average rebounder, and a good finisher in transition. His half-court offense to date has been, to be polite, not so good. He seemed to lack confidence in his ability to score at this level. However, toward the end of last season, Oliver more than doubled his offensive production and it looked like the game was slowing down for him offensively.
Looking to this year, Oliver will be asked to do quite a bit more. He has to improve his shooting. He will be asked to guard the opponent’s best athlete and rebound at a very high level. He also needs to show better ball handling, because it looks like he will be asked to lead the break every time he comes up with a defensive rebound or a steal. Devin is the type of player that can be an absolute nightmare for opponents, or he can be the biggest cause of frustration for the home fans.
Front Court Inexperience
Depth certainly isn’t the issue up front, as Archie has four players at 6’9″ and two others at 6’7″. The issue, thanks in part to a certain suspension, is lack of experience. Only two of the seven forwards/centers are upperclassmen. Josh Benson will lead the show as a senior leader, and as I said above, Devin Oliver will be asked to take a bigger role as a junior. Two very promising freshmen, Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott, will have to prove their performances in the exhibitions were not a mirage. When he returns to full strength, Alex Gavrilovic will have to learn how to defend without fouling, because his better than 50% shooting can really put pressure on the defense. Dyshawn Pierre will get minutes at the SF spot, but whether or not he can contribute right away is yet to be seen.
Given the choice I will always take talent over experience, and I think this is a talented front court. But lack of experience could hurt them at times, especially on the road.
Living and dying by the three has been the way of the Flyers for as long as we all can remember. This year looks to be different with the return of Benson and the added skill inside, but they still need to hit some jumpers. Dillard is a capable shooter but will not light it up. Vee Sanford and Matt Derenbecker came in with reputations as shooters, and while Vee has looked pretty good so far, Derenbecker hasn’t hit a shot outside of 5 feet. Devin Oliver shot 21% from three last year. Can he get that up to or above 30%. Can Price or Dyshawn Pierre shoot? Can the team keep defenses honest? This is perhaps the biggest unknown heading into the season.
It’s no secret, last year’s defense was poor. At times it was laughable. They couldn’t keep opposing guards out of the paint and opposing bigs with any ability could have their way inside. An argument can be made that last year’s short bench played a role, as did the parking cone agility of a couple of players who shall not be named. This year’s team is deeper, bigger, and much more athletic. But will the defense improve? Devin Oliver will be asked to guard the best athlete on the other side, and I think Sanford will take the best opposing guard. Can any of the freshmen defend? Can Gavrilovic go a minute without fouling? Can Benson handle physical opponents?
I don’t think this team has to be great defensively, but they can’t start games knowing they will need 75 or more points to win. If they can hold opponents to 65 or fewer points per game, the Flyers will rack up a lot of wins. That’s a big IF, though.