Whenever I put a finger to keyboard to put things on this website, the question I start with is always the same: “Is this something worth reading?” In fairness, sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no, but I do try to skew towards the former in most instances. So on Sunday night, when I decided whether I wanted to recap the SLU-UD matchup, the conclusion I came to was this:
If you are here reading this website at this point in the season, you either: (A) watched the game and really don’t want to discuss it any longer. (B) were aware we played on Saturday and made a very conscious decision to not watch. Regardless of what camp you happen to be in, I struggled to find value in giving a concise recap of the game. At this point, there are no NEW challenges with this team, just the same lingering ones, so let’s just tie on a bow on this thing and set it out to sea. If you’re really itching to get into details, the box score is on this page, that should satisfy your cravings. When you lose the Arch-Baron Cup, the shame is too great to relive it, that’s all I’m saying.
Because I did take so long to write this article, I had the luxury of doing something I very rarely do: listen to the Anthony Grant Radio Show with Larry Hansgen. After sifting through the mountains of coach-speak and generally uninteresting banter, I found two things interesting (without making it seem like I was cherry-picking for quotes):
Early in the broadcast, Larry asked Grant what he makes of this team and how they have digested the struggles of this season to which Grant replied something to the effect of: “We need to come to terms with this being our reality.” Which got me to thinking, what exactly IS Dayton’s “reality” right now in the midst of the worst season in over a decade? That’s something I am happy to dig into.
Recruiting comparison of weekly opponents. Few guys are not ranked, ex. Svoboda. Average recruit rating:
St. Louis: 186
Dayton: 291 pic.twitter.com/fSADAuuXHu
— Cash (@UDRYAN) January 28, 2018
— Cash (@UDRYAN) January 27, 2018
First things first, this is certainly not the roster that got UD to four consecutive tournaments. Sure, recruiting rankings don’t mean everything (UMass’ Luwane Pipkins was ranked 238 and he’s the third best scorer in the conference), but the point here is that the previous regime had less-than-stellar recruiting classes directly after the Elite 8 run, and back-filled that talent gap with transfers. This is common knowledge among the UD program at this point. Without sounding too redundant, this roster does not have those transfers to fill the same talent gap. For the record, I do not think this team is so devoid of talent that they should be 10-11, and 4-5 in the worst A10 in at least 10 years, but the gaps exist just the same.
More ‘realities”: Depth off the bench has officially become a problem for UD. With the imminent departure of Jordan Pierce, the injury of Ryan Mikesell, and Toppin being ineligible to start the year, Grant has been forced to tinker with the lineups nightly in the midst of foul trouble. Unfortunately that continues to lead to Matej Svoboda getting minutes during crucial stretches of the game. While I am sure he is a very nice young man who loves Jaromir Jagr like his fellow countrymen, it has become clear to anyone watching UD that he just does not have the skills to be effective at this level of basketball. With that said, you would HOPE the coach of the Dayton basketball team would have been able to figure out how to hide those weaknesses in his roster by perfecting the rotation by game #21, and that certainly has not happened. Of all the players on the roster who get considerable minutes, the average offensive rating (how productive they are on the court) hovers around 100, with Josh Cunningham leading the team at 123 (106th in the country). Svoboda’s rating to this point is 77. When he’s on the floor, opponents are going to attack him, that’s a part of UD’s reality.
Reality (that admittedly Grant alluded to on the show): Dayton can’t play defense worth a shit and are not effective at quite literally any aspect of playing defensive basketball. UD is currently in the “top” 100 in the country in the following statistics:
- Opponent’s 3-point shooting %
- Opponents Effective FG% overall
- % of possessions opponent’s get to the FT line
- Turnover %
- % of possessions without an offensive rebound
Negatives. (1) Defense is worst by far since kenpom started in 2002. #243 right now (offense actually up to #70). Cannot emphasize enough. (2) regression by X (could be injury related). (3) AG going from NBA to NCAA with some bad habits like lack of TOs. (4) Inconsistency
— Tom Eggemeier (@TomEggemeier) January 28, 2018
So basically, if you’re playing UD, you’re going to shoot well, you’ll be able to get to the line, you’ll get plenty of turnovers in your favor, and you won’t have trouble rebounding. Sounds great, right? Schedule UD!
Shifting into the positive reality: Grant and staff have been able to turn Josh Cunningham into of the best, and most efficient, big-men in the country, as well as elevate DURRELL’s game dramatically from the previous 3 seasons. He has two freshman in Crutcher and Jordan Davis that are going to be the backbone of the program over the next three seasons, and he can fill that lineup with the likes of Trey Landers, a human-bowling-ball who can also play basketball. Considering this UD team is only losing the production of DURRELL heading into next year, there are pieces to build on, no one can refute that. The question of the development/longevity of Kostas, and what the hell is plaguing the X-man, are topics for another day, but they’ll obviously be back to help next year too.
Lastly, (and most importantly in my opinion) is the creeping fear that Grant just does not have the chest to successfully make adjustments in-game, which was the main concern of anyone inside the college bball circuit when the hire was originally announced. This trepidation was not unfounded considering Grant had three successful years coaching the CAA, then made just one NCAA tournament and finished under .500 in conference in three of his six years at Alabama.
Grant needs a near-perfect roster to be successful and, sadly, this roster isn’t close to perfect, but Dayton is getting no advantages through coaching/preparation and hustle from the naked eye. If you want to make the argument that he’s a first year coach: so is Matt McCall at UMass, so is Keith Dambrot at Duquesne. Both of those gentleman are doing more with less with their respective rosters. You could also throw in Mike Rhoades at VCU for discussion’s sake, but UD did score 100 on them so we’ll leave that talking point for the next VCU matchup in a few weeks (even though they’re doing better overall in conference play).
The second thing I found interesting about Grant’s commentary was towards the end when they brought up the matchup with UMass this coming Saturday. As most coaches do, he took the opportunity to talk his boys up and say “When we go into other people’s buildings, there’s more excitement because they’re playing Dayton and want to knock us off.” I’m not exactly sure how he talked himself into that quote, but this year I can guarantee no team in the A10 is getting jacked for a 4-5 Dayton squad. Teams are not afraid to play UD, teams are not afraid to play at UD Arena.. This is slightly new territory for a lot of fans and brings me to my next point: It is OK to be frustrated with what you’re seeing.
The most positive thing I took from this weekend is the frustration from the fan base. It is OK to wonder why UD hasn’t figured out the defense going into February, its OK to be fucking livid about Grant not calling a timeout for THIRTY-SEVEN MINUTES during several Billiken runs. It’s OK to wonder why Josh Cunningham doesn’t get the ball more, why our offense seemingly lacks any type of consistency whatsoever, and it’s even OK to wonder what the hell we’re ever doing coming out of the timeouts that we do take.
Last three games: Runs of 10+ by Dayton opponents where Grant hasn't called timeout:
Rhody 14-0 over 3:26 1st
Davidson 11-0 over 2:51 1st
Davidson 11-0 over 3:05 2nd
Davidson 9-0 over 3:18 2nd
SLU 11-0 over 3:53 1st
SLU 11-0 over 4:06 2nd
— Steven Wright (@Steven_Wright_) January 27, 2018
Why am I calling this positive? Good question, loyal reader, I can answer that too.
Earlier this season, my friend who runs the UMass podcast asked me a question that amounted to this:
“You guys bring in 11-13000 people per game without fail, have plenty of money to support the basketball program, have great donor support, why aren’t you better?”
The further reality of this program is that UD is in a crucial stage of their development — climbing out of the endless basement of muck that is mid-major basketball — and into a respectable name brand in college hoops. Luckily, the athletic department is also well aware of this, made apparent by the $72 million going into Arena renovations (highly motivated by hosting tourney games as well). However, there is only one way a program can climb in relevance, and we all know that is making the NCAA tournament consistently. The most glaring example is obviously VCU, who still plays in a high-school-sized gym but is respected as a program for the consecutive tourney appearances they’ve enjoyed.
As we all know by now: UD will not be going to the dance this year, and you would be hard pressed to convince me they will be going next year either. If UD misses the dance for three consecutive years, you can bet your red and blue ass that all the momentum generated by the previous four years will be LONG gone, and Dayton will be back in the same place as a basketball program that they were when Ryan Miller arrived in 2011. That should make you angry, and if it doesn’t, you don’t want to see this program get to the next level. You want to wear your red, sit quietly in the Arena and talk about the Boise State game for the next ten years. Of course, things are certainly not quite so dire. Neil Sullivan had a concise hiring plan because he knew his ass would be on the line if this hire did not work out. As an AD you would have to be a fool to not know this is the most important thing you do at the university, Neil ain’t no fool, he’s a Sullivan, after all. UD’s success is Neil’s success, and it cannot be said enough that the sky is not close to falling.
So if you find yourself mad about what you’re seeing on the court, and the perceived future you envision for this program, that’s comforting. It means you expect more from this program, and frankly you should. Dayton has way too much support to only make the tournament once every five fucking years, and DEFINITELY has enough to support to make sure we never go another 19 years without a tournament victory again.
Ok, I know this article ran long, but I did see value in highlighting both sides of the fence that people are sitting on right now. It is very easy to openly criticize Anthony Grant, and those people have merit. It is harder to show patience in the midst of a season like this and defend Grant to the point of saying he will get the ship turned around with the pieces that are in place for the future, those people have merit as well. Until then though? This is the program’s reality.
The silver lining halfway through the conference season is that the A10 is obviously the worst it has been in a very long time, so if there was a year to be painfully mediocre and still sneak into the top four going into DC, this would be the year. Unfortunately, with what we’ve seen, I wouldn’t go around telling people I think UD can win three games in a row in March. Seems like a fool’s errand. Jablo wrote a nice little piece about the rest of conference play if you haven’t seen it yet.
Thankfully, we have an entire week off to re-charge our batteries, like the players, and come back ready to be LOWD in front of the TV for Saturday’s tilt in Amherst. I will be catching up with my favorite UMass fan, @CurryHicksSage, on the podcast to discuss their season, and throw some more steaming hot takes around.
Keep wearing red, stay LOWD, be normal, we’ll get through this together.
The LOWD ambassador of Chicago, Sully has spent his life tirelessly watching UD hoops. Welcomer of all takes, hot and cold.