At times last year, I’ll be honest guys, writing recaps wasn’t fun. Over the course of a 30-game season that is riddled with drama from large teenage boys, you simply lose the will to chronicle their basketball-doing. But with each offseason, comes a breath of new life, and goddamnit I was fully ready to sit back down and give you the scoop about what went on during opening night. Please remember this paragraph in mid-February.
So first, let’s set the dinner table before we dissect the soon-to-be-forgotten-about home opener against North Florida.
About 60 minutes before tip, UD released a “fresh out of the printer” news update informing the fan base Josh Cunningham would be out for game #1 with a wrist injury suffered in practice the day before. This tells me a couple of things: Grant is extremely effective at keeping his program’s doors closed (a good thing) and…they were doing some dumb shit in that practice, man! General rule of thumb for game day preparation is to make sure your best player can suit up. But I’m not a coach, what do I know? Luckily, Josh mentioned to Bucky before the game that he would be ready to go on Saturday for Coppin State, take that for what it’s worth.
So, while you read the extremely concise and completely correct breakdown below it’s worth considering how little this game means in the grand scheme of the season. This was the tune up of all tune ups. The Flyers beat a truly mediocre team (at home) without their best player, with a two-day turnaround before meeting an even worse team in Dayton. We often talk about how many games during the season fall directly into the “just fucking win” territory, and this was one of those games. I made a point to highlight this because I think often times it isn’t considered just how wildly erratic a team like UNF can be, and how that type of play doesn’t really give us a clear sign of what kind of team UD is or will be. When the air is taken out of the building by a slow-as-your-grandmother La Salle team in February, UD will need to play a different style than what we saw tonight from a team who plays like the basketball is constantly on fire. It’s obvious, I said it anyways. You’re still reading.
From the jump, UNF wanted to make it clear to every man, woman and child attending what their game plan was going to be for the evening, and proceeded to shoot 4 three-pointers in the first 80 seconds of play. Ten players would take the floor for the Ospreys, 8 would have at least one long ball attempt. I can’t remember the last time I saw a team give less of a shit about shooting two-point buckets. They did do it, but begrudgingly, because UD would make (wait for it) AN ADJUSTMENT (!!!) and switch to pressure defense in the second half that forced the hand of the UNF guards to actually, you know, make a play. I did not realize how drastically this changed their game until after checking out the box score: UNF went 6-for-15 from 3 in the first half, accounting for 45% of their shots. In the second, UNF was 2-for-6, good for 25% of their shooting total. We often take the time to criticize Grant on things, so it’s worthwhile to highlight how well he got the UD boys to adjust defensively in the second half of game 1 to take away the long ball.
In my fandom of this program of going on 30 years, I know there to be two unequivocal truths to what we love in our teenage basketball-doers:
1. “hard-nosed” defense
2. Dunking the shit out of the ball
What this version of the Gem City Cagers lacks in bullet #1 (for now) they make up for in bullet #2.
Obi Toppin dunk count: 4. pic.twitter.com/VRwrRThnvm
— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) November 8, 2018
I thought this team was forming their new identity last night against UNF, and then an alley-oop pass careened off the backboard and I realized they had simply watched London Warren film from the 2010 season. Not the best thing you can do, also not the worst. UD traded blows in the first half by playing some truly backyard-ass basketball; complete with an overhand full court pass, a playground move by Dwayne Cohill on the baseline that ALMOST lead to the layup of the night; and dunks, o my lord, so many dunks.
But before we get all hot and bothered about how many jams the Flyers crammed on Wednesday night, please remember where we started this conversation: UNF’s defense fucking stinks. After all the commotion of the first half, I reached for my halftime beer feeling fairly comfortable in saying UNF was bad enough that we wouldn’t have to truly worry about the outcome in the second, and we didn’t. I don’t know much about the Atlantic Sun conference, but you have to play defense to win, don’t you? I’m just asking questions.
In the second half, Grant went to more pressure defense and simply forced the hand of UNF to make actual basketball plays. That would ultimately be their undoing, because they are not built around doing such things. The opening 11 minutes of the second half saw the Flyers sprint out to a 20-point lead on the back of a 27-11 stretch, and the rest of the game was formality. UNF simply had no answer for the size and strength of Toppin, and frankly they didn’t match-up well with UD at really any spot on the floor. That’s a nice way of saying UD had 8 better athletes than the 8 guys UNF trotted out, but you already knew that.
I would be remiss without mentioning the sleepwalking done by the Flyers in the last 8 minutes of the game, allowing UNF to outscore them 18-6 and make the final score (78-70) look a hell of a lot closer than the game actually was. That’s the kind of bullshit that gets you beat against a good team, or even an average team. Luckily the Ospreys are neither of those.
(checks word count) That’s long enough for game one when I have to do this again on Saturday. Let’s get to the hot takes:
We probably won’t be seeing much of Frankie Policelli this year.
Here’s hoping we are able to beat Coppin State by an “all walk-ons get multiple minutes” amount, so Frankie can get some time. It will be interesting to see if he is able to work his way into the rotation over the coming months.
Don’t worry about Trey Landers
He’s going to bring his lunch pail and hard hat every damn day and give you 15 and 10. We might not even spend time talking about him on the blog this season. Pencil in his production on a nightly basis and make your guesses from there. Don’t refer to him as an X-factor, he’s not, he’s a necessary linchpin in the lineup that will need to be consistent, so other players can breakout. It’s a dirty, thankless job, that’s why the hard hat is necessary.
— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) November 8, 2018
Obi Toppin and Josh Cunningham have the potential to be the best front court in the Atlantic 10 conference this year.
We need to see more than beating a bunch of white guys from UNF to confirm this one, but these boys are big and strong and at the top of their game will be a huge matchup problem in the A10, where there aren’t a lot of teams that play with size down-low. UD’s insistence on feeding the baseline was the big difference in the score, and that can only get better when JC is down there with Obi as well.
The 2018-19 Dayton Flyers will be at their best on the fast break.
The length, size and athleticism of virtually the entire lineup points to this inalienable truth.
Someone on campus figure out why the hell two players cramped up in the second half before Saturday.
There was a lot to like on opening night, coupled with the obvious weaknesses any team demonstrates in November, but overall you can’t help but be very satisfied with the 1-0 start from Anthony Grant’s militia. A dreadful Coppin State team comes to The Arena on Saturday, and should offer another great opportunity to work out the kinks going into a full week of practice.
Keep your red on, and stay LOWD, we’re back at it just over 48 hours from the time I hit publish.
The LOWD ambassador of Chicago, Sully has spent his life tirelessly watching UD hoops. Welcomer of all takes, hot and cold.