With the most significant season in thirty years now behind us, two things become immediately clear: (1) UD may not reach the Elite Eight for another 30 years and (2) Dayton needs to make the tournament field again next season for this program to truly take the next step on the relevancy scale.
As to point one, it’s not a knock on Dayton, it’s simply a fact that reaching the Elite Eight, particular for a mid-major program, is very fucking difficult. Naysayers forwarded the argument that UD had good matchups in all three of their wins in the tournament, a claim that certainly has some validity. In Ohio State and Syracuse, Dayton was squaring off with teams that lack offensively consistency all season — a style of basketball that would benefit a Dayton team that continually struggled defensively. Stanford was a welcome surprise for the Flyers in the regional semis, as the Cardinal dispatched the #2 seed in the South region, Kansas, in the third round. Dayton was able to avoid the Jayhawks and took advantage of the Cardinal’s lack of speed and depth in a game the Flyers never looked anything less than superior.
An Aaron Craft miss at the buzzer, a rimmed-out Tyler Ennis three-pointer and an #2 seed being upset in the third round were occurrences that propelled UD to their first Elite Eight in thirty years. Good fortune plays a role in every ride to the Final Four. UConn would have been dispatched in their first game of the tournament against St. Joe’s if Halil Kanacevic pulls down a rebound with 40 seconds left against the Huskies. Kentucky needed back-to-back go-ahead three pointers from Aaron Harrison to reach the title game. Wisconsin survived a Nick Johnson missed shot at the buzzer, in overtime, to take down Arizona and advance to the national semi-finals.
Point is, luck and taking advantage of unforeseen circumstances are the cornerstone of any deep tournament run. The odds, especially for a Dayton or Butler, have to go heavily in your favor in order to survive and advance in the NCAA tournament. Bottom line, relish Dayton’s E8 appearance this season, the chances of it occurring again are rather minuscule.
As to point two, I’ll be concise. George Mason, St. Joe’s, Davidson, Kent State and Tulsa have all made the Elite Eight in recent tournaments. None of the aforementioned programs have had true staying power. The only way to build the program is by consistently making the tournament field. A miracle run does short-term wonders, but we are looking for staying power, kids. The more times the word “Dayton” appears on a bracket the better.
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The graduation of Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford and Matt Kavanaugh results in the Flyers losing around 43% of their rebounding and 38% of their scoring from last season. Their absence also opens up about 70 minutes of playing time going into next year. The Flyers of 2014-15 are equal parts uncertainty and stability. UD will return three starters from last season, yet there are plenty of holes to fill.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know when I say that UD is set at point-guard. Junior Khari Price and sophomores Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis return next season — and highly-regarded freshman Darrell Davis will arrive on campus later this summer. That’s four pure points that have to divvy up 40 minutes per game at the one spot.
Scoochie Smith seemed to be finally adjusting to the college game as the Flyers entered the NCAA Tournament, shifting away from an AAU-styled point-guard to a cautious ball-handler (the Florida game notwithstanding) that can penetrate and create opportunities. The main issue for Scooch going forward is his inability to knock down perimeter shots. All four teams UD faced in the tournament completely sagged off Smith and let him have whatever shot he wanted from outside. To his credit, he knocked down 37.5% of his three-point attempts in the Dance (Smith shot 27% from the arc this season).
Khari Price was, in a word, awful during the NCAA Tournament. He was ineffectual in the half-court game and simply doesn’t have the ability to make those around him better. Price saw his minutes cut considerably during the tournament and I’d expect that the battle for starting point-guard (for whatever that’s worth) is up in the air right now.
Where does Kyle Davis fit in going forward? I don’t see his role evolving into anything more than what he was this year — an energy guy put in the lineup to slow down the opposition’s best player for a minute or two at a time.
Jordan Sibert has the shooting guard position locked down, I don’t think there is much doubt about that. Sibert will be the team’s lone senior next season and should rack up around thirty minutes per game. His health and persistence will once again be vital to Dayton’s success.
The big question is how does freshman Darrell Davis fit into the equation. Does he get the majority of his time at the one? Will he become Sibert’s primary backup?
The frontcourt is where things are a bit unsettled. The loss of the Big Frog and Matt Kavanaugh may not be a significant hit talent-wise, but it certainly leaves UD with no depth up front. Jalen Robinson clearly has the edge over Devon Scott in terms of talent and consistency and has even shown the ability to stretch the floor with his shot-making ability. Robinson’s further development will be essential next season (by the way, did you know JR averaged 6 points and 5 rebounds per game during his freshman season? This shocked me, I had no recollection that he was so productive that year).
Dyshawn Pierre has a stranglehold on the three spot and will have to become more aggressive offensively next season. Pierre is Dayton’s best all-around offensive player and needs to become more assertive on that end of the court for the Flyers to be successful. There were too many times last season that Pierre took a back seat, letting Sibert, Oliver and Sanford carry the scoring load.
Kendall Pollard may be the most important player on the roster next season. The 6’6″ forward showed some flashes of competency during the latter part of the season, and was playing major minutes during UD’s tournament run. He showed his potential against Stanford and hopefully can take up some of the rebounding slack left behind by Devin Oliver. If Pollard can give Dayton a solid fifteen minutes per contest, the Flyers will be in the tournament again next season.
There is a reason a 6’10” kid is coming to Dayton — he is a project. Steve McElvene garnered offers from UD, Chicago State, Boise State and Morehead State among others. How much he can contribute next season is an absolute mystery. At best, let’s hope he can be a factor on the boards and a presence in the paint. Not sure we can expect more than that from the big guy.
With the Big Frog’s kinda-sorta unexpected transfer, the pressure on Archie to find a bigman has been ratcheted up significantly. We have to assume Kid Yuma is beating the weeds looking for a JUCO or grad-transfer that can become eligible ASAP.