With Josh Cunningham out for what appears to be an extended period, and Kendall Pollard’s ongoing “knee situation,” the Flyers are faced with some early-season adversity. With alleged sexual assaults, tragic deaths and career-alerting injuries, Dayton’s basketball program may be the first team to get its own episode on Dateline. UD has dealt with difficulties before and survived them, so why should this be any different, right?
Unfortunately, the Cunningham injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Cagers are about to take on what very well could be the only NCAA tournament team they will play during their non-conference schedule (UCLA could potentially fall into this category as well, but Dayton isn’t guaranteed to match up with the Bruins, so Saint Mary’s it is). With the Bradley transfer sidelined for indeterminate amount of time, and Kendall Pollard continuing to nurse what is shaping up to be a season-long nagging injury, the pressure is on the Flyers to take care of business here and now. Archie’s crew cannot afford to slip up over the next month, taking on too much water before the conference slate begins could cause the boat to sink.
Let’s assume that the Flyers aren’t at full strength until they tip-off against La Salle on December 30th, here are the questions the squad faces until then:
- Can Dayton produce enough scoring with an offense driven primarily by Charles Cooke and Scoochie Smith? Maybe? Scooch would need to go on a decent tear and Cooke isn’t nearly consistent enough offensively to carry the load. What works in UD’s favor is that the schedule isn’t exactly daunting. Outside of Vanderbilt, Northwestern and potential opponents in the Wooden Classic, the Flyers won’t need offensive onslaughts to win ballgames. Yet the question remains: with Pollard and Cunningham sidelined, where does Dayton get the points to make up for their absences? DURRELL? Mikesell?
- Rebounding. Watch Sam Miller on the defensive boards. Just watch.
- Trey Landers? Can this dude play, what does he bring to the table? We are about to find out.
Again, just to reiterate, this isn’t doom and gloom time. UD has been through periods of uncertainty before and was better for it. Hopefully this instability is short lived and Dayton doesn’t lose too much momentum.
Head coach Randy Bennett, who allegedly turned down the Dayton job back in the spring of 2011, has a sour taste in his mouth after his squad was left on the NCAA tournament bubble last March. Heading into Selection Sunday, SMC had racked up a 27-5 record, having won the West Coast Conference regular title and reached the league’s title game (which they lost to Gonzaga – a team they had defeated twice in conference play).
Saint Mary’s ended their season in the NIT quarterfinals, finishing their 2015-16 campaign with a school record twenty-nine wins. Bennett attributed the NCAA tournament snub to the Gaels’ less than stellar out of conference slate and vowed to strengthen his non-league schedule this season – enter Dayton. These are exactly the types of games “high” mid-majors should be scheduling, keep it incestuous, scratch each other’s backs (Side note: I don’t think Bennett went far enough as far as Saint Mary’s OOC schedule is concerned, not a lot of quality names jumping off the page).
There are many parallels between the Gaels and your Flyers. Besides being smallish Catholic schools that most people can’t find on a map, the expectation levels for both programs are at an all-time high this season. Bennett’s squad returns all five starters from a year ago, their top eight scorers and 2,546 of 2,576 points scored. Saint Mary’s comes into the Sweater Centre with the nearly the same team that led the nation in field-goal shooting (50.4%) last season.
Saint Mary’s is off to a quick 2-0 start to the season, with decisive wins against Nevada and Prairie View A&M. SMC will routinely put five white guys on the floor at once, making them only one of two schools in America capable of this feat – Trump University being the other. The Gaels “play smart” (wink) and don’t force the issue offensively. They are a fun team to watch on the offensive side of the ball, consistently working the ball around and finding the best look. Although it’s difficult to put much stock in their early season numbers, considering their lackluster opponents and lack of true expositive data, the Gaels are averaging a staggering 1.5 points per possession and have an effective field-goal percentage of 66.3%.
Although Saint Mary’s is not a daunting defensive squad, quite the opposite, they do feature a great deal of size and length – which is important when undressing in front of other men.
Jock Landale, a 6’11” center from Australia, is the Gaels primary weapon on the offensive side of the ball. Landale (23.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg) lit up Nevada for 33 points, on 15-of-20 shooting from the floor, and will be a major concern for the Flyers. Dayton certainly doesn’t have the size to challenge him down low and may have to depend on double teams to get the ball out of his hand. Joining Landale in the Gaels’ frontcourt is Evan Fitzner, a 6’10” sophomore built like a Syrian refugee. Fitzner (6.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is a dangerous weapon, a player with great size that can step out and knock down threes – he knocked down 41% of his attempts from behind the arc last season.
The Saint Mary’s backcourt is steadier than the hands of a man shaving his balls. Emmett Naar (11.0 ppg, 50% 3fg), another SMC point-guard from the land down under, is the team’s undisputed leader and distributor. He reminds me of Olivier Hanlan, the former Boston College guard (and Dayton recruit), in the way the Gaels securely run the offense through him. Naar is a threat from deep, can get to the rim and shoots around 85% from the stripe. He comes into UD Arena averaging 9.5 assists per game.
Joe Rahon, hardcore CBB watchers may remember him from Boston College, joins Naar in the backcourt. Rahon (6.5 ppg, 5.5 apg) is a dead-eye shooter from three and does a lot of the dirty work that most guards his size would scoff at. Rahon had an insanely efficient 2.95:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, one of the best ratios in the country. Calvin Hermanson (9.5 ppg, 44% 3fg) rounds out the SMC starting lineup. The southpaw lead the team in three-pointers made last year and, at 6-6, is a tough matchup due to his catch-and-shoot proclivity.
Saint Mary’s has a deep bench — six non-starters have racked up at least eight minutes per game through two games. Four of the Gaels’ main reserve players hail from Australia. Tanner Krebs, a 6’6” forward, Dan Pineau, a 6’9” senior, Kyle Clark, a 6’6” sophomore and Jordan Hunter, a 6’10” sophomore, all come from the Land of Crocodile Wrasslin’.
Pineau (5.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is the team’s best shot-blocker and rebounder. Clark (11.0 ppg, 78% fg) has range and can pull power forwards away from the basket. Krebs (6.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg) is an athletic wing and spent his summer playing with the Aussie U19 National team. Hunter (7.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is a big body that has already shown potential around the rim. Stefan Gonzalez (7.0 ppg) and Jordan Ford (12.0 ppg, 3.0 apg) round out the Saint Mary’s bench.
There’s the old adage — “shooters shoot” — and that’s probably the best way to describe St. Mary’s. While still early in the season, it’s always hard to gauge what a team will be like solely by the numbers. With St. Mary’s you can can just look back at last year as they return pretty much every contributor. In 2016 they were top five in two-point and three-point percentage. Despite less than stellar competition in their first two games, those trends have continued. Their two game sample size has shown a huge improvement in offensive rebounding. I would like to attribute that mostly to only playing two games, one against lowly Prairie View A&M, however, given they have three guys over 6’10,” I could see this being a problem for the Flyers.
This feels like quite an uphill battle for our Flyers. The only thing that appears to be working in our favor is the time change, travel and LOWD. Given the Gaels have only played two games in the Eastern Time zone over the past three years, your guess is as good as mine as to how it will affect them. LOWD? Well we all know that is quantifiable.
The #DaytonTwitter fam, or #LOWD Fam (however you prefer), has been debating opening lines for Dayton’s first two games. I’ll offer my prediction in this space throughout the season. See if I’m any good at predicting openers or have any market advantage. Calling the opener at a pick ’em with Dayton closing as a 1 point favorite.
No Cunningham, no Pollard, big problem. The Flyers gave up EIGHTEEN offensive rebounds to Alabama on Tuesday afternoon, certainly a cause for concern. Saint Mary’s is a super-sized squad that comes into tomorrow’s game with a jaw-slackening 42.9% offensive rebounding percentage (Dayton, as a comparison, posted a 24.1% ORP over their first two games). An extremely efficient offensive team that could get a bountiful amount of second-chance points? Not good, gang.
I will never disregard to power of LOWD and the Decibel Dungeon, but I’m not sure it will be enough to take down the Gaels. Scoochie will have his hands full on both sides of the floor and Dayton will have to rely on…Sam Miller to keep SMC in check on the boards. Not good, gang.
On the plus side, Saint Mary’s refuses to play defense. This game will probably end up in the eighties. I think UD comes up just short, Gales win, 87-83. Let’s hope Pollard is back for the Wooden Legacy.