It’s clear that whatever slim NCAA tournament at-large hopes UD fans held onto completely fizzled after the overtime loss to Rhode Island last Friday night. Now if you read the fine print, Dayton’s chances, even with a win against Rhody, were anywhere from 1%-5% — so I’m not quite sure how realistic the Flyers’ inclusion in the at-large discussion were anyway (but, man, did I click those links).
There are just two games left on the slate, at home tonight against La Salle and a roadie against Duquesne on Saturday. As we discussed on Dayton’s NUMBER ONE podcast this week, there’s really nothing left to play for before your Flyers head to Brooklyn. UD has all but wrapped up a two-game bye in the A-10 tournament, this is assuming nothing catastrophic occurs over the next four days, and, on paper, has just as good a chance as anyone to cut down the nets on Sunday afternoon.
Josh Cunningham will likely play his last game in UD Arena tonight. The transfer from Bradley will have a complicated legacy. First and foremost, Cunningham came into the program during what turned out to be a transition period for the Cagers. Archie Miller convinced the big man to come to the Gem City and now he is under the tutelage of Anthony Grant. It happens. Cunningham missed out on UD’s last trip to the NCAA tournament due to injury. That happens.
JC showed what he was capable of last season, he was the shining beacon in a sea of indifference and complacency. This season was a different story. Cunningham’s play was uneven all year. Whether that was due to the emergence of Obi Toppin, UD’s inability to get him the ball enough or JC simply being checked out at times — perhaps a combination of all three — is up to you. What is not up for debate is that Cunningham’s choice to transfer to Dayton signaled a shift in perception. Cunningham was a Top 100 recruit coming out of high school, had a freshman year that oozed potential and could have transferred to any number of P5 schools after he requested his release from Bradley. It seems garish to reduce Cunningham’s three seasons in the Gem City to a symbolic keystone, but with no major achievements to speak of, it’s suitable.
Again, much of this was out of Cunningham’s hands and couldn’t have been anticipated. His injury during the 2016-17 season robbed Dayton of what would have been, in my humble opinion, the best team the Flyers have fielded in its modern history (you throw Steve McElvene into that mix…). Archie Miller left before Cunningham’s junior season, which incidentally meant JC would not have the opportunity to play alongside McKinley Wright and Naz Carter. Instead, his junior year would be spent with a roster put together quickly, if not admirably, and polluted with malcontents. In sum, it’s not your fault, Josh, it’s not your fault.
La Salle comes into the Sweater Centre with a 9-19 record, a 7-9 mark in A10 play. The Explorers didn’t win a game until December 21st against Alabama A&M. I think our boys in Philly need to alter their non-conference aspirations a bit. You’ll recognize the La Salle style, it hasn’t changed much over the past five seasons: the Explorers give up a lot of easy buckets on defense, shoot way too many threes on offense and have Pookie Powell on the roster. First year head coach Ashley Howard (not a woman) has picked up where Dr. John left off.
The season has been so uneventful that this tidbit is a part of La Salle’s game notes:
The aforementioned Pookie Powell, the reigning MVP of the Boardwalk Battle(!), is questionable to play tonight. If I’m Pookie, I’m taking the night off, save yourself for Brooklyn, guy. Powell (16.2 ppg/3.6 rpg) is the team’s leading scorer and focal point of the offense. If Powell can’t go expect Isiah Deas to get plenty of shots up in his stead. Deas (12.4 ppg/36% 3fg) is a 6’6″ wing with range, currently jacking up around six three-pointers a game. The junior accounts for around 30% of the Explorers’ shots this season, which ranks him fourth in the conference as far as percentage of team shots is concerned (only Luwane Pipkins, Grant Golden and Courtney Stockard put up more shots for their respective squads).
Saul Phiri (11.8 ppg/3.8 rpg) missed the first ten games of the season, but has made the most of his junior season — he’s the team’s third-leading scorer, La Salle’s top three-point shooter and is a product of Putnam Science Academy, the same school that produced Scoochie Smith. Sophomore guard David Beatty (7.7 ppg) gets plenty of minutes but isn’t much of a factor, the less said about him the better. Traci Carter (6.4 ppg), yet another guard, is the best decision maker with the ball in his hands.
La Salle’s best big is Ed Croswell, a 6’8″ freshman with a wide body. Although he is not an offensive threat, Croswell is solid on the boards, averaging seven rebounds per contest. Miles Brookins, a 6’10” sophomore who needs to put on about fifty pounds, will assist Croswell in trying to slow down Obi Toppin and Josh Cunningham. I’ve seen La Salle play a handful of times this season, I don’t like their chances against Dayton’s big guys. Just being honest, that’s all you can ask of me.
Dayton needs another victory to feel Friday Four™ secure and I’m confident they’ll rack it up tonight. A win tonight would mean twenty on the season, and this is, for some reason, an important benchmark for some people. So there’s that.
This is a strictly take care of business game and Grant’s crew will take control of this one early and put it to rest before the ten minute mark of the second half. Cunningham and Toppin should be extremely active, let’s mark them down for a combined 40 points. JC gets a standing O at the two-minute mark and everyone goes home happy. Flyers 79, Explorers 65. If you attend the game tonight please leave a positive Yelp review.
**Lastly, Bobby Cremins was famous for starting all his seniors, including walk-ons, in their final home game. No matter how important the game was, Cremins stuck his graduating players out there for the tip. He’d usually pull the walk-ons after a minute or two, but I always thought that was pretty cool. Does any coach in America still do this? Let me know in the comments if you know of any.**
Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o' D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.