Usually the first paragraph of my articles is a cheeky introduction to the subject matter, or an introspective view on why I even took the time to write an article on the BBR in the first place. This time around, I simply want to post the roster from the 2017-18 Dayton Flyers basketball season, and then take you on a journey to present day, with just under half a year until opening night in UD Arena for the 2019-20 season.
Now, please, I realize I’m not breaking any news by posting this, but the visual is still quite profound, given that this was the active roster for UD just over 15 months ago. It’s a great place to start in order to highlight just how far Anthony Grant and Co. have come since March of 2018. Whether you want to criticize him for his body of work on the court to this point or not, he has done a remarkable job putting Dayton in a position to succeed coming into the upcoming season. Just to recap:
- Josh Cunningham, DURRELL, (walk-ons) Jack Westerfield and Joey Lee Gruden have all graduated.
- Jordan Davis has transferred to Middle Tennessee State and will be sitting out this season, best of luck to him.
- John Crosby was shown the door and chose to transfer to Delaware State (who’s unforgivably terrible, yet still technically Division One).
- Xeyrius Williams, ‘member him, will play his upcoming senior season at Akron. The tension between him and Grant, and the way he was forced out of UD is a conversation for another day. Let’s just say he wouldn’t have been invited to AG’s Thanksgiving dinner.
- Kostas Antetokounmpo is still trying to convince people he can play in the NBA off the coattails of his brother’s success.
- Matej Svoboda saw the writing on the wall, packed his bags and headed on back to the Czech Republic. Which, frankly, was doing the program a solid.
- Last season, Frankie Policelli came and went like a one night stand, we barely knew ye
(Ryan Mikesell is not listed because he obviously sat out an entire season due to a medical redshirt)
When given the keys to a basketball program at this level, it’s generally understood you have two seasons to right the ship and four years to do something fairly relevant. That time is an opportunity to recruit and develop the players of your choosing. Like Grant or not, he has managed to put UD in a fantastic position coming into year three – which is frankly what any rational person was hoping/expecting when Ryan Miller left the cupboard bare for a job in Bloomington.
Now, with all of that said, Dayton’s position in the college basketball landscape is truly unique. They are neither a high-major nor a “true” mid-major. UD is not a coveted job, nor is it a traditional “stepping stone” job like, say, a MAC or SoCon school would be. In six years, Ryan Miller took Dayton from an “every once in a while” program to a perennial tournament presence, and whether you find it fair or not, Grant’s job from day one, minute one, was to return UD to that level as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, the patience of the fanbase this past season grew short when we all watched UD’s perceived equal, VCU, steamroll through the conference to another regular season title, comfortably pulling a step ahead of UD when it comes to jockeying among the hierarchy of A10 basketball supremacy. I wrote on this site about 18 months ago that if AG did not return the program to the tournament in year three, all of the momentum gained by the Archie Miller era would be dead and gone. That statement is just as true on this day in June 2019 as the day I wrote it. Grant has his recruits, he has his transfers, he pushed out the kids he didn’t want, and survived the first two years of a rebuild with moderate success.
There are no more excuses for this program to not return to the NCAA tournament. Period. If your expectations for this coming season are anything less than appearing in the big dance, you need not return to this site for the foreseeable future.
I know some of you are sitting there right now, wiping chicken grease off your fingers, thinking — “How can you be so black and white, Sully?” The bottom line is you came here to talk Dayton hoops, so that’s precisely what we will do. It’s the offseason and I have nothing but time. So while I’m not attempting to convert anyone to my line of thinking, I can inarguably make the case as to why no fan moving forward should be echoing the “little old UD” mentality that plagued this program for too long.
It begins and ends with the Atlantic Ten conference. (And before I continue, stop talking about UD getting in the Big East. Enough is enough. Anyone with even a shred of insight into conference expansion knows that the shipped sailed LONG ago for Dayton, and, even if it didn’t: Dayton’s situation in the A10 is ideal!)
Please consider the following: Dayton produces the most revenue of any school in the A10, BY FAR, which naturally means they have the most money to invest in basketball. This financial windfall has resulted in building the conference’s best facilities, upgrading the conference’s best arena (with renovations that cost more than half of the “arenas” currently in the league) and the A10’s largest fanbase. So what excuse is left to suggest they shouldn’t dominate the standings every year? Before you go mounting the soapbox for a grand speech about why Dayton needs to be in the Big East, ask yourself why they shouldn’t be #1 or #2 in the Atlantic 10 every season and go from there. The reasons Dayton would WANT to join the Big East are obvious (more $$, more TV exposure, bigger conference tournament, etc.) but again, that ship has sailed, sunk and dead bodies have surfaced. Look around our current living room and realize it’s a pretty damn cozy house to live in, even if the neighbor can afford to paint his house gold from a lucrative TV deal. That’s a saying, right?
If we can all agree the A10 has the proper equipment to be Dayton’s playground, consider that UD was unable to secure a top two spot in the worst version of the A10 since 2007, the last time the conference received less than three bids to the NCAA tournament. If you are in the business of comparing UD to their peers, that’s weird and probably not that lucrative, concede that this past season was a failure. VCU had a bounce back season in year two under their current coach, took both games from UD, won the league’s regular season title, and returned to the dance by beating the stuffing out of the rest of the league. Davidson reloaded after losing Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge (two of the most prolific scorers the A10 has ever seen) in consecutive years, and finished second after winning the conference tournament in 2018 (even if they did fall short of the dance in 2019 by going 5-4 down the stretch). You get the point. That’s what perennial contenders do, particularly in non-P5 leagues. That is what you should expect from Dayton given that the A10 has a habit of sending three teams to the dance. Reload, rinse, repeat, win the A10.
Let’s circle back to where we started: the upcoming season and the current roster that has been assembled over the last two years by Anthony Grant. It is fair to say this will be UD’s deepest team since the Elite Eight year of 2014 where nine players averaged more than ten minutes a night, and by season’s end Kendall Pollard and KD had rounded out an eleven-man rotation. However, this year’s roster depth comes with giant question marks, given that it is objectively fair to be skeptical of three players who washed out of Power 5 programs with very little production to speak of — as well as a point-guard from Chattanooga who will likely be tasked with backing up the lead guard we already have. Mikesell, Crutcher and Obi will undoubtedly anchor this veteran team, Trey Landers will stir the drink, Dwayne Cohill is poised to take a step forward, and the defense will be more stout with a returning Jhery Matos. How ALL these pieces will fit together is truly anyone’s guess, and anyone who provides a concrete answer is just doin’ some seriously dubious speculatin’.
It is generally established that 23/24 wins is the bar set for UD in order to reach the NCAA tournament. Since 2000, UD has received seven at-large bids. The most losses they had on Selection Sunday in any of those years is ten. That’s the measuring stick, and if you ask the Athletic Director, he will likely agree with this formula for postseason success. So naturally, it is a cause for concern that Anthony Grant has taken his last eight college basketball teams to Selection Sunday with at least ten losses (6x Alabama, 2x UD).
Furthermore, in the eleven seasons AG has been a head coach, he has lost to multiple teams outside the top 100 eight different times. In Grant’s two year’s coaching our Flyers, they have lost a grand total of 15 games to teams outside the top 100. If the tide is truly to turn in year three, Grant will need to accomplish something he has not achieved since his last season at VCU in the Colonial: keep the loss total in the single digits (their tenth loss that year was in the NCAA tournament) and avoid ALL the bed shitters.
I acknowledge that is not particularly relevant to compare completely different teams, at different programs, competing in different conferences, to the one we are putting out on the floor in 2019. Nevertheless, the trends of the coach over time simply cannot be hidden. All three of the teams Grant’s taken to the NCAA tournament (VCU ’07, ’09 and Bama ’12) have lost at least one game outside the top 100. That’s the resume. If Dayton is to truly wipe the slate clean and begin a new era of winning we have been waiting on for over two years now, a lot will depend on the General’s ability to avoid these types of losses in an A10 conference that’s chock full of mediocre teams primed to kick your ass. Friend of the site, Adam G, stated it quite well back in January:
“The simple truth is this, like his style, hate his style, it doesn’t really matter. What’s Anthony Grant’s track record? Underachieving. Lackluster effort. We’re over 40 games into his tenure and they haven’t established an identity. Forget play calls, switching defenses, waiting for next year. Until we know what we’re going to see each and every night, nothing else matters. And that’s a shame, because these aren’t issues that should plague a team coached by a guy 20+ years into a coaching career. It would be easy to say the players aren’t executing. They aren’t making shots. They need time. Anthony Grant’s track record doesn’t give him the benefit of doubt…. They can’t separate at home against a vastly inferior UMass. They can’t close a lead at VCU, or home to George Mason. They struggle with a bad and beaten up Bona. They aren’t better today than they were in the Bahamas. They didn’t improve last year. That’s eye opening.”
Which brings me to my last point. Reflect back on the profile of Ryan Miller’s teams. Hard-nosed defense, transition buckets, and motion offense that spread the floor to create mismatches. That was Dayton basketball. That was the Flyers’ identity. In the two years Grant has been at the helm, what is UD’s identity? “Tossing a boat load of alley oops” isn’t a playing style, no matter how much social media noise it generates. All four of those Archie tournament teams improved as the year went on. They made less mistakes, the rotation got tighter, play on both sides of the floor was more efficient and (for the most part) they played their best basketball in February and March when it mattered most. I cannot say the same for Grant’s teams, especially when it comes to improvement as the schedule gets shorter. I offer this opinion with the caveat that in his first year he was coaching a team that kinda-sorta gave up on him, which happens. What I am most anxious for this upcoming season is to finally see UD establish their identity, any identity. I see it as the fundamental key to whether or not they go dancing next spring.
If you made it all the way to this paragraph, you care about this program, and where UD is headed into the future. I started this article as a way to plug the upcoming podcast we are recording with Bobby Wehrli, and turned it into a God’s honest view of how I view Dayton basketball heading into the crucial third year of Grant’s tenure. If you were to ask me directly, I would be the first to tell you that I can see great things on the horizon for this program, but skepticism still exists. If UD does take the proverbial step forward, it won’t be based on any historical precedence from Anthony Grant. The canvas is clean, the rebuild is over, it’s time to make the fucking dance.
Wear Red, be LOWD. We’ll update you periodically with goodies on the site until November.