DAYTON, Ohio -- One year ago, the air traffic controllers for college basketball had the Dayton Flyers very much on their radar screens. UD was ranked in everyone’s preseason Top 25 and was the favorite to win the A-10. Everyone seemed to buy into the hype, including the Flyers themselves.
Then Dayton went out and finished seventh in the A-10, didn't last long in the Top 25 and didn't make the NCAA tournament. But the NIT called and the Flyers finally got back on course. They beat Illinois State at home, then won at Cincinnati, at Illinois and took down Ole Miss in Madison Square Garden in the semis. The signature win came at the expense of Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels and suddenly Dayton had salvaged its season with an exhilarating NIT championship.
This season, the Flyers are picked for fourth in the A-10 and are unranked. They are clearly flying below the radar this preseason despite returning high-flyer Chris Wright (13.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), who is a realistic A-10 player of the year candidate. Chris Johnson (11.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg) continues to raise his game and is one of those versatile 6-foot-6 3-men with an 82.5-inch wingspan who can at times dominate a game. Just ask Duquesne, which saw him drop 26 points and 20 rebounds in one game last season.
Juwan Staten, at 5-foot-10, now joins the Flyers to run the point and is one of the highest-rated high school point guards in the country out of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. There is a ton of talent on this team and Staten exemplifies that fact.
This edition of the Flyers is deep, athletic and versatile and they play defense with a voracious appetite for pressure, rebounding and more pressure. Coach Brain Gregory will once again be able to make wholesale substitutions like a hockey coach with multiple lines.
In practice, this team looked more like a January defensive unit than an October group learning their way. If the Flyers can make a few shots by someone other than Luke Fabrizius (.401 3-pt pct), they will live up to the hype from last season, even if it is a year late.
Based on my observations at a recent practice, I think Dayton is much better than last year, even without three returning starters. And the Dayton Decibel Dungeon, otherwise known as the UD Arena, will be rocking this winter with the most ravenous, loyal and intelligent fans in college basketball. This is the team they thought they had last season.
So track these Flyers on your radar screen now. They will be worth watching.