The Dayton Flyers are an hour or so away from making their fourth straight tournament appearance. It’s quite an achievement, especially for the senior class which just finished tallying the most wins in school history. Predictions for how far this team can go have varied throughout the year, with a strong conference performance convincing some a deep tourney run is achievable, while two putrid losses to finish the season leave some wondering if Dayton can even pull off one win.
An unenviable matchup with the heinously under-seeded Wichita State Shockers doesn’t make matters easier. The Flyers have to overcome one of the most potent offenses in the country to avoid an unceremonious end for one of the most talented classes the school has ever seen.
The hope is these seniors, who introduced themselves four tournaments ago with an improbable run to the Elite Eight, have one last bit of magic left. An early exit would not only be a huge disappointment, it would also thrust the program into a future full of question marks.
One of the more obvious concerns on the horizon for the Flyers is the amount of talent being lost. Seniors Kyle Davis, Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard have been linchpins for this team over the past four years, while last season’s transfer Charles Cooke has proven to be one of the best offensive players on the roster. Their departures will leave sizable holes to fill coming into next year.
This isn’t to say the cupboard will be bare for Dayton in 2017-18. The team will still have defensive specialist and three-point marksman Darrell Davis, as well as current sophomore forwards Xeyrius Williams and Josh Cunningham.
After those three, though, things get murky. Backup guard John Crosby has underwhelmed more often than not when subbing in for Smith this year. Kostas Antetokounmpo, younger brother of NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo, has size and athleticism, but will he be ready to be thrust into the starting lineup to fill the void left by Pollard? Freshman Trey Landers has shown potential, but still seems to lack the trust of coach Archie Miller.
This of course is a perfect segue-way into the biggest uncertainty with the future of the Flyers – will Miller be back?
It’s a fear all Dayton supporters are forced to endure every single offseason. A coaching vacancy opens at a big-name program and Miller’s name is rumored to be at the top of the list. While he continually dismisses the gossip, the Flyer faithful never feel convinced until he’s seen on the sideline the following season.
This year, openings at Indiana and Illinois have Dayton fans holding their breath. Miller has already been asked about each, brushing them aside as you’d expect. However, I would anticipate the rumors to only heat up in the coming weeks. An early tournament exit, along with the departure of some of his first recruits could have Miller start eyeing new surroundings.
For obvious reasons, his departure could be devastating to the program. You could argue the loss of so many key players only highlights the fact next year’s team needs Miller more than ever. Losing such talented seniors and the coach who completely turned the program around could send Dayton careening off the rails.
Obviously, these concerns are tabled for now as the Flyers prep for their bout with Wichita State. One would hope tonight’s game is the first step in yet another long and memorable tournament run. Otherwise, as soon as these seniors take their final bow for the year, the entire Dayton program lunges headfirst into a cloudy future.