Earlier this month, I noted how many question marks were hovering over the upcoming season for the Dayton Flyers. Six games in, not all have been answered, but we’ve certainly received a good deal of clarity.
Simply put – anyone who thought this year would end with Dayton’s fifth straight tournament appearance might want to temper that hope. Despite the season still being young, this very inexperienced team has a long way to go before it can start thinking about March Madness again.
To be fair, the year so far hasn’t been a let-down by any means. While none of Dayton’s three wins heading into last night were impressive, the two losses weren’t particularly alarming either.
That said, last night’s defeat – a 13-point loss to an Auburn Tigers team missing two of its best players – really hammered home how difficult this season may be for the Flyers.
Personally, nothing made this point clearer than a sequence near the end of the contest.
As we saw a handful of times last season, Dayton suddenly trimmed a sizable hole into a single-digit deficit with a couple minutes left in the game. Last year, the Flyers had the ability to overcome a sloppy night and quickly close in on its opponent with late-game flurries.
But this isn’t last year’s team. Such a fact was proven when any momentum Dayton had generated was stomped out when a Josh Cunningham dunk attempt was viciously blocked. Auburn avoided any sort of scare, riding out a victory while home fans filed for the exits.
It wasn’t so much the loss in particular which highlighted the rocky road ahead for these Flyers. Auburn is incredibly athletic, and proved to be quite a match-up nightmare.
The problem was the quick realization that Dayton just doesn’t seem as equipped as usual to overcome significant struggles.
The Flyers shot terribly throughout the night. This, coupled with an astonishing 19 turnovers, forced the team to play from behind for most of the game.
Again, last year we saw Dayton struggle coming out of the gate numerous times. Despite falling into early holes, the team was always able to claw back into the game and at the very least prevent a blowout loss.
The problem this time around is the fact the offensive options are so few and far between that, if the Flyers do have a cold night like what we saw against Auburn, it’ll be almost impossible to overcome.
Cunningham struggled mightily last night, falling into foul trouble and ending the game with more turnovers (seven) than points (six). Without his help in the front-court, the Flyers’ scoring options were incredibly limited. Darrell Davis chipped in 18 points, but the team can’t rely on him to be sole source of offense. While guards Trey Landers and Jalen Crutcher were each able to help the cause, neither has proven able to generate points consistently.
The offense, in general, has looked uninspiring for long spurts of the season. More often than not, Dayton’s plays can be summed up by “pass the ball around the perimeter for a while and wait for something to happen.” Defensive effort has been there in spurts, though the Flyers are still incredibly susceptible to getting burned from behind the arc.
Barring a quick change of events, I’d expect these issues to be hanging around for a while.
I don’t want this to sound completely doomsayer, as there are early bright spots for Dayton. Cunningham and Davis are clear standouts for the Flyers. While still raw, Kostas Antetokounmpo has the look of a potential impact player in the making. Freshman Jordan Davis is becoming a three-point threat, while Crutcher’s shooting struggles can’t hang around forever (hopefully).
Still, the inexperience on Dayton’s roster has been glaring. The loss of so many impact players from last year is having a lingering affect, and the current Flyers just aren’t ready to pick up the slack.
There’s certainly reason to think brighter days are ahead for Dayton. It just might take a shaky year of development to finally get there.