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Opening Night Victory: The Ledge and the Potential
Opening Night Victory: The Ledge and the Potential
Christopher Rieman
Published by Chris R
11-10-2019
Smile Opening Night Victory: The Ledge and the Potential

One game is in the books and it's time to either declare the Dayton Flyers dead in the water and underachieving dolts, or the second coming of JC in the flesh. That's what opening night tends to produce as fans digest the first 40 minutes of the season and use that as a compass for the next three and a half months of college basketball.

UD overcame what is likely Indiana State's best shot in a 86-81 victory at the renovated and rededicated UD Arena on Saturday night, yet the Flyer Faithful are already dusting off the facepalms after penciling in a beatdown against the Missouri Valley Conference opponent. After all, Dayton has Obi Toppin and the Sycamores don't -- nevermind a bevy of Power Conference transfers just waiting to look All-World in the first minutes of their Flyer careers. Turns out, Terre Haute doles out scholarships too and handed out a few to some pretty good players at the school made famous by the Bird Man.

As the first week of the college basketball season wraps up, few teams in the A10 -- let alone anywhere -- have done much to pad their resumes'. This time of the year is usually reserved for playing glorified scrimmages against Directional or Provisional U, or maybe even a small Bible College from a sanctioned college athletics association previously unheard of. If fans pull the lens back just a bit however, they'll accomplish two things: give opening night some space to breath and also compare the ISU victory to other A10 wins in the opening days of the season.

The A10 is 16-4 so far and when compared to the rest of the conference scalps, Indiana State looks pretty good all things considered. The Trees aren't going to steal an at-large bid in March, but no other A10 opponent that's been defeated will either.

Here's a closer look at every A10 win, ranked in order of last season's NET ranking, followed by their conference affiliation and 2019-20 predicted finish in their respective league preseason poll based on the number of members in their conference:

VCU 59 / North Texas 56 (147) – 7/14 C-USA
St. Joseph’s-PA 86 / Bradley 81 (176) – 2/10 Missouri Valley
Duquesne 94 / Princeton 67 (183) – 4/8 Ivy League
Saint Louis 81 / Valparaiso 70 (198) – 9/10 Missouri Valley
Dayton 86 / Indiana State 81 (204) – 6/10 Missouri Valley
LaSalle 70 / Iona 64 (207) – 1/10 MAAC
Saint Louis 89 / FGCU 67 (226) – 3/9 Atlantic Sun
Rhode Island 76 / LIU 65 (250) – 1/11 NEC
Fordham 68 / St. Francis-NY 59 (257) – 8/11 NEC
Geo. Washington 58 / Towson 72 (261) – 6/10 CAA
Richmond 100 / St. Francis-PA 98 (264) – 3/11 NEC
VCU 72 / St. Francis-PA 58 (264) – 3/11 NEC
George Mason 76 / Longwood 65 (267) – 6/11 Big South
George Mason 68 / Navy 55 (281) – 9/19 Patriot League
UMass 62 / Fairfield 60 (294) – 11/11 MAAC
Geo. Washington 76 / Howard 62 (304) – 6/11 MEAC

Graded purely on last year's NET ranking, Indiana State was the fifth-best W in the A10 out of 16 overall victories. But the Sycamores are predicted to finish much better than fellow Missouri Valley Conference member Valparaiso who finished last year with a better NET ranking. It's also probable that ISU is better than Princeton -- there's no way a Princeton team has the guard play to come in and do to us what ISU did -- let alone scary bigs to tear us up inside. Iona is ranked just below ISU but picked first in the NEC. The Gaels usually do well in their league so LaSalle probably snatched a better win there -- for now. The only other teams within fighting distance of ISU is FGCU and LIU and those cases are harder to make.

When the smoke clears, the Indiana State win fits in somewhere with Bradley, North Texas, and Iona -- with Bradley currently out in front by a full length.

There's something to be said for comparing ugly ducklings and perhaps none of this matters because all of these teams are effectively garbage and losing to any of them would be an A10 punch to the gut. After watching the Sycamores compete however, I'm not convinced ISU is the pushover a lot of fans felt before tipoff (or even after). I'm not even convinced Dayton played poorly overall. Certainly, Dayton was poor defensively on too many occasions and that made ISU's dribble-drive offense even more effective, but the Sycamores have two All-MVC guards -- one of them the league's leading scorer from last season. These guys aren't typical opening night retreads that can't dribble, shoot, pass, or run an offense. A lot of these guys can also guard the ball.

Even with the suspect defense, ISU still made some tough shots in both halfs. Rec-league hatchet men don't have the poise ISU's guards had to knock down step-back treys with 90 seconds remaining to keep the game tight and actually cut into the deficit in front of 13,000 opposing fans. Those were clutch shots whether they were wide open or draped by Gary Payton. Makin' shots ain't easy and making them in crunch time is where very good basketball players take a step forward. In large part, Indiana State checked that box. They finished up-and-unders, dipsy-doos, stop-and-pops, stop-pumpfake-dip-and-pops, fadeaway mid-rangers, and even step-back treys in the final 60 seconds. They also out-rebounded the Flyers and got to the foul line in a hostile road environment. Perhaps there aren't many teams in college basketball with perimeter defense as soft as UD's was on Saturday night, but there aren't many teams with high-level guards that can make those plays in an empty gym either. The ISU guards would be a Top-3 or Top-4 backcourt in the A10 -- right up there with Richmond and St. Bonaventure. I like Dayton, Davidson, and Rhode Island as the league's best trio -- and for the most part the double-headed dragon of Crutcher and Chatman did just enough to outlast ISU.

Take Obi Toppin out of the lineup and the two teams were pretty evenly matched. He was a game-wrecker all night and ISU's young frontcourt -- though exceeding their own fans' expectations -- had no real answer for the inside-outside playmaking of Obi-1. Few opponents will.

Dayton survived opening night which was not unlike a lot of other teams in the A10. Many other teams around the country bought it however with an "epitome of brutality" defeat as Jon Rothstein likes to call them. Winning is hard and nothing is guaranteed once the ball tips. My eyes tell me Indiana State could be better than their preseason expectations suggest. Poorly-coached, poorly-disciplined, Rucker Park wannabes don't stroll into UD Arena and give the Flyers all they can handle. UD protects the home court about as well as anyone and when Alcorn State shows up, Alcorn State usually takes a 35-pt beatdown. The Sycamores aren't that type of club and while Saturday's performance might end up their high water mark of the season, even spit-wadding in the same zip code will grind out some victories in the Missouri Valley this year. They lack an inside presence but their young post players looked promising. It's a team that should get better as the season progresses and maybe even out-kick the return man. Will they get drilled by Louisville in the coming days? Probably. But let's see where they are in February.

That the Flyers were forced to work for the W is probably another blessing in disguise. Anthony Grant knows what to work on and had an opponent good enough to expose those deficiencies now rather than later. A trifecta of 40pt latherings against Fudgypucker Technical Institute isn't going to help us get ready for the Maui Invitational. As opening-night victories go, the 86-81 win over Indiana State won't stack up with Duke over Kansas. At the same it was just what the doctor ordered.

1. You never want to lose an opening night buy-game.

2. An opening night buy game victory against a solid opponent you should beat but might keep you honest is a much more valuable commodity on Sunday morning.

Dayton accomplished both tasks and did so without coming close to playing to their ceiling. Offensively the Flyers were once again difficult to stop. The franchise player played like the franchise. A couple newcomers looked very steady. Grant's team is a collection of guys that have never played together with the lights on and the results counting for real. Some players have played little basketball over the last two seasons. One guy -- the biggest man of all -- is still sidelined.

Dayton looked shaky in several areas but competent in others. Most importantly however, they looked like a team that can and will get better as roles get defined and the sea legs settle in. If Saturday appeared to be a ceiling effort, that would be cause for concern. Nothing indicates that thus far. The Flyers can shoot better from the perimeter, rebound better, defend better, and foul less. Any of those improvements in the next game is a step forward -- two or more is a leap because UD is already pretty dangerous just on depth and lineup possibilities alone.

We also have Obi and everyone else doesn't. Add to that one of the toughest home courts in the country -- made even more imposing from 72 million in cheddar -- and Dayton's 2019-20 fortunes remain decidedly bullish until such time the results and growth cap fail to produce.

Dayton made plays down the stretch to beat Indiana State. It wasn't easy, but neither is stepping back from the ledge after convincing yourself everything beyond it is most fitting. Besides, few other league members have done better thus far. Opening night is about surviving it as much as benefiting from it: fifty years ago the Flyers survived Bowling Green by a basket in the first game at UD Arena.

So save the Hail Marys for later. We'll probably need them.
__________________

C. M. Rieman | Publisher | 937.361.4630 | Get the latest here:

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  #1  
By NJFlyr71 on 11-10-2019, 09:04 AM
I was at that BG game when it first opened. I don't remember an exhibition before that first game and maybe there wasn't, but I do remember the expectations were High and the consternation during the game was HIGHER.

The sound as the game ended with a win was that of all the exhaling from everyone holding their breath. No one was wanting to see that very first game show up in the history books as an L.

Thank Goodness it didn't.
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  #2  
By flybye on 11-10-2019, 09:28 AM
Good post Chris, all the cliches come into play. Teams first game, high expectations, transfers first game in over a year. This team will clearly get better but let’s also have a legit concern heading to Maui. The past two years our defense has been soft and we couldn’t not protect the rim and especially dribble penetration. This year we have experience and depth allowing kids to lay it all out and play hard and smart on the defensive end. Anthony and the coaches stressed and talked about defense being the key all Summer and fall. I didn’t like the easy baskets Cedarville made last week and last nite is a cause for concern . Most disappointing were no adjustments the last 12 min as State got anything they wanted against us. So hopefully Jordy can help if he plays and the staff can find the best way for this team to play defense. The great news is poor shooting on offense and we still scored 86 pts. But being out rebounded by a smaller team at home and really poor D is red flag. Year 3 have to be better and they better hurry up.
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  #3  
By OregonMike on 11-10-2019, 10:00 AM
Is it possible that the team didn't take ISU seriously?
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  #4  
By FlyerBob on 11-10-2019, 12:12 PM
Thanks Chris. I saw the game on a so so feed on espn+ and it looked like a team with little chemistry on an off night. I hope that was the case. One thing that did come across on the stream was that we are deep and athletic.

Ok starting to feel better
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