No. 24 Dayton poised for NCAA Tournament breakthrough

No. 24 Dayton poised for NCAA Tournament breakthrough

Anthony Grant has been building momentum at Dayton the past five seasons, taking the Flyers to the cusp of the NCAA Tournament last year despite having one of the nation’s youngest teams.

A breakthrough could be coming this year.

With nearly everyone back from last season’s team, including one of the Atlantic 10′s best players, No. 24 Dayton has its sights set on the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years.

“Our team, to have the type of success we think we’re capable of will be based on our ability to grow in terms of our confidence, not only individually but in each other and the leadership we’re able to to develop in terms of the guys being aligned and lean into each other’s voices,” Grant said.

The Flyers’ rise appears to be pointing toward their first NCAA Tournament since Archie Miller’s final season in 2016-17.

Dayton returns all five starters from a team that won 24 games last season, including victories over eventual national champion Kansas and Miami, which went to the Elite Eight.

The young Flyers went through some growing pains amid the successes last season — three straight losses to Massachusetts-Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay — but the experience should help push them forward this year.

DaRon Holmes, the A-10 rookie of the year in 2021-22, returns with former Georgia transfer Toumani Camara to give Dayton what should be one of the nation’s best frontcourts.

Point guard Malachi Smith is back after a steady freshman season and will team up with Kobe Elvis in the backcourt. Forward RJ Blakney also returns to the starting lineup, with Kobe Brea and Mustapha Amzil back to give Dayton depth off the bench.

Athletic big man Tyrone Baker should have an impact after transferring from Georgia and freshman Mike Sharavjamts, the first Mongolian citizen to earn a Division I scholarship, should give the Flyers length and good shooting on the perimeter.

HOLMES RISING

Holmes arrived at Dayton as the highest-ranked recruit in program history and lived up to the billing his freshman season.

The 6-foot-10 forward from Goodyear, Arizona, had an impact at both ends of the floor, leading the Flyers in scoring with 12.8 points per game while averaging 6.1 rebounds. Holmes was second nationally in shooting at 64.9% from the floor and broke Dayton’s single-season blocked shots record with 81.

“He’s a guy that kind of had to anchor our defense as a rim protector, I thought really grew in terms of his confidence and his understanding of that role,” Grant said. “And he’s continuing to do that now as a true sophomore, a young guy trying to figure it out.”

DAYTON DEFENSE

One reason Dayton had success with such a young team last season was its ability to defend.

The Flyers were 39th in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com, and were 15th nationally in scoring defense, holding teams to 61.2 points per game.

A year of experience in Grant’s system should only make Dayton better defensively this year.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS

Dayton has two glaring areas it needs to shore up this season: turnovers and free throws.

The Flyers coughed the ball up 12.4 times per game last season to finish 154th in Division I — not all that surprising for such a young team. A year of experience should help in that area.

Dayton also was 284th in free throw percentage, hitting 68.2% from the line.

SCHEDULE

Dayton will have some tough early tests before getting into its A-10 schedule.

The Flyers’ second game of the season will be against an SMU team that won 24 games last season and a trip to Las Vegas to play UNLV comes four days later. Dayton also opens the Battle 4 Atlantis against Wisconsin with potential games against No. 5 Kansas, No. 11 Tennessee, Southern California, North Carolina State and Butler.

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