Newsletter: Dayton faces one last test before postseason

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton faces one last test before postseason

I paid $8 to access the Wi-Fi on a Southwest flight from Columbus to St. Louis just to write this sentence and the paragraphs that follow. That’s the way it goes at this time of the year. I have to make the most of every moment in March when every story about every game takes on added significance.

I didn’t have much time Thursday to work. Our son, Chase, 4, had tubes put in his ears after a series of infections we’ve been dealing with since the fall. My wife, Barbara, and I were up early to deal with that and then napped during the day to recover. Chase got all of our attention. I took a few minutes to talk to a radio station in St. Louis about tonight’s Dayton game against the Billikens and spent some time working on my preview stories about the game. Otherwise, i was on the floor playing with the Thomas the Train toys we bought Chase on the way home from the surgery center. He’s doing great and returned to preschool today.

I’m glad we got that out of the way. March could be a busy month. That depends on the Flyers, who don’t have much on the line tonight at Chaifetz Arena but will play to keep their season alive next week at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Dayton has already secured the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, no matter what happens tonight, so this game is all about building confidence and momentum for the postseason.

The radio hosts in St. Louis wondered if Dayton coach Anthony Grant would play to win this game or maybe rest players with so little on the line. I don’t think there’s any doubt the Flyers will give it their all, based on Grant’s comments Tuesday after a 77-53 victory against La Salle, though at that point he did not know Dayton had secured the No. 2 seed.

“It’s huge for a lot of reasons,” Grant said. “No. 1 is just the momentum you want to have going into the into the postseason. When you’re playing a team like Saint Louis, that’s a very competitive game every time our teams get together so it probably wouldn’t matter what was at stake. We’re going to compete at a high level when our teams get together. It’s just the way it is. We want to be playing our best basketball heading into the postseason. So I’m excited and looking forward to the opportunity to finish the regular season at their place and get that competition in and then get prepared for Brooklyn.”

With a victory, Dayton would ensure Saint Louis drops to the No. 4 seed, in which case the Flyers wouldn’t have to play the Billikens until the A-10 championship game if both advanced that far. If Fordham wins a home game against Duquesne on Saturday and Dayton beats Saint Louis, the top four seeds would be: No. 1 Virginia Commonwealth; No. 2 Dayton; No. 3 Fordham; No. 4 Saint Louis. If Fordham wins, Saint Louis will get the No. 4 seed regardless of what happens against Dayton because it lost to Fordham in the regular season and would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker.

In my opinion, what happens Friday will have no bearing on what happens in Brooklyn. Dayton had momentum last season after a victory at home against regular-season champion Davidson in the final game and then nearly lost to Massachusetts in the quarterfinals, while Davidson made a run to the championship game. As Grant said last month, everyone hits the reset button in the A-10 tournament.

Holmes could be Dayton’s second A-10 Player of the Year

The annual A-10 awards will be announced Tuesday, the same day the Flyers depart for Brooklyn. Dayton forward DaRon Holmes II is a top contender for the player of the year award, which typically goes to a player from one of the top teams. Holmes looked to be an easy choice in January when he hit 20-plus points in seven straight games but slumped midway through the A-10 schedule. He picked up the pace again in recent weeks and scored a career-high 34 points Saturday in a 74-69 loss to George Mason and won the A-10 Player of the Week award for the first time this season on Monday.

George Washington guard James Bishop IV has the best numbers (21.7 points per game) but plays for the sixth-place team. Regular-season champion VCU doesn’t have anyone with the scoring power that these awards typically go to. The same goes for Saint Louis, though it does have the NCAA assists leader, Yuri Collins.

If Holmes does win, he’ll be the second Dayton player to win the award. Obi Toppin was the first in 2020. Toppin and Holmes are also the only UD players to win the A-10 Rookie of the Year award. Toppin won as a redshirt freshman in 2019. Holmes won last season as a freshman. There are more similarities between the two players. Toppin reached 1,000 points in his second season. Holmes should hit that milestone tonight. He needs five points.

After the season, Holmes will face the same decision Toppin did about heading to the next level after two seasons in college. Toppin’s decision was easier. He was a sure first-round pick who was the age of a college senior when he left. Holmes is projected to be a first-round pick by some experts but is two years younger than Toppin. I subtly asked Holmes about his future Monday when we spoke to him before practice at UD Arena. He answered it as you would expect.

“My whole goal is to win with the rest of the team,” Holmes said, “and we’re going to try to make to March Madness and go as far as we can. The other stuff will take care of itself whenever the time is right, but right now now I’m just worried about winning.”

What’s next for Toumani Camara?

Tom Archdeacon and I both wrote about Toumani Camara this week. UD honored him Tuesday on Senior Night because he’s graduating this summer. He has the option of returning for another season in college basketball, but that seems unlikely. He has played four seasons and has one season of eligibility remaining because the 2020-21 season didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility. It’s the same reason all the third-year players on Dayton’s roster (Koby Brea, R.J. Blakney, Mustapha Amzil) have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Camara has been pursuing his NBA dream since he left Belgium when he was 16, as Archdeacon wrote.

“My goal was to be able to play D-I college basketball and play professionally,” Camara said. “My ultimate goal was to have a chance to put myself in the best position to play in the NBA one day.”

Like Holmes, Camara is not thinking too much about the next step at the moment. We talked to him on Monday before Senior Night about that.

“Like I tell Deuce (Holmes) a lot, I got caught up with that early on in my career, so it really messed with my head,” Camara said. “It’s something I’ve tried to push him to not really focus on and just play your game and be where your feet are. It’s going to happen. Just do what you do, and your talent’s going to show. Just keep working. You can’t worry about the outside noise.”

Camara has to be considered the best transfer Dayton has landed in the Grant era. He’s averaged 12.3 points in two seasons. Ibi Watson averaged 12.5 points in two seasons, but I would give the edge to Camara because of his defensive versatility.

If Dayton loses Camara and Holmes, it will be an interesting spring. The coaches will have to rebuild the front-court depth in the transfer portal. Other players could leave as well. There were already two departures in December (Tyrone Baker and Kaleb Washington). Dayton has only one player in its 2023 recruiting class (Jaiun Simon) but should see that class expand in the months ahead.

Fast Break

Each week, I’ll spotlight news from around the A-10 or other news that might interest Flyer fans.

🏀 Detroit’s Antoine Davis fell three points short of Pete Maravich’s NCAA scoring record of 3,667 points on Thursday. Davis scored 19 of his 3,663 points at UD Arena on Dec. 4, 2018, as a freshman. Dayton beat Detroit 98-59.

🏀 Wright State’s season ended Thursday with a loss to Milwaukee in the Horizon League tournament.

🏀 VCU’s Mike Rhoades thinks his team should get consideration for a NCAA tournament at-large berth after winning the A-10 regular-season championship.

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