The season so far: Evaluating the Dayton Flyers

Five games into a stretch of six games against teams they lost to last season, the Flyers are 4-1 with victories against Arkansas, Duquesne, Massachusetts and Davidson. Only a loss at La Salle spoiled the fun.

Dayton (13-3, 3-1) has not only soothed some painful memories from last season, it has also rewritten its own history book. Prior to this season, Dayton had never beaten Iowa (0-2), Vanderbilt (0-4) or Davidson (0-4). It beat Iowa in November, Vanderbilt in December and topped Davidson 80-74 on Tuesday at UD Arena.

That leaves eight teams in college basketball Dayton has played at least twice and never beaten: Michigan (0-11); UCLA (0-4); Virginia (0-2); Tulsa (0-2); Michigan State (0-2); Southern California (0-2); Brigham Young (0-2); and Iowa State (0-2).

That’s the history lesson for today. Here’s a look at the present. Dayton has played 16 games. It has 14 more games in the regular season. Let’s review the season to this point:

Offensive MVP: Charles Cooke

The junior forward’s status for Friday remains in question. He strained an oblique muscle in practice Monday and did not play Tuesday. Prior to that, he carried the Flyers on offense, leading them in scoring or tying for the team lead in six straight games.

If Cooke’s 15.7 scoring average holds up, it would be the highest season average by a Flyer since Brian Roberts averaged 18.4 in 2007-08. Cooke has scored efficiently, too. He’s shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from 3-point range.

“Charles is a lightning rod right now,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said after a victory over UMass. “He’s getting a lot of points in not a lot of minutes.”

Defensive MVP: Kyle Davis

While redshirt freshman center Steve McElvene now owns the Dayton freshman record for blocks in a season (34), the junior guard Davis is the unquestioned heart and soul of the defense. He’s tied with junior point guard Scoochie Smith for the team lead with 20 steals.

More often than not, Davis guards the most dangerous offensive player on the other team, whether it be La Salle’s Jordan Price or Davidson’s Jack Gibbs. He’s a big reason the Flyers rank third in the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense (65.8 points per game) and third in field-goal percentage defense (40.5).

Asked Tuesday where he gets the grit that makes him such a tough defender, Davis said, “Growing up, I had uncles and cousins who always used to bully me. It just made me tougher. Coming to Dayton, everybody didn’t talk about Dayton. That’s why we always play with a chip on our shoulders.”

Top freshman: Steve McElvene

The 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman center known by many fans as “Big Steve” has had his ups and downs, as all first-year players do, even ones who sat on the bench for a whole season as McElvene did last season. He has also been better than everyone thought.

McElvene is on pace to break the school record for blocks in a season. He’s averaging 6.8 points and 7.1 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game. Foul trouble has limited his impact. He has committed four or five fouls in nine games.

Best victory: Iowa

Dayton may look back on its 82-77 victory over Iowa in the first round of the Advocare Invitational in Orlando as the one that earned it a ticket to the NCAA tournament. The Flyers rank 13th in the RPI. Iowa (12-3) ranks 16th with victories over No. 7 Michigan State and No. 31 Purdue.

Best tweets: Jeremiah Bonsu

The walk-on junior guard from Pickerington punctuates every victory on Twitter with some variation of the quote, “What a time to be alive.”

Dayton fans wouldn’t have agreed Saturday when the team suffered its worst loss of the season, 61-57 at La Salle, but in the big picture, the quote holds true.

The Flyers haven’t lost two straight games since January 2014. Since then, they have won 16 straight games after losses. That includes the last two season-opening games, which followed losses in the NCAA tournament.

The junior class has 66 victories in 89 games in two-plus seasons. That’s two victories ahead of the pace of the 2011 seniors, who won a school record 97 games in their four seasons.

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