Dayton fell from 15-3 in the A-10 and winning the outright regular-season championship in 2017, Archie Miller’s final season as coach, to finishing 8-10 in the conference in 2018, Grant’s first season. It was Dayton’s lowest finish and worst conference mark since it tied for 11th at 7-9 in 2013.
The last team to win a regular-season title after finishing with a losing record in the conference the previous season was Dayton in 2000. It won the West Division with an 11-5 mark after finishing 5-11 the previous season.
That’s a harder climb to make now that the A-10 doesn’t have divisions. Saint Louis, which tied for fifth last season at 9-9, will try to make one of the biggest leaps in A-10 history. It received 15 of the 26 first-place votes and was picked to win the conference.
Grant doesn’t have to worry about the Billikens or anyone in the conference until January. His team started practice Oct. 4 and continues to make defense a focus in the preseason.
“That’s an area we need to get a lot better,” Grant said. “We need to make sure we’re putting ourselves in a position where we can get better by what we choose to do every day in practice. I think our guys are working hard. They’re getting familiar with each other and the system and the identity they want to have as a team.”
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On the offensive end, Dayton excelled at finishing shots at the rim. Cunningham, who was named to the preseason first team, shot 70.1 percent from 2-point range, ranking eighth in the country. Trey Landers shot 66 percent and finished 34th in that category. The team shot 59.5 percent, the second-best number in the nation.
Cunningham and Landers return as do starting guards Jalen Crutcher and Jordan Davis.
“It’s great to have those guys back,” Grant said. “Josh, as a senior with the numbers he was able to put up, certainly we’re going to try to take advantage of that, and Trey did a great job. But we’ve been able to add some pieces, and hopefully the pieces we return will show some improvement as well. I think we need to be more efficient in terms of our ability to shoot the 3 and and our ability to take care of the basketball and value possessions. We’ve certainly got room to grow from an offensive standpoint.”
A-10 preseason Poll
Saint Louis (15): 348
Saint Joseph’s (4): 324
Davidson (6): 314
George Mason (1): 287
Rhode Island: 221
St. Bonaventure: 167
La Salle: 85
George Washington: 73
Number in parenthesis indicates number of first-place votes