Dayton Flyers basketball: Top 10 stories of 2019

Dayton coaches stand for the national anthem before a game against Grambling State on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
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Dayton coaches stand for the national anthem before a game against Grambling State on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

UD Arena renovation tops list of most-read stories

The 2019 calendar year began with a blowout and ended with a blowout for the Dayton Flyers. They routed Richmond 72-48 on Jan. 6 and Grambling State 81-53 on Dec. 23.

» GRAMBLING STATE GAME: Flyers dominate despite short turnaround | Photos

In between, Anthony Grant’s second season as head coach ended with disappointment — early exits in the Atlantic 10 tournament and the NIT — but also the promise of a better future, and his third season reached heights in the first 12 games rarely visited by the program. Dayton (10-2) will enter 2020 as the nation’s 18th-ranked team.

Here's a look back at the top-10 Dayton basketball stories of the year, as ranked by the number of people reading the stories on DaytonDailyNews.com.

1. UD proud to show off renovated arena (Nov. 1): Work continued at UD Arena on Friday four hours before the doors opened to fans and six hours before the Dayton Flyers women's basketball team played an exhibition game against Ashland University.

Workers wielded paintbrushes, brooms and other tools throughout the building, putting the finishing touches on the three-year, $76.2 million upgrade. The last pieces of the construction project fell into place in time for the season to start, though small projects will continue in the weeks ahead.

» LOOKING BACK: Top UD stories of 2018

“We’re proud,” said Neil Sullivan, Dayton’s athletic director. “It’s a long time coming to today to be able to open this up and show the public. We’re really excited. We’re really excited for our fans. We’re excited for our players. And we’re really excited for the next generation of Flyer fans to experience a renovation that we intend to last for generations.”

2. Sophomore guard leaves program (March 25): Dayton sophomore Jordan Davis announced on Twitter he will transfer from the program.

“First off I would like to thank the University of Dayton for the opportunity to be a part of a special program,” Davis wrote. “I would like to thank my teammates, coaches and fans who supported me for the last two years. I prayed about it, and I have decided I will be transferring from the University of Dayton.”

Davis, a 6-foot-2 guard from Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, S.C., scored 572 points in two seasons.

3. Big East expansion news (June 24): Conference realignment dominated headlines in college basketball in 2013 when the Big East Conference passed over the Dayton Flyers to add Xavier, Butler and Creighton. At that time, Dayton remained optimistic the league would expand to 12 teams and it would receive an invitation, but the Big East stayed with 10 teams and Dayton's invitation never came.

However, according to multiple reports over the weekend, the Big East will expand to 11 teams — possibly as early as the 2020-21 season — and the 11th team will be Connecticut, which will return to the Big East after six seasons in the American Athletic Conference. Some Dayton fans reacted to that news on social media over the weekend as you might expect. Getting passed over may not have hurt as bad as it did six years ago, but the news reopened old wounds.

University of Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan has dealt with questions about Dayton’s future in the Atlantic 10 and its prospects for joining the Big East for as long as he’s been on the job — he took over when Tim Wabler stepped down in September 2015 — and he reacted to the Big East news on Monday in an interview with the Dayton Daily News.

Staying on top of conference realignment is part of the job, Sullivan said.

“Myself, our president, even our board of trustees,” Sullivan said, “we have a responsibility to continue to be tuned into the environment, the economics of the business, conference realignment and any other market realities. It’s also our job to foresee obstacles, opportunities. We constantly challenge and reevaluate our assumptions, and we’ve done that long before this weekend’s news and we’ll do it long after. This is a fluid business. It’s always evolving and changing.”

4. Dayton to play in NIT (March 17): The 2018-19 season continues for the Flyers, who earned a No. 5 seed in the NIT and a road game against No. 4 seed Colorado (21-12) in Boulder, Colo.

» POLL UPDATE: Dayton still in top 20 after loss to Colorado

“We’re excited we get a chance to continue to play,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “We’re happy for Josh (Cunningham) and Jack (Westerfield) that they get a chance to continue their careers and play with their brothers, and obviously, for our team, we’ve got a lot of young guys and the chance to play in the postseason and gain that experience and the chance to compete for a championship, all those things are a positive things. I think it’s a great opportunity for us.”

5. Project nears finish line: A worker on the roof started the process of building the wall that will hide mechanical fixtures and provide a place for a new University of Dayton Arena sign on the north side of the building. A cement mixer on the west side created background noise on an otherwise quiet Monday.

Inside the facility, the basketball court wasn’t visible because the stage had been set up for graduation ceremonies taking place the next two weekends, and the only fan in the team store was John Raponi, who can count on one hand the number of games he has missed in the first 50 seasons of UD Arena.

Three years after UD announced the biggest project in the university’s history — a $72 million upgrade of one of the nation’s most famous basketball arenas — the workers who have transformed UD Arena since the start of construction in 2017 near completion of the renovations. While the final phase of the three-year project started last season in many ways, it will hit its stride in May when the arena closes down for the summer. The arena won’t play host to any more events until basketball season starts in November.

6. Redshirt freshman enters NBA Draft (April 17): Obi Toppin is testing the NBA draft waters.

The Dayton forward, who had a standout redshirt freshman season for the Flyers, announced he plans to do so — while maintaining his eligibility.

» COLORADO GAME: Grant says it’s a tough loss to take | Photos of Flyers vs. Buffaloes

“After discussing my future plans with my family and coaches, I have decided to enter my name in the 2019 NBA draft,” he wrote in a message posted on Twitter. “Throughout this process I’ll be keeping my eligibility. thank you all for your support, it’s greatly appreciated. Go Flyers!”

7. Flyers getting national attention (Nov. 27): The Flyers moved from 53rd to 37th to 23rd in the Ken Pomeroy ratings by beating Georgia and Virginia Tech by a combined 46 points in the first two rounds of the Maui Invitational. Dayton (5-0) is one of 36 undefeated teams remaining in college basketball, according to Pomeroy.

8. Dayton gets unexpected opponent in Maui (Nov. 25): The Flyers and their fans expected to see No. 3 Michigan State if they won their first-round game in the Maui Invitational. Virginia Tech had other plans.

The Hokies upset the Spartans 71-66 and will play the Flyers in the semifinals. Dayton advanced with an 80-61 victory against Georgia in the first game of the tournament.

9. Freshman leaves program (April 10): Dayton freshman Frankie Policelli is transferring, he told the Dayton Daily News in a text message Tuesday.

10. Flyers survive upset bid (Nov. 9): Indiana State joined the likes of Purdue Fort Wayne and Ball State on a list of teams that almost upset the Flyers in the season opener but fell just short.

Dayton led by as many as 12 points in the second half but never could put away Indiana State on Saturday at UD Arena, and the game came down to the final seconds.

Down 3, the Sycamores had two 3-point attempts on their second-to-last possession. They missed. Dayton got the rebound. Then Trey Landers clinched an 86-81 victory with two free throws as Dayton won its season opener for the 15th straight season.