In June, Anthony Grant said there was cause for a level of optimism surrounding his Dayton Flyers men's basketball program. He was right.
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In October, former Flyer Brooks Hall said, Dayton "should easily be a top-25 team, maybe top 15." He was right.
In November, during Dayton's run to the Maui Invitational championship game, national writers gushed about the team's talent, cohesiveness and spirit. The No. 18 Flyers have continued to prove them right in the last month, building a 10-2 record marred only by overtime losses to Kansas and Colorado.
If Dayton beats North Florida (7-7) on Monday at UD Arena in its final non-conference game, it will enter January without a loss in regulation. That hasn’t happened since the 1955-56 team won its first 14 games, not losing until Jan. 28 against Louisville.
Despite the missed chances in Maui, where they blew an eight-point lead in the final seven minutes against Kansas, and Chicago, where they couldn’t protect a three-point lead in the final two minutes in overtime against Colorado, the Flyers sit in a good position entering the new year and new decade. Here’s a summary of Flyers through all but one non-conference game:
MVP: Redshirt sophomore forward Obi Toppin ranks eighth in the KenPom.com national player of the year standings. He has increased his scoring average from 14.4 in his redshirt freshman year to 18.8 this season. His rebounding average has climbed from 4.1 to 6.3, and he's averaging 2.2 assists per game after averaging 1.1 last season.
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Top newcomer: Redshirt junior guard Ibi Watson ranks third on the team in scoring with 11.7 points per game. He scored 82 points in 219 minutes in 45 games and two seasons at Michigan and has already topped those numbers in 12 games with Dayton. He has 140 points in 272 minutes.
Best stat: Dayton has improved its 3-point shooting percentage from 33.2 to 39.6. It ranks 17th in the country. Two newcomers have made the biggest impact. Watson has made 26 of 54 3-pointers (48.1 percent). Redshirt junior guard Rodney Chatman has made 21 of 52 (40.4).
Worst stat: Dayton averaged 12.5 turnovers per game last season and has seen the number climb to 13.4 this season. Often the turnovers are unforced. Dayton stepped out of bounds, struggling with the placement of the new 3-point line, four times during a game against Saint Mary's. Almost every game — and sometimes several times — players travel by taking a step before dribbling.
Best victory: Dayton beat Saint Mary's 78-68 on Dec. 8 in Phoenix. Saint Mary's (12-2) ranks 37th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool and 29th in the Pomeroy ratings. Based on the Pomeroy rating, it's Dayton's best victory since it beat No. 23 Iowa 82-77 on Nov. 26, 2015, in the first round of the Advocare Invitational.
Best performance: Dayton shot 77.4 percent from 2-point range in an 89-62 victory against Virginia Tech on Nov. 26. It was its fourth-best percentage in the last 19 seasons.
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Worst loss: Colorado (10-2) ranks 40th in the Pomeroy ratings and 27th in the NET. The Buffaloes beat the Flyers 78-76 on a last-second 3-pointer by D'Shawn Schwartz, who took the headlines away from Jalen Crutcher, who gave Dayton the lead on the previous possession with a layup, and Toppin, who made a last-second 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.
Best game: It will be hard for any game this season to match the intensity of the Maui Invitational championship. There were 27 lead changes and 15 ties in a game Dayton lost 90-84. Crutcher sent the game to overtime with a game-tying 3-pointer against Kansas in the final seconds. KenPom.com ranks it the 38th most exciting game of the college basketball season.
Best milestone: Dayton climbed to No. 13 in the Associated Press poll Dec. 16. It was the program's highest AP ranking since 1967.
New record: Dayton announced Friday the North Florida game is sold out. That means every game the rest of the season is sold out. The 14 sellouts this season break the old UD Arena record of eight set last season and in 1969-70, the arena's first season.
Dayton has averaged 13,302 fans in the first seven home games. With a sellout crowd numbering 13,407 fans, it will attract 134,070 fans in the last 10 games. That will put the average attendance for the season at 13,363, which would be a UD Arena record. Dayton set the current record of 13,018 in the 2016-17 season.
North Florida at Dayton, 7 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, 1290 and 95.7 WHIO
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