Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher shoots against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Dayton Flyers: Five questions heading into an offseason like no other

Dayton should be strong again next season with experienced guards

Anthony Grant has done a number of interviews since the end of the Dayton Flyers season arrived March 12 in the form of announcements by the Atlantic 10 and the NCAA of tournament cancellations.

» EARLIER COVERAGE: A look at 2020-21 roster

Every time he talks, the Dayton coach finds ways to praise his team and its accomplishments while putting a larger emphasis on how little importance basketball has at a time like this. “Bigger than basketball,” has become a repeated phrase in recent days.

Grant spoke on the Jim Rome Show on Wednesday and hit on that same theme, giving Rome an update on how he, his family and the program are doing.

“Under the conditions, with COVID-19 and what it’s doing nationally, obviously, it’s affected everyone here, not only our team but the university and the community,” Grant said. “My family’s healthy and safe, and all of our players are with family or safe, and they’re doing well. The staff is doing well. Under the circumstances, I think everything is good. The most important thing is people’s safety and health.”

» MORE ON FLYERS: The road to 29-2 | Season by the numbers | Jablonski on covering the team

An offseason unlike any other in college basketball has begun. Here are five questions the Flyers face in the days, weeks and months ahead?

1. When will Obi Toppin make his decision official?

Named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press on Friday and already the winner of several national player of the year awards, Toppin is no doubt ready for the next level. He’s expected to head to the NBA. It’s just a matter of when he makes an official announcement.

Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards, the potential No. 1 pick in the June draft, became of the first underclassmen to declare his intentions Friday. Toppin was projected to be selected by the Golden State Warriors with the fifth overall by Sam Vecenie, of The Athletic, in a recent mock draft.

“His versatility on offense opened up everything for Dayton,” Vecenie wrote. “His ability to run any action — from a fake dribble handoff into a dribble drive himself, or a short-roll into a pass, or things as simple as a pick-and-pop or a pick-and-roll — opened up everything for what finished as the No. 2 offense in all of college basketball this past season. And while he’s not an elite defender, he’s good enough and helped Dayton maintain a top-40 defense this year. The big question here is what position he plays. Is he a guy who can step over and play some 5 in the right lineups? Or is he purely a 4?”

2. Will any other players leave the program?

A total of seven players have left the program in the last two seasons. Kostas Antetokounmpo and Matej Svoboda departed to pursue opportunities in pro basketball in the spring of 2018, while Xeyrius Williams, John Crosby and Jordan Pierce transferred to other schools. Jordan Davis and Frankie Policelli transferred to Middle Tennessee State and Stony Brook, respectively, in the spring of 2019.

» ARCHDEACON: Finding perspective among thoughts of what could have been

At this point, it’s hard to say whether anyone on the roster last season will leave. The six expected returning players are senior Jalen Crutcher, redshirt seniors Rodney Chatman, Ibi Watson, Jordy Tshimanga and Jhery Matos and junior Dwayne Cohill.

Crutcher, Chatman and Watson likely will start next season. Cohill came on strong at the end of this season to prove he can be a bigger contributor next season. Tshimanga contributed valuable minutes but was often limited by foul trouble. Matos had the smallest role of those players, averaging 8.3 minutes.

3. What newcomer will contribute the most next season?

Dayton will benefit from adding two players to the rotation who practiced with the team but did not play last season. That time on campus and with the team, learning the system, make them the most likely newcomers to contribute right away next season.

Moulaye Sissoko, a 6-9, 248-pound center, arrived at Dayton last summer, and UD decided in November to redshirt him. Zimi Nwokeji, a 6-7 forward, enrolled at UD in January as a freshman. Both players have four years of eligibility remaining.

Dayton also adds three true freshman to the roster. Lukas Frazier, Koby Brea and R.J. Blakney signed with Dayton in November. All averaged more than 20 points in their final seasons at the high school level. Of the three, Blakney may be the most ready to play right away because he’s the oldest. He graduated from high school in 2019 and spent a post-graduate year at Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Conn.

4. Will Dayton add a transfer or another freshman to the roster?

Dayton will have two scholarships open for the 2020-21 season, assuming Toppin leaves and Chase Johnson doesn’t return to the program. Johnson announced a medical withdrawl from the university in January but is still listed on the roster.

With the sports world shut down, recruiting has continued. According to reports by Jake Weingarten, of Stockrisers.com, Dayton has been among the teams to reach out to Landers Nolley II, who’s transferring from Virginia Tech, and Prince Oduro, who’s leaving Mississippi State.

Nolley, a 6-7 forward, was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference freshman team. Oduro, a 6-8 forward, has two seasons of eligibility remaining and hopes to get a waiver to play next season.

Dayton is also looking at Vanderbilt transfer Matt Moyer, according to a report by Paul Biancardi, the former Wright State coach who’s now ESPN’s national recruiting director. Moyer is a 6-8 forward from Gahanna, Ohio. He’s a grad transfer who can play next season.

5. How good can Dayton be next season?

No one’s going to expect Dayton to win 29 games in the regular season again. With Toppin expected to leave and Trey Landers and Ryan Mikesell graduating, Dayton loses three starters who averaged 39 points between them.

However, Dayton will have one of the favorites in the A-10 Player of the Year race in Crutcher. He, along with Chatman, Watson and Cohill, give Dayton one of the better group of guards in the conference. That alone should make Dayton one of the top-four contenders in the A-10 and give the program a chance to earn the NCAA tournament berth it was denied this March by the coronavirus pandemic.

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