Dayton Flyers: Obi Toppin’s plans are biggest question entering offseason

Flyers return four starters and add four transfers and one freshman, plus Matos, to mix

More than a few fans of the Dayton Flyers stayed up late Tuesday and into Wednesday morning to watch their team lose 78-73 to Colorado in the first round of the NIT in Boulder, Colo.

» LOOKING AHEAD: Toppin says Dayton has two starting fives

Fans memorialized their victory against sleep and their team’s seventh straight postseason defeat by posting proof they were awake on Twitter.

“Hello darkness my old friend,” wrote one fan as he shared a photo himself slumped over on his couch, covering his eyes with his arms.

Another fan posted a photo of himself holding his sleeping infant.

“Baby Flyer had the right idea,” he wrote. “Slept through the entire game.”

Several fans expressed similar sentiments: See you in November. Wait until next year. Etc.

» TWENTY PHOTOS: Best shots from Tuesday night

That was the silver lining for the Dayton coaches and players — at least the ones returning — and their fans. Next season begins now, and it’s full of promise. Dayton will have experience, depth and talent, everything it needs to contend in the Atlantic 10 Conference and compete for a NCAA tournament bid.

Next season, of course, remains seven months away, and there’s no such thing as uneventful offseason in Dayton. What happens from now until October impacts what happens from November through the following March.

Here are five questions Dayton faces entering the offseason:

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

1. What will Obi Toppin do?

As Toppin improved from month to month throughout his redshirt freshman season, speculation grew that he might test the NBA Draft waters after the season or at the very least declare for the draft without hiring an agent, allowing him to work out for scouts and still return to school. He turned 21 on March 4, so he’s already older than the first nine players drafted in 2018.

» ARCHDEACON: Toppin’s mom hopes he makes right decision

Toppin has the size (6-9, 220 pounds) and the versatility (he made 11 of 21 3-pointers) to play at the next level, but at this point, most of the draft buzz comes from Dayton fans, who worry they won’t get to see Toppin play at least one more season. Several Atlantic 10 coaches added to the hype by calling him a NBA talent.

Toppin was asked about the NBA late in the season.

“Right now, my focus is on our games coming up,” Toppin said. “I don’t really focus on that kind of stuff. I see it. It’s an honor.”

“Is that something you have to think about after the season?” he was asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Toppin said.

Dayton coach Anthony Grant commented on the Toppin talk after Tuesday’s game.

“I think that’s not Obi,” Grant said. “That’s other people. That’s par for the course nowadays.”

2. Will any players leave the program?

Five players departed after Grant's first season. Kostas Antetokounmpo and Matej Svoboda left to pursue pro basketball dreams. Antetokounmpo made his NBA debut Wednesday with the Dallas Mavericks, scoring one point in six minutes.

» FINAL GOODBYE: Cunningham thanks coaches, teammates, fans

John Crosby and Xeyrius Williams transferred to Delaware State and Akron, respectively. They’ll close their college careers next season after sitting this season. Jordan Pierce left for Odessa College and averaged 4.5 points in 34 games.

If you throw in Sam Miller, who transferred to the College of Charleston in January of 2018 and averaged 4.7 points in 22 games this season, Dayton lost almost half its roster.

Only one Dayton player, Cunningham, exhausted his eligibility this season, but transfers are so common these days, there’s always a chance someone else could leave the program. Dayton coaches have prepared for that by continuing to recruit for the 2019 class.

Moulaye Sissoko, a 6-10 forward from Lincoln Academy who signed in November, is the only current member of the class. If another scholarship opens, Sinclair Community College freshman Sean McNeil could join Sissoko. He listed Dayton among his final six choices Wednesday.

3. When will Jhery Matos be cleared to practice?

Dayton's chances this season took a major hit when it lost Matos to a season-ending foot injury in the sixth game. That left the Flyers with eight players, though they rarely used freshman forward Frankie Policelli. For the second straight season, three starters averaged more than 30 minutes per game.

Matos had surgery in December and will receive a redshirt. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Matos traveled to most of the away games after his injury and had shed his protective boot and resumed basketball activities by the end of the season.

"The process has been long," said Matos on March 15 after a 64-55 loss to Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 tournament. "I can't jump and run. I'm just getting back in shape, lifting, shooting as much as I can and working on my dribble."

Matos expected to be fully recovered and cleared for running and jumping by the end of April.

“I’m just so excited to be back in the gym working out with the guys,” Matos said. “We’ve got to get back and get better and see what we can improve on and win a championship.”

4. How will the new players mesh with the returning ones?

Dayton couldn’t afford to sit players because of poor performance this season. There were few options on the bench. There was little competition for starting jobs and playing time, though Toppin forced his way into the starting lineup in February, replacing Trey Landers. It didn’t really matter who started. Everyone knew they would get minutes — except Policelli, who rarely saw time even in blowouts and didn’t appear in either postseason game.

» RELATED: Transfers focused on making team better

That won’t be the case next season. Speculation will continue all offseason about what the starting lineup will look like in 2019-20. The Flyers will return four starters for the second straight season, but any of the four transfers who sat out this season — guards Ibi Watson and Rodney Chatman, forward Chase Johnson and center Jordy Tshimanga — are capable of earning a starting role.

5. How much better can everyone get?

Ryan Mikesell made major strides in his return to the court after sitting out last season. Toppin transformed into the team’s best player. Point guard Jalen Crutcher improved his numbers in almost every area. They were three reasons Dayton improved from 14-17 to 21-12.

» EARLY LOOK: What 2019-20 roster looks like now

Grant sees room for even more improvement next season.

“I think this team still has room to grow in terms of our players who played this year,” he said. “There’s room for growth both mentally and physically and skill-wise. This group with the experience they got and then you add some of the other pieces, I think we can make some progress. This was a fun group to coach. They were fun to be around all year. We had some highs and lows through the year and some great memories together. They loved each other. As a coach, I appreciated that.”

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