Dayton Flyers vs. VCU Rams: ‘It’s a big one’

Dayton players react after a defensive stop against Massachusetts on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
Dayton players react after a defensive stop against Massachusetts on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

VCU is highest-ranked opponent to play at Dayton this season

Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant answered a question Saturday in the postgame press conference about the growing rivalry with Virginia Commonwealth.

» DAYTON VS. VCU: Look back at last 12 matchups

Grant coached against his former team five teams in his first two seasons at Dayton. The last four of those games featured go-ahead baskets in the final minute. Grant didn’t need to be reminded VCU made each of those shots and won each of those games.

“They’ve won most of them,” Grant said. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of ourselves.”

Not since a 106-79 victory on Jan. 12, 2018, has Dayton beaten VCU. The Flyers set a school record with 66 points in the first half of that game. They set another school record with 17 made 3-pointers in the game.

Dayton (14-2, 3-0), which climbed from No. 15 to No. 13 in the Associated Press top-25 poll on Monday, gets its first chance in 2020 to end a four-game losing streak in the series when VCU (12-4, 2-1) visits UD Arena for a game at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Here are four storylines to watch:

1. VCU was the A-10 favorite, but Dayton has taken over that role: The Rams received 19 of the 28 first-place votes in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll. Eight people voted for Davidson. Only one voted for Dayton.

» TOUGH STRETCH: Next five games big for Dayton

More than two months after the A-10 released that poll, almost everyone would now vote for the Flyers, the top-ranked A-10 team in the Associated Press top-25 poll, the NCAA Evaluation Tool (No. 8), the Ken Pomeroy ratings (No. 6) and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (No. 6).

VCU is a distant second in each of those rankings. It ranks 43rd in the NET, 47th in the Pomeroy ratings and 44th in the VCU. It started the season ranked 25th in the AP poll and climbed to No. 21 before falling out of the poll with back-to-back three-point losses to Purdue and Tennessee.

2. VCU will try put a disappointing performance behind it: The Rams had no problem with Fordham and George Mason, their first two A-10 opponents, but then lost 65-56 to Rhode Island on Saturday.

That wouldn’t have been such a surprising result if it hadn’t happened at the Siegel Center in Richmond, where VCU had won 21 straight games, and if Rhode Island hadn’t also been inconsistent in recent weeks. Rhode Island lost 85-75 to Brown, a team ranked 209th in the NET, nine days earlier.

» UMASS GAME: Toppin hurtMikesell deliversGame photos

VCU shot a season-worst 31.3 percent from the field and made 6 of 28 3-pointers (21.4 percent). It trailed by 15 with 16 minutes to play and cut the deficit to 51-50 at the 6:46 mark but was outscored 12-3 over the next four minutes.

“They took it to us,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “I thought early in the game, we didn’t respond and react to offense that didn’t go our way. I thought offensively early in the game, we got downhill. We just didn’t finish at the rim. We got some great shots. We didn’t knock them down. That lack of finish affected everyone. We weren’t flying around. When we did start flying around and started pressing and our style of play got going, we got back into it and had some opportunities to take the lead and change the game, but we turned it over.”

3. VCU is the highest-ranked opponent to visit UD Arena this season: This will be Dayton's first home game against a top-100 opponent. The combined record of the first nine teams to visit UD Arena is 74-74.

“A lot of respect for VCU,” Grant said. “They’re the defending conference champion. They’re the preseason favorite. We feel it’s a great opportunity in our building. It’s the next game, so that makes it the most important game. We’re going to play to our identity and do the things we’ve done up until this point.”

4. Obi Toppin's status will be a question mark for Dayton: Dayton's leading scorer suffered a sprained left ankle during the second half of an 88-60 victory against Massachusetts on Saturday.

Grant provided an update on Toppin on Monday in a text message, writing, “We hope to have him available. (He’s) responding well to treatment. The next 24 hours will determine the best course.”

If Toppin can't play, it will be the second straight game in the series Dayton has been without a starter. Trey Landers missed the game last season with a shoulder injury.

“I’m eager to get on the court and play against those guys,” Landers said.

A victory would give Dayton its first 4-0 start in conference play since it won its first five A-10 games in 2015. This is the first of two regular-season matchups between UD and VCU. They play in Richmond on Feb. 18.

“It’s a big one,” Dayton forward Ryan Mikesell said. “Obviously, VCU is one of the top teams in the A-10. You want to protect home court. They’re a good team. They’re going to be ready to play. We’ve got to be ready to play as well.”

TUESDAY’S GAME

VCU at Dayton, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290 and 95.7 WHIO

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