Ibi Watson, Obi Toppin and coach Anthony Grant met with the media at UD Arena’s Donoher Center on Monday about three hours after the release of the fifth Associated Press poll of the season.
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For the first time in almost four years, the Dayton Flyers saw their name in the top 25. They’re No. 19. A runner-up finish at the Maui Invitational last week showed voters what Dayton and its fans already knew: this is one of the top teams in the country. As nice as it was to see that recognized on a national level, Watson, Toppin and Grant know one month doesn’t make a season and what they accomplish in December, January, February and March will determine how they feel about the 2019-20 season.
“Overall, it’s just a good building block,” Watson said. “We’re all kind of excited some other people realize how good we are, but we’re looking to build on it. Nobody on the team’s satisfied.”
“We know it’s just another number,” Toppin said. “We’re not exactly where we want to be just yet, and we know we’ve got to work a lot harder so we can play on the national stage in March.”
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“We’re honored to get the recognition,” Grant said. “Certainly, you definitely want to be recognized. But we’ve got a game tomorrow against Houston Baptist. Our focus hasn’t changed. We’ll make sure we prepare one game at a time.”
Dayton (5-1) plays Houston Baptist (0-5), one of six winless teams remaining in the country, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at UD Arena. Judging by the Ken Pomeroy ratings, this is one of three worst opponents on Dayton’s schedule. Houston Baptist ranks 297th. Charleston Southern, which Dayton beat 90-61 on Nov. 16, is No. 312. Grambling State, which visits Dayton on Dec. 23, is No. 303.
Those numbers look even larger because Dayton has earned its highest Pomeroy rating since 2002 when the ratings were first compiled. Victories over No. 68 Georgia and No. 56 Virginia Tech in Maui and an overtime loss to No. 8 Kansas have pushed Dayton’s rating to No. 23. That’s three spots better than its previous best, which it earned in 2010 when it won the NIT championship.
Dayton’s victories aren’t the only reason it ranks so high. It has the nation’s fifth-most efficient offense. It ranks first in the nation in 2-point field-goal percentage (66.2 percent) and fifth in scoring (87.0 points per game). The defense ranks 70th in efficiency. That’s a 33-spot jump from last season.
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A bigger test for Dayton looms Sunday. The Flyers play Saint Mary’s (8-1), which started the season in the top 25 and Pomeroy ranks 40th, on Sunday in Phoenix. If the Flyers want to stay in the rankings longer than a week, they’ll have to beat the Gaels.
More importantly, a strong victory Tuesday and then a victory Sunday would boost everyone’s confidence that Dayton’s play in Maui was not a fluke and that this can be a consistent team in the months ahead.
“We planned this whole season, the whole preseason, to go to Maui and win it,” Watson said. “That was our goal. We fell a little short, but we were excited we were able to play good basketball and put some things together and now we’re just looking to continue to build. We have a little bit of a target on our back now in terms of the A-10. We are proud to be ranked. We are looking to continue to grow. We like the pressure it brings.”
NOTES: Dayton ranked 17th in the coaches poll. … Toppin was named the Atlantic 10 Player of the Week on Monday for the second time this season. He averaged 22.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in the three games in Maui. … Dayton was ranked as high as seventh by Jack Ebling, of Lansing, Micn., and was not ranked by 15 voters. Cecil Hurt, of the Tuscaloosa News, the only person who voted for the Flyers in the first four polls, moved them from No. 25 to No. 24.
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