Dayton season preview: Ranking difficulty of non-conference opponents

Road game against Virginia Tech looms large for Dayton, though it could face Kansas for third time in four seasons at Battle 4 Atlantis

EDITOR’S NOTE: David Jablonski is counting down to the Dayton men’s basketball season opener on Nov. 7 with 25 pieces (one every day until Nov. 7) previewing the 2022-23 season. This is the seventh story.

The season for the No. 24 Dayton Flyers begins with what should be the easiest test of the 31 regular-season games.

Lindenwood University, the opponent on Nov. 7, is making the transition from NCAA Division II to Division I and won’t become a full-fledged member until the 2026-27 season.

After losing three straight home games to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay early last season, Dayton knows it can’t overlook anyone, though it has a better than 90 percent chance, according to, of beating six of its 11 known non-conference opponents: Lindenwood; Robert Morris; Western Michigan; Southeastern Louisiana; UNC Asheville; and Alcorn State.

Dayton can’t afford to lose any of those games, and it has to make the most of its opportunities against the marquee opponents on its non-conference schedule. It did well last season, beating Miami, Kansas, Belmont and Virginia Tech, but the three early losses put it in a big hole. That’s a big reason it was the first team left out of the NCAA tournament.

Dayton’s non-conference strength of schedule has ranged from 114th in the country in coach Anthony Grant’s second season (2018-19) to 215th last season. One difference this year from last year is Dayton will play one fewer non-conference home game. It has two true road games for the second straight year but also an extra neutral-court game against Wyoming in Chicago.

“It’s a good schedule,” Dayton Athletics Director Neil Sullivan said Wednesday. “I think the unique thing is having a neutral game and two games on the road. We took the UNLV game on the road. This year, we felt that we really had to do that. Each year, I say it’s been the hardest year to schedule. Each year, I make that same claim. It’s a little bit alarming to me that I continue to make that claim, but that’s the reality of it. I think the Bahamas field is loaded. To be able to head out to UNLV and to get SMU at home and to play a really tough opponent, Wyoming, in Chicago, and then we’ve got the return to Virginia Tech, I think the basketball staff and myself were fortunate to come out of it the way we did. But each year it’s by the skin of our teeth that we’re able to put it all together.”

Here’s how Dayton’s non-conference opponents stack up in the preseason Pomeroy ratings:

1 — No. 21 Virginia Tech: Dec. 7, 8 p.m. (Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va.)

The Hokies and Flyers will meet for the third time in four years. Dayton won the first two matchups: 89-62 in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational in 2019; and 62-57 at UD Arena last December thanks in part to R.J. Blakney making 5 of 5 3-pointers.

Virginia Tech was picked to finish seventh out of 15 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll. The Hokies won the ACC tournament last season for the first time as a No. 7 seed. They return four of the eight players who saw action against Dayton last season, including Justyn Mutts, their leading returning scorer (10.1), and add Wright State transfer Grant Basile.

Virginia Tech ranks 25th in the rankings and 40th in the rankings.

2 — No. 55 Wisconsin: 2:30 p.m., Nov. 23 (First round of Battle 4 Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas)

The Badgers were picked to finish ninth out of 14 teams in a Big Ten Conference preseason poll conducted by the Columbus Dispatch and The Athletic. They finished 25-8 last season and won the Big Ten regular-season championship.

The top returners are Tyler Wahl (11.4 points per game), who ranks 81st on a list, by The Almanac, of the top-100 players in college basketball, and point guard Chucky Hepburn (7.9), who The Almanac listed as one of the top-25 breakout players in the game.

Wisconsin ranks 62nd in the rankings and 38th in the rankings.

3 — No. 64 Wyoming: Dec. 17, 8 p.m. (United Center in Chicago)

This will be Dayton’s third game at the United Center in recent years. It lost 67-64 to Northwestern on Dec. 17, 2016, and 78-76 in overtime to Colorado on Dec. 21, 2019.

Wyoming received 11 votes in the Associated Press poll. I ranked the Cowboys 22nd. They were ranked as high as 19th.

Wyoming was picked to finish second in the Mountain West Conference behind San Diego State, which ranked 19th in the AP poll. Wyoming finished 25-9 last season and lost to Indiana in the First Four at UD Arena. Its top returners are center Graham Ike (19.5 points per game), who ranked 36th on a list of the top-150 players in college basketball by Lindy’s Sports College Basketball Preview, and point guard Hunter Maldonado (18.5), who ranked 52nd on the same list.

Wyoming ranks 46th in the rankings and 69th in the rankings.

4 — No. 114 Southern Methodist: Nov. 11, 7 p.m. (UD Arena)

The Mustangs were picked to finish seventh out of 11 teams in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll. SMU beat Dayton the last two seasons: 66-64 in December 2020 at UD Arena; and 77-69 in Dallas last season.

Kendric Davis transferred to Memphis after scoring 1,315 seasons in three seasons at SMU. The Mustangs also lost coach Tim Jankovich, who retired after six seasons. The new coach, Rob Lanier, comes from Georgia State. He has six returning players and seven transfers on the roster, including Centerville High School graduate Mo Nije, who started 25 games at Eastern Michigan last season.

SMU ranks 150th in the rankings and 94th in the rankings.

5 — No. 118 UNLV: Nov. 15, 11 p.m. (Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nev.)

The Almanac picked the Runnin’ Rebels to finish sixth out of 11 teams in the Mountain West Conference. One of the biggest challenges of this game for Dayton could be the start time. It tips at 8 p.m. in Las Vegas. That’s 11 p.m. in Ohio.

UNLV finished 18-14 last season, the first for coach Kevin Kruger. It lost is top three scorers. Its top returner is point guard Jordan McCabe (6.4 points per game). The team added six transfers, including guard Elijah Harkless, who averaged 10.0 points at Oklahoma last season.

UNLV ranks 106th in the rankings and 110th in the rankings.

6 — No. 187 UNC Asheville: Dec. 10, 2 p.m. (UD Arena)

Blue Ribbon picked the Bulldogs to win the 10-team Big South Conference. Asheville finished 17-15 last season and returns Big South Player of the Year candidate in forward Drew Pember (15.7 points per game).

Asheville ranks 187th in the rankings and 173rd in the rankings.

7 — No. 268 Western Michigan: Nov. 30, 7 p.m. (UD Arena)

The Almanac picked the Broncos to finish 10th out out of 12 teams in the Mid-American Conference. Tom Izzo’s longtime assistant coach at Michigan State, Dwayne Stephens, is the new head coach of the Broncos, who finished 8-23 last season. Their top returner is Lamar Norman Jr. (19.8 points per game).

Western Michigan ranks 211th in the rankings and 27th in the rankings.

8 — No. 293 Robert Morris: Nov. 19, 2 p.m. (UD Arena)

The Colonials were picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams in the Horizon League. After finishing 24-12 in its last two seasons in the Northeast Conference, Robert Morris is 8-28 in its first two seasons in the Horizon League.

Robert Morris ranks 247th in the rankings and 309th in the rankings.

9 — No. 334 Alcorn State: Dec. 20, 7 p.m. (UD Arena)

The Braves were picked to finish second in the 12-team Southwestern Athletic Conference and received two first-place votes. They won the regular-season championship last season for the first time in 20 years.

Alcorn State ranks 326th in the rankings and 282nd in the rankings.

10 — No. 343 Southeastern Louisiana: 2 p.m., Dec. 3 (UD Arena)

The Lions, of Hammonda, La., play at Dayton three days after playing at Xavier. Blue Ribbon picked them to finish fourth out of 10 teams in the Southland Conference. They return one starter from a team that finished 19-15.

Lindenwood ranks 349th in the rankings and 338th in the rankings.

11 — No. 348 Lindenwood: Nov. 7, 7 p.m. (UD Arena)

The Lions, from St. Charles, Mo., were picked to finish last in the 10-team Ohio Valley Conference. It’s their first season in the league. They previously competed in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in NCAA Division II.

Lindenwood ranks 362nd out of 363 teams in the rankings and 353rd in the rankings.

NOTE: In addition to these 11 games, Dayton will play two more games in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Its possible second-day opponents on Nov. 24 are defending national champion Kansas, which ranks eighth in the Pomeroy ratings, and North Carolina State, which is 81st.

On the final day of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Dayton will play KenPom No. 4 Tennessee, No. 36 Southern California, No. 44 Brigham Young or No. 130 Butler.


Part 1: Fans dreaming big as always

Part 2: A-10 changes tournament format for first time in years

Part 3: A familiar face returns to A-10

Part 4:’s math likes the Flyers

Part 5: Three new walk-ons join roster

Part 6: Grant, Martin don’t look forward to coaching against each other

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