The Dayton Flyers enter the final days of 2018 with one more chance to build momentum for 2019.
A grueling Atlantic 10 Conference schedule — 18 games in 63 days — begins Jan. 6. First Dayton (7-5) plays its final non-conference game, hosting Georgia Southern (8-4) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Georgia Southern is not a household name, but it’s the second-best non-conference team to play at UD Arena this season behind No. 19 Mississippi State. Dayton barely survived its last home game against a Sun Belt Conference team a year ago, outlasting Georgia State 88-83 in overtime.
Here are five things to know about Saturday’s game:
1. Contrasting styles: Led by point guard Tookie Brown, the school’s all-time leading scorer in the Division I era, Georgia Southern plays at one of the fastest paces in the country. While Dayton’s average offensive possession lasts 18.4 seconds, which ranks 296th out of 351 Division I teams, Georgia Southern’s average possession last 14.4 seconds. That’s the eighth-shortest possession time in the country.
“They’re a good team,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said Thursday. “They’re obviously playing really well. They’re one of the most efficient teams in the country from an offensive standpoint. They’ll throw a lot of different things at you defensively. We’ve got a lot to prepare for, so I think the biggest thing for us is making sure we’re controlling the things we can control on both sides of the ball, not giving them easy baskets and taking care of the ball and making sure we find quality shots.”
2. Efficient teams: Both teams struggle from 3-point range but rank among the nation’s most accurate teams inside the arc.
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Dayton shoots 32.3 percent from 3-point range. That ranks 238th in the country and is more than a percentage point below the national average of 33.9. Georgia Southern shoots 30 percent from long range and ranks 298th.
From 2-point range, Dayton ranks third (60.0), and Georgia Southern ranks ninth (58.2).
3. Upset potential: Georgia Southern ranks 138th in the Ken Pomeroy ratings and 149th in the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool). By either measure, it would be the second-best team Dayton has defeated this season behind Butler (No. 29/39).
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No. 189 North Florida is the only other top-200 team Dayton has beaten. The Flyers rank 77th in the NET and 82nd in the Pomeroy ratings.
4. Rising program: After six losing seasons in row, Georgia Southern has posted three 20-win seasons in the last four.
The Eagles opened the season with five straight victories, including an 80-77 decision against No. 108 Montana but have lost four of their last seven games, twice to top-60 teams in No. 57 Arizona (100-70) and No. 40 Central Florida (95-88).
“This is one of my best teams right now, especially when healthy,” Georgia Southern coach Mark Byington told the Roanoke Times after their last game, an 80-68 loss to Radford. “So we’re trending in the right direction. We’ve turned the thing around, turned the culture around.”
5. Winning streak: Dayton will try to win its third straight game. This is the fourth game in a seven-game stretch in which it will be favored every time. It lost the first game, 72-67 to Tulsa and has since beaten Western Michigan 85-72 and Presbyterian 81-69.
“I think we’re getting better,” Grant said. “I think there’s still room for improvement. Every game brings different challenges. The game against Georgia Southern here, they’ll do some things that are different, so our focus is trying to get prepared for them.”
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