The 14th losing season for the Dayton Flyers since the start of the Tom Blackburn era in 1947 had a number of causes. Even a program with the many advantages Dayton has — top-25 attendance, charter flights to every road game, top-notch facilities, etc. — couldn’t overcome the massive jolt of losing a head coach and four senior starters at the same time.
Everyone knows this was a young team. Two freshmen, Jalen Crutcher and Jordan Davis, and a sophomore, Trey Landers, who played only a handful of minutes as a freshman, started most of the season.
The Flyers ranked 317th in the country out of 351 teams in experience. That was a direct result of being one of the most experienced teams the previous season. Archie Miller’s last team ranked 35th.
Here are five other reasons for Dayton’s 14-17 season, which ended Thursday with a 77-72 loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament in Washington, D.C.
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1. Junior class: The first class of recruits after Dayton’s Elite Eight run in 2014 didn’t produce this season for a number of reasons.
Forward Ryan Mikesell missed the season after undergoing offseason hip surgeries.
Forward Sam Miller was suspended from the university for the first semester and then transferred to the College of Charleston.
Forward Xeyrius Williams, a player who had all-conference hopes before the season, suffered a back injury early in the season and never returned to form. A variety of reasons were given for his absence from the bench, in home and away games, late in the season. Dayton announced Feb. 28, Williams “is out indefinitely due to ongoing treatment for a back injury suffered earlier in the season.”
Point guard John Crosby lost his starting job to freshman Jalen Crutcher early in the season. He averaged a career-high 4.1 points and 1.9 assists in 14.7 minutes per game, but he also didn’t get a single minute in five games. He didn’t play in the season finale against VCU.
2. Coaching transition: First-year coach Anthony Grant inherited a roster with many question marks. No one knew quite what to make of it in the offseason. His team was picked to finish fifth in the A-10 and placed ninth.
Grant wasn’t alone in his struggles to turn his new team into a winner. None of the four new coaches in the A-10 — VCU’s Mike Rhoades, Duquesne’s Keith Dambrot and Massachusetts’ Matt McCall were the others — finished above .500 in conference play.
Grant took the blame several times over the course of the season for the team’s performances, most notably after an 85-67 loss at George Mason.
“We didn’t play well enough,” he said. “I didn’t coach well enough. We don’t have the luxury as a team (of winning) if we don’t show up with our best. My job is to make sure we were prepared today, and for whatever reason we weren’t prepared.”
Grant is the third Dayton coach of the last seven to post a losing record in his first season. Blackburn was 12-14 in 1947-48. Oliver Purnell was 7-20 in 1994-95. No Dayton coach has suffered back-to-back losing seasons since Jim O’Brien, whose five-year career with the Flyers ended with a total of 10 wins in two seasons.
3. Defensive struggles: Dayton’s offense, if sometimes inconsistent, such as in the final minutes of the loss to VCU, was good enough to win more often than not. Its defense was another story.
The Flyers allowed 73.5 points per game, 7.1 more than last season and the most in a season since 1994-95 (77.5) when Dayton finished 7-20. The Flyers were especially poor in guarding the 3-point line, ranking 324th in the country. Opponents shot 38.3 percent. That’s the third-worst 3-point defense in Dayton history.
4. Road woes: Dayton finished 1-10 in true road games and 1-3 on neutral courts. The road record was its worst since 1996-97 when it was 1-11.
5. Short bench: With Sam Miller suspended and Mikesell sidelined all year, as well as freshman Obadiah Toppin, an academic redshirt, Dayton started the year with 10 scholarship players.
Freshman center Jordan Pierce never got much of a chance to play, seeing brief action in two games. That left Dayton with nine players.
When Williams disappeared from the rotation, Dayton had eight players down the stretch. Half of those players — Crutcher, Jordan Davis, Matej Svoboda and Kostas Antetokounmpo — had never played in a game for Dayton before this season. None of the players had been asked to carry a team before this season, as senior Darrell Davis and redshirt junior Josh Cunningham were often asked to do this season.