IUPU-Fort Wayne (0-0) at Dayton (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 9, 2 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: UD Arena (13,409) -- Dayton, Ohio. Television: FSN-OH. Home Record: IPFW 0-0, Dayton 0-0. Away Record: IPFW 0-0, Dayton 0-0. Neutral Record: IPFW 0-0, Dayton 0-0. Conference Record: IPFW 0-0, Dayton 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAMES NOTES: In the season opener the Dayton Flyers will bring in the IUPU- Fort Wayne Mastodons for a non-league battle at UD Arena Saturday afternoon.
How does a team make up for losing its all-time leading scorer to graduation? That is a question the Mastodons have been asking themselves all offseason as they prepare for life without Frank Gaines. Though they did not excel with Gaines on the floor with back-to-back losing seasons entering the 2013-14 campaign, he was a major reason the Mastodons were at least competitive (16-17) last year. A big push at the end of the season, when they won six- straight before a 72-56 setback against league champion South Dakota State in the Summit League Tournament, certainly has the Mastodons thinking of bigger things in the third year of the Tony Jasick era, especially with three returning starters on the roster.
Archie Miller's second season as the head coach for the Flyers wasn't a good one. Yes, Dayton finished with a winning record (17-14), but for a team that is used to reaching the 20-win mark on a regular-basis, the production was clearly not up to par. The Flyers had at least 20 wins in five-straight seasons, including Miller's first, before last year. Dayton has been a constant participant in the postseason but the Flyers have had to settle for spots in the lesser tournaments and not the Big Dance four straight times. Getting back to the NCAA Tournament will require the three returning starters on the roster as well as Matt Kavanaugh, who is back from suspension, to really exceed expectations.
Both of these teams will be in for a new challenge in the opener as they have never matched up before.
There is no downplaying how much the Mastodons are going to miss Gaines, who was far and away the best scorer on the team last year (18.3 ppg). That is quite a lot of offensive production to make up for, especially for a team that was at best, mediocre in that area. IPFW averaged 67.1 points per game and shot 43.9 percent from the floor. Neither mark was among the Summit League's elite. Stepping into the role of go-to scorer is Luis Jacobo (11.4 ppg). Jacobo was the only other double-figure scoring threat last year. Kevin Harden (6.2 ppg) only played 12 games last year because of an injury but he started in all 12 and should fit right back into the mix. Pierre Bland (3.0 ppg) and Joe Edwards (7.5 ppg) will each get more minutes as well. Michael Kibiloski (6.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg) shot under 40 percent from the floor last year, but represents the biggest threat in the post.
Dayton could get back to 20 wins thanks to being an efficient offensive squad. Dayton led the A-10 and ranked 15th nationally in field-goal percentage (.475). More play like that coupled with better rebounding and defense could lead to better results. The return of Kavanaugh will help both on the boards and in stopping foes. The 6-10 senior averaged nine points and just under six rebounds per game in 2011-12 and will be a starter right away. He will join a trio of starters from last year that are trying to fill the gap left by leading scorer Kevin Dillard (15.3 ppg, 4.5 apg). Devin Oliver (8.9 ppg) and Vee Sanford (12.3 ppg) are the players to watch and the two most likely to take up the mantle of go-to option. After Dillard, Sanford and Oliver played the most minutes per game for the Flyers, with Sanford also the best distributor (2.3 apg). Dyshawn Pierre (8.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Jalen Robinson (6.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg) will help shore up the frontcourt.
It remains to be seen whether the core that Dayton has and the pieces fitting in around it will be able to compete in the A-10. However, against an IPFW squad that is still improving, the Flyers will do more than just compete.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Dayton 76, IUPU-Fort Wayne 60
11/09 10:39:05 ET