The Most Interesting Team in College Basketball
by Aaron Lynn
There are 352 basketball teams in Division I, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one as unique and interesting as the Dayton Flyers.
For one, Dayton is the fourth-tallest team of all 352 with multiple players at 6’9” or taller and several other members over 6’6”. Their height and length make the Flyers a force defensively and they tend to draw a lot of fouls as they look to punch it in the paint on offense. Because so much attention has to be given to the very talented and physical forward pair of DaRon Holmes II and Toumani Camara, open threes are there for the taking. Players like Koby Brea and Malachi Smith have been able to take advantage of those opportunities.
Another factor that sets the Dayton program apart from others is the story of Mike Sharavjamts. The 6’8” 180 pound freshman became the first player from Mongolia to become a scholarship Division I player. His game is as unique as his story. Sharavjamts plays more of a point guard role than his height would indicate and he leads his team with 2.8 assists per game. He has a unique skill set that includes impressive court vision, a smooth jumper, and height and length that can cause a mismatch against a smaller defender. He is still very much a “raw” product who needs to strengthen his frame and cut down on fouls among other improvements, but he possesses a lot of intriguing abilities that point to a very high ceiling.
It’s also worth a reminder that the 2019-2020 Dayton team became one of the biggest “what ifs” in college basketball history after the 2020 NCAA Tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic and the historic Flyers squad finished third in the final rankings. The Flyers haven’t been able to match that success (few teams would), but that hasn’t stopped fans from packing out UD Arena on a nightly basis. The arena will once again host the First Four in mid-March and has the distinction of having hosted the most NCAA tournament games of any venue (and it’s not even close).
The team itself is difficult to pin down from a projection perspective due to a plethora of injuries that have tamed this team’s potential. However, the Flyers health has improved and so have the results on the court. Outside of an unusual home loss at the hands of George Mason, Dayton has put five of their last six games in the win column including a road victory against the top seed in the Atlantic 10, VCU. The preseason Atlantic 10 favorites may be finally living up to their billing and could be peaking at just the right time. A shocking upset to Richmond derailed Dayton’s NCAA hopes last season and they are looking to avoid a similar fate this season. After the season finale against Saint Louis (a game that has significant implications on seeding), the Flyers will be three wins away from the Big Dance.
The Flyers celebrated Toumani Camara on senior night on Tuesday as Dayton welcomed in a hungry La Salle team looking to right the ship after dropping their last three games. Camara shouldered the load early by burying a pair of threes, flushing a dunk, swatting away an Explorer shot, and drawing a charge. His team responded to his play and quickly opened up a double-digit lead. The Flyers defense made life difficult for the Explorers who struggled to find open looks throughout most of the game. Despite the adversity, La Salle showed great toughness. Fran Dunphy’s team entered the night as the 10-seed in the Atlantic 10 and likely needed to win in order to secure a first round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn next week.
The best offensive rebounding team in the conference used that particular skill to their benefit, cutting the Flyers lead to single digits on several occasions, but they could never get over the hump. Eventually, the inside play of Dayton thoroughly wore out the Explorers who fell 77-53 after shooting just 24.1% from the field in the second half. Khalil Brantley did score 19 for La Salle and added 8 rebounds and 4 assists, but it came on just 5-15 shooting.
Camara did most of his damage in the first half and Holmes did his damage in the second. The true sophomore claimed his 11th double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Malachi Smith had 10 assists and directed a very potent offense in the second half. Sharavjamts was part of a unit that ultimately opened up a big lead and he finished with 9 points and a +22 rating.
When asked about Holmes’ play, Dayton Head Coach Anthony Grant mentioned his skill set advantage in the paint and pointed out that his energy was much better in the second half. He quickly pivoted to the overall play of his team, however, stating “I’m always about the team and how they function together and it was a good run of 12-13 minutes…To be able to bounce back from a loss and get a win for our seniors; trying to have some momentum heading into the last regular season game on the road and heading to Brooklyn next week… I thought the guys were able to respond.”
Grant has his team pointed in the right direction and it’s quite possible this March will have a much happier ending for the Flyers than the previous seasons.
The Atlantic 10 bracket will be finalized on Friday, so don’t forget to check back to see the seeding, schedule, and TV information for the 15-team field.