There are three weeks left in the college basketball regular season, which means that the fine-tuning found in team maintenance is done. The next fundamental challenge for coaches is to maintain and maximize the resources they have as they hit the stretch run.
The average teams have effort. The good teams have talent. The great teams have depth, and the Dayton Flyers are a great team.
Dayton sits 21-3 and atop the Atlantic 10 standings, a game clear of St. Joseph’s and VCU. The Flyers are ranked in the top 20, and have done it on the back of a massive 11-man rotation that features everyone.
The Flyers traveled east on Friday to play a tough, talented Rhode Island team and escaped with a 68-66 win thanks to a late three from Darrell Davis. It says so much about Dayton that Davis is fifth on the team in minutes and sixth on the team in scoring, and yet had the ball in his hand with the game on the line. That’s a testament to Archie Miller’s coaching philosophy: having the entire bench ready to play in any situation 40 minutes a night.
“Depth’s very important to the way we play,” Miller said after the URI game. “We’ll only go as far as the guys seven, eight, nine, and 10 on our bench can take us because I know what the other guys can do.”
Dayton looks to Charles Cooke and Dyshawn Pierre to lead the way, but everyone has a hand in the kitchen. Cooke leads the team with 16 points a game, while Pierre is averaging 13.5 points and a team-leading 7.3 rebounds a night. Juniors Kendall Pollard and Scoochie Smith are the only other players averaging in double digits for Dayton.
It’s remarkable to watch this 11-man rotation work. Against URI no Flyer reached the 10-point mark until the 13th minute of the second half. Dayton had 54 points by then. Plenty of players will score more than 10 points in a half, but the Flyers went 32 minutes without a player reaching 10, and that’s because of ball distribution.
Within the rotation, all 11 players have played in at least 17 games except for Pierre, who served a suspension to start the season; in short, everyone contributes. All 11 players average at least eight minutes, 2.5 points, and 1.7 rebounds a game. Those numbers sound small individually, but they add up.
Kyle Davis, Darrell Davis, Steve McElvene, Sam Miller, Ryan Mikesell, John Crosby, and Xeyrius Williams are 5th-11th on the team in scoring, but combine to produce 45 percent of the team’s offense.
More than just depth, the Flyers are also experienced in big moments. Two years ago Miller led Dayton to the Elite Eight. Last year he coached the Flyers to a pair of tournament wins, including a shocker over Providence in the round of 64. The upperclassmen now have that experience as a guide for their careers, and Miller said that’s no small thing.
“We’ve been in a lot of big games,” Miller said. “These guys have been on the biggest stage, under the brightest lights, some of the most incredible, hard-fought wins that you can have in you’re career. They’ve been there before.”
The road remains bumpy for Dayton — games against St. Joe’s and VCU still linger in the future — but this team will be a force once the bracket comes out in a month.