Dayton Flyers Season Preview

The Dayton Flyers finished the 2002-03 season on a sour note last spring. The highest seeded team in school history at fourth in the Midwest Region, the Flyers were upset by the 13th-seeded Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Following the loss, their head coach Oliver Purnell packed his belongings without a real warning and moved to Clemson, SC, to try his luck in the ACC.

One would think the Flyers were feeling blue for quite some time after, but that was far from the case. Dayton received the much-needed shot in the arm when they hired their new head coach from Tom Izzo's staff, the energized Brian Gregory.

Despite losing just six games a year ago and winning the Atlantic 10 Championship, the bar has been raised as the University of Dayton. Gregory's intensity and beliefs have the Flyers now thinking they can compete for a National Championship. While Rome wasn't built overnight, Gregory's returning players serve more than just a foundation. He inherits four starters from last year's NCAA team, but lost the first two guys off the bench. With that, the real question heading into the season is how deep can the Flyers go.

Towards the end of last year, the rotation pretty much became seven guys, the five starters and the two seniors off the bench. It appears the Flyers may have to go seven-deep again, but it won't likely be at the beginning of the season. The Flyers lost their starting small forward Brooks Hall to graduation, but sophomore Monty Scott is expected to fill the void nicely. Scott, who was a non-qualifier a year ago, stepped right in and started both exhibitions after a full year away from basketball. In just 24 minutes in his first collegiate exhibition, Scott scored 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. He followed that up with a 12-point, four-rebound performance in the 12-point win over EA Sports. His minutes will likely increase as the rust is worked out and the season goes on, but expect him to tally around 22-24 minutes a game for the first couple weeks.

Scott's backcourt mates are probably the most underrated in the Atlantic 10 conference. Ramod Marshall, projected as an Atlantic 10 second teamer, is the commander of the Flyer offense. Last season, Marshall averaged 12.2 points and nearly five assists a game. He likes to push the ball down the floor and loves shooting behind screens. Though he has a very low release point from the left side, his shooting percentage is one of the best in the conference. When he takes it down the lane, he can either use his patented runner off the glass or find an open teammate. Drawing the defense to him usually frees up either Keith Waleskowski or Mark Jones for a three.

Jones is the other member of the unheralded guards. Labeled as the hardest worker on the team, Jones has made himself a very good two-guard. He was Mr. Basketball in the state of Connecticut playing the point guard in high school, but was moved over to the off-guard to make way for Marshall. Though he struggled for the first part of last season, Jones finished with an eight-point scoring average and one of the best looking shooting strokes on the squad. Even at 6-foot-1, Jones' scrappiness has made him one of the top rebounders for the Flyers.

The most consistent of the squad is Keith Waleskowski. Labeled "Mr. Double-Double", Waleskowski brings a lunch pail and hardhat every down to the Arena. A year ago, KW averaged 12.7 and 8.2 rebounds a game. He was nominated to the preseason All-Atlantic 10 first team, but individual accolades don't mean much to him. After being to the NCAA Tournament twice, once the year he red-shirted and last season as a junior, Keith is poised to get back to the tournament and do some damage. In the first exhibition, he put together a very impressive 18-point, 19-rebound performance, perhaps serving notice to those around the country. KW has also showed signs of stepping out and shooting the three-ball more this season. He struggled in his last outing, but one can bet that won't happen very often.

Joining Waleskowski in the frontcourt is former Mr. Basketball in Kansas, Sean Finn. At 7-feet, Finn can run the court with the best of them. In the new Gregory offense, Finn will likely get many opportunities to beat the opposition down the floor. In the half-court set, not a single defender has been proven to shut down Finn's little kiss off the glass from in close. The problem with Finn is he collects too many fouls and his playing time, as a result, suffers. If he is able to cut that down, he could very well end up on the conference's first team at the end of the season.

While the starters are seasoned, the depth of the bench will likely be the key to this season's success. Four players will likely see the majority of the minutes in the reserve role. James Cripe, a red-shirt freshman, will see a lot of the time, allowing Finn and Waleskowski to catch their breath. In the final preseason game, Cripe made his mark by tallying 10 points and 9 rebounds, in just 17 minutes of play.

Guard Warren Williams can jump in and fill the one or the two-spot on the floor very well. At times, Williams may be even be the shooting guard in a three-guard offense (Marshall at the point and Jones on the wing). Warren has shown the ability to knock down the jumper in the preseason, hitting all four treys he attempted. If he plays within himself, he could be a tremendous asset to the rest of his team.

Despite being slowed with an injured knee this preseason, Logan White should see a lot of action off the bench. White, a sophomore, saw 18 minutes of action in the final exhibition. He will probably see around 10-12 minutes a game in the first few games of the year. Logan has the ability to break the defender down and create his own shot. Whether or not he is able to finish is the true question.

Providing the spark off the bench will be senior Frank Iguodala. His game isn't very pretty to watch, but his energy on defense is definitely a thing of beauty. He has improved offensively from a year ago, but will likely earn his minutes on the defensive end. He is the prime candidate to see the floor when Coach Gregory wants his defense to extend the full 94 feet.

UD should be in good shape to make a run at the tournament again this season. However, there are still a lot of contingents and questions surrounding this edition of the Dayton Flyers. One sure thing is Coach Gregory has his troops in the best shape of their lives. Whether that amounts into the success they'd like in return, remains to be seen. Answer Session I takes place on Friday against the Pepperdine Waves in the Firestone Fieldhouse.

Matt Schwade is the publisher of FlyerHoops.net, the University of Dayton's home on the Rivals.com network. Feel free to drop Matt an email at matt@teamswd.com.