The Dayton Flyers come into this game with a record of 6-3, and a five-game winning streak. After a shocking 73-66 home loss to Eastern Kentucky in their opener, the Flyers have beaten Coppin State (55-42), Wyoming (62-57), Texas Southern (79-60), St. Louis on the road (62-54), Northwestern State (64-55), and Akron (77-66). Their other two losses were at DePaul (70-59), and at home to Cincinnati (65-55).
Dayton is coached by 36-year old Brian Gregory, regarded as one of the up-and-comers in the profession. This is his third year at the helm, having replaced Oliver Purnell, who moved to Clemson. In his first two seasons his teams had records of 24-6 and 24-9 and trips to the NCAA both seasons. He was an assistant coach at Michigan State from 1990-96 and 1999-2003, where he was associated with many outstanding players, and was a coach on one national championship team. He was an assistant coach at Toledo in 1996-97 and for two years at Northwestern (1997-99). He is a graduate of Oakland University in 1990.
Many people consider that Gregory is entering a period which will be the acid test of his ability to put together a winning program. For his first two seasons, he had veteran teams inherited from Purnell (although Gregory recruited many of the players). Now, this season, he has a large crop of five freshmen, just one senior, five juniors, and two sophomores.
The point guard position is shared by 6-0 junior Warren Williams and 6-3 freshman Trent Meacham. Between them they are handing out 6.1 assists per game, while committing just four turnovers. Williams (6.6 ppg) starts but Meacham (6.0 ppg) plays almost as many minutes. Both can make the three-point shot, although their percentages are just 30.6 and 31.9 respectively. Meacham was recruited by Vanderbilt.
The shooting guard is slender 6-1 senior Mark Jones (10.7 ppg), a streaky 35.3% three-point shooter. He shares the position with 6-2 freshman Brian Roberts (19 minutes per game, 7.7 ppg), a likely future star. 6-4 junior Marques Bennett (17 minutes per game, 3.3 ppg) can play either guard or forward. All four guards are excellent free-throw shooters, and statistics show that the whole team is sound in that area. Jones, surprisingly, is the second leading rebounder on the team (4.3 per game).
Dayton's biggest player, 6-11 sophomore James Cripe, went down with an injury in the third game and hasn't played since. His 250 pounds were an asset under the basket, but he is a project and is not likely to ever be a big factor.
With no really big man, the Flyers throw a swarm of large- to medium-sized players into the fray underneath. 6-8 freshman Chris Alvarez (2.1 ppg) and 6-8 junior Monty Scott (11.8 ppg) have good size and see plenty of action, Scott being the best three-point shooter (45.9%) and a good rebounder (nearly 4 per game). 6-7 freshman Norman Plummer (8.7 ppg) leads the team in rebounds (4.8) and is strictly an inside player who slashes to the basket for many of his points; next to Jones he sees the most action (24 minutes per game). Add in 6-8 Nick Stafford (2.4 ppg) and 6-6 freshman Jimmy Binnie (3.3 ppg), both of whom play a lot, and there are five players to man the two inside positions, even without Cripe. Binnie is regarded as a defensive stopper as well as a good shooter.
These ten players see substantial playing time (ten minutes or more), and two others (6-4 junior Logan White and 6-5 junior Jeff Penno) have some experience. The Flyers are a scrappy, young team with substantial talent, and it looks as though Gregory will get through his test period with "flying" colors. With seven players who can hit the three (each of the top ten but Plummer, Stafford, and Alvarez), their outside shooting rivals that of Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt's obvious key defensive matchups are Jason Holwerda on Jones and Corey Smith on Scott. Plummer may prove to be the most difficult man to handle because he has good size and great agility. On the other hand, Dayton obviously does not have anyone to compare in size with Dawid Przybyszewski and Ted Skuchas, but the high-leaping Plummer is likely to be matched against Przybyszewski.
Dayton is capable of giving the Commodores their first serious home-court test. The Flyers play strong half-court defense and it will take a blitz from beyond the three-point line to decisively defeat them. The prediction: Vanderbilt should win this game on its home court by six to ten points.