Shortly after 6:00 PM ET on March 13th (Selection Sunday), the Dayton Flyers may have had the best case of any team not named Texas A&M for being the snub of the 2022 NCAA Tournament. They possessed a neutral court victory over the Kansas Jayhawks; who went on to become National Champions, and had a dominating win over Miami 76-60; a team that ended up in the Elite Eight. Anthony Grant’s team added to their resume with wins over eventual ACC Tournament Champion Virginia Tech and both the regular season and tournament champions of the Atlantic 10, Davidson and Richmond. To top off that impressive list, they also had an 18 point win over the A-10 preseason favorite, St. Bonaventure, and a 30 point road win at VCU.
In fact, Dayton was the only team in the nation left out of the NCAA Tournament field with an above .500 record against Quad 1 opponents (4-3) and at least 10 wins vs the top 2 quadrants overall. The Flyers downfall came from 3 losses by a single point, and another by just 2 points; all to teams that missed the NCAA Tournament themselves. You could say that those four possessions over a four month season may have been the difference between an NCAA Tournament berth, and where Dayton ultimately ended up: the NIT.
If just one shot had bounced their way in each of those games, Dayton would have been 27-6, 17-1 in conference play, and been watching the Selection Show with a lot less tension. Instead, they were a 23-10 team with notable losses to UMass Lowell and Lipscomb, which was too much for the committee to overlook. Next season, returning 7 of the top 8 players from a vastly inexperienced, yet very promising 2021-22 roster; the month of March should hold a much different ending for the Flyers. With the growth and maturity of another off-season, they should be able to avoid those heart-breaking, resume-hurting losses, and get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.
Dayton Big Man Primed for Stardom
If you aren’t familiar with the name DaRon Holmes II just yet, don’t worry because you certainly will be in the years to come. No player in the Dayton lineup stood out more last season than the 6’10” freshman sensation. He started all 35 games, led the Atlantic 10 in FG percentage at 64.9%, paced the Flyers in scoring with 12.8 PPG, and set a single season school record with 81 blocks. His stellar play garnered a list of accolades, including the 2022 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year award and a spot on the All-Conference 2nd Team.
When Holmes II committed to the Flyers, he was ranked as the #46 prospect in the country on ESPN, making him the highest rated recruit in the history of Dayton’s storied program. He played his high school ball in Arizona, becoming the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2020. He chose the Flyers over offers from his home state Wildcats and Sun Devils, as well as other notable schools like Kansas, UCLA, LSU, Marquette, and Texas Tech.
Reeling in the star big man immediately helped improve Dayton from a middle of the pack team in 2020-21 to an Atlantic 10 contender just one year later. Holmes II showed out right away with 16 points against #4 Kansas and 15 points against the Miami Hurricanes in his first month at the collegiate level. When he was on, the team usually followed suit: they were 11-3 in games that Holmes II led the team in scoring. In total, he scored in double-figures 25 times last season, including five 20+ point performances. One of those occasions came when he dominated play in the regular season finale against Davidson, posting 20 points and 6 rebounds, while containing Atlantic 10 POY Luka Brajkovic to just 6 points and an early exit to the bench after fouling out. If there was any game that showcased why Holmes II is a legitimate threat for both the A-10 POY and Defensive POY headed into 2022-23, that was the one.
What Makes Holmes II so Special?
At 6’10”, the mobility of Holmes II is one of the biggest things that sets him apart. He runs the open floor with a purpose, often being rewarded with easy fast break dunks. He is great in pick and roll situations, and can even pick and pop at the mid-range level. His jumper from the elbows and short corners is aesthetically pleasing for a player his size. He also has a high basketball IQ, and uses it to his advantage to find open space on the offensive end of the court, which led to the insanely efficient 64.9 FG% that led the entire Atlantic 10.
His ability to move laterally on the defensive side of the floor is what creates such a special defender. He can stay in front of wings driving from the perimeter and has exceptional recovery range from the helpside. Pair that with his elite ability in timing his jump to block shots, and you can see why he was the best rim protector in Dayton’s history in just his first season.
Maybe the most impressive feature of his game is his maturity on and off the court. With the lengthy list of power conference offers he received, it’s reasonable for people to question why he picked Dayton. According to Tom Archdeacon’s December article on the Dayton Daily news, this is how Holmes II responds when asked that frequent question: “Honestly, it’s all about where you fit. A lot of kids, a lot of recruits, get all wrapped up in the whole big program thing. And there’s nothing wrong with big programs, but everybody’s path is different. It’s unfortunate sometimes because some kids get caught up in what other people say is best for them. And some of them end up unhappy and that’s why they transfer.” – Tell me that answer doesn’t show maturity well beyond his years. He may have flew under the radar (on the national level) in 2021-22, but next year you can count on DaRon Holmes II emerging into the college basketball spotlight and becoming a household name.
Flyers’ 2022-23 ceiling
Many media outlets have Dayton picked as a potential preseason Top 25 team for 2022-23. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has them as a 6 seed in his ‘way too early’ NCAA Tournament predictions. Along with the return of Holmes II, Dayton also brings back 3rd Team All-Conference selection Toumani Camara, A-10 Sixth Man of the Year Koby Brea, and All-Freshman honoree Malachi Smith. Of the 15 players on last year’s roster, 13 of them were freshmen and sophomores. After surpassing expectations as a youthful team in 2021-22, the ceiling will be set very high headed into the 2022-23 season. Dayton should be the Atlantic 10 Preseason favorite, and has the potential to advance to the Sweet 16 or possibly even beyond. Regardless, the Flyers shouldn’t be sweating out another Selection Sunday this time around.