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Dayton Head Coach Anthony Grant: Was a 10 year assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida. VCU HC from 2006-2009, Alabama HC from 2009-2015, Dayton HC from 2017-Present. Went from 14-17 to 21-12 his first two seasons at Dayton. Career .624 win percentage.
Virginia Tech stunned the college basketball world last night as the Hokies came away with a massive victory over top 5 Michigan State to shake up the Maui Invitational bracket. Dayton had a bit of an easier time in their game against Georgia, winning by 19 points earlier in the day. Both teams go into this contest undefeated, with Tech 6-0 and Dayton 4-0 respectively. Per HokieSports.com, this will be the 14th matchup ever between the Hokies and the Flyers, with the previous meeting all the way back in March of 2000. Obviously a lot has changed in almost 20 years, so lets take a look at what Virginia Tech is up against, in what is sure to be another tough battle against a formidable opponent with arguably one of the 10 best players in college basketball.
Who is that player, you may ask? Obi. Toppin. If you are a basketball fan, get to know this kid, ASAP. The 6’9 Sophomore has skyrocketed up mock-drafts due to his size and versatility. He is very fluid with his motions, and can beat you from the inside or the outside. Let me show you his numbers as a freshman: in 26.5 minutes per game, he averaged 14.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists, on over 67% from 2 point range, and over 50% from 3 point range… just let those numbers marinate for a second before I tell you his averages after his first 4 games this season… Here is a link to Toppin’s highlights against UVA from last season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRXYIqKnHdU The kid was apparently only 6’2 as a junior in high school, but now stands nearly 6’9, and is an absolute monster.
After 4 games into his Sophomore season, Toppin is averaging a whopping 24 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1 steal and 1.5 blocks on just under 30 minutes per game. Oh, and he’s shooting 78% from the field on 2-point shots, and 50% on threes. This is a guy that can grab a rebound and take it the full length on his own for a bucket, or play with his back to the basket down low and beat you with his combination of footwork, quickness, and strength, or he can run pick and pop with a ball handler to set himself up for an open 3. Needless to say, this will be arguably the best player Virginia Tech faces all season. PJ Horne will be at a size disadvantage per usual so I think we may see Tech try to bring a 2nd defender over to help get the ball out of Toppin’s hands as much as possible. Just like with Michigan State, you have to find a way to neutralize Dayton’s best player, first and foremost, before worrying about everybody else. But as you’ll see, Toppin’s teammates are no scrubs of their own.
Dayton’s projected starting lineup:
JR 6’1 Guard, Jalen Crutcher: A steady presence in the backcourt, Crutcher started 22 games as a freshman and all 33 games last year as a Sophomore, averaging 13 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds, on about 36% shooting from 3. Crutcher went for 20 points yesterday in the blowout win over UGA, going 4-9 from deep.
JR 6’1 Guard, Rodney Chatman: Transferring in from UT Chattanooga, Chatman has continued to display his solid all around game through the first 4 games of the season, averaging double digit points-per-game to go with 4.5 assists as well. Chatman has shot the ball well from 3 point range as well, averaging nearly 40% on almost 6 attempts per game.
SR 6’5 Guard, Trey Landers: Starting the majority of the previous two seasons, Landers brings experience and toughness to the lineup. He’s not a huge offensive threat in my opinion, as he shot just 9-45 from 3 last season (20%), and he is just 2-7 from deep through 4 games in 2019. Landers is more of a glue guy than anything else.
SR 6’7 Forward, Ryan Mikesell: Another experienced player who has started over 50 games the previous two seasons. Has shown small, steady, improvement over the course of his career, contributing double digit points per game and is a willing and able passer.
SO 6’9 Forward, Obi Toppin: I already talked about Toppin up above, as he is a can’t miss prospect. The versatile big man is a projected first round pick and it is hard to argue with that assessment after watching him. Slowing down Toppin will be a group effort, as just one guy will not be able to stop him.
JR 6’5 Guard, Ibi Watson: The 44th ranked shooting guard in the class of 2016 per 247Sports, Watson sat out last season after transferring from Michigan following two quiet seasons in Ann Arbor where he saw about 5 minutes per game. So far this season, Watson has shown the ability to be a solid threat from deep, making almost 43% of his 3.5 attempts a game.
SO 6’2 Guard, Dwayne Cohill: Not a great shooter from 3, going 22% on 37 attempts last season, and has only taken 4 thus far, hitting just 1 to put him at 25% on the year. He has improved his ‘assist-to-turnover ratio’ from 1.0 to 3.5 respectively.
SO 6’9 Forward, Chase Johnson: The former 4 star prospect transferred from Florida after a forgettable couple of seasons in Gainesville. He is still a question mark in my opinion until there is a better sample size of data on him, but he does not seem to be a stretch-4 at first glance. Just a nice energy guy off the bench that can defend and rebound for a few minutes here and there.
JR 6’5 Guard, Jhery Matos: A foot injury ended Matos’s ’18-’19 season early, but a medical redshirt was granted due to the limited number of games he played in. The guard from the Dominican Republic is another energy guy not expected to come in and score a whole bunch, but his defense and decision making provide decent depth for the Flyers.
Bottom Line: It’s going to have to be another team effort for the Hokies to win this one. Obi Toppin is as good as it gets from an efficiency standpoint, so forcing the ball out of his hands and making him catch the ball away from the basket is probably Virginia Tech’s best bet to contain him. Dayton is not loaded with 3 point shooters, so sending a double team on Toppin and making the Flyers prove that their role players can get it done is how Virginia Tech will have a shot at moving to 7-0. Per usual, rebounding will be a major key to this one. Mike Young’s team will usually be the smallest team on the court, so team rebounding from all 5 positions will be imperative. Wabissa Bede has done an excellent job of that, and he helped seal the deal with a few timely rebounds in the final minute against Michigan State. At this point in time, I am simply a believer in Virginia Tech basketball. The youth has produced well beyond any reasonable expectations and I’ve been amazed at the fluidity of the offense for the most part considering all the new pieces having played so few games together. The national media was drooling over Mike Young after taking down Michigan State.
Virginia Tech was picked to finish last in the ACC by most, and based on what they lost and what they were bringing in, that was not an unreasonable assessment. But my-oh-my, how quickly it all can change. While nothing in sports is ever guaranteed, I think it’s safe to say that when you step on the court with Virginia Tech, you can guarantee you’ll be in for a fight. While I’m not at the point where I will proclaim Tech to be an NCAA Tournament lock, a win today against a probable tournament team in Dayton, along with a solid showing against BYU or Kansas in the finals, will have me believing more and more that this team has what it takes to dance in March. Dayton has the best player on the court, but Virginia Tech has the better team, and the better coach. I expect that to hold true tonight.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 77 Dayton 71