For this being a relatively non-marquee matchup in a very non-primetime time slot, the upcoming matchup between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Dayton Flyers has a lot of storylines. First and foremost, this is a battle of two teams with unblemished records. As we know, the Zags have largely waltzed through their early season schedule with little resistance while racking up wins over Colorado State and Washington State. The Flyers have played an equally simple schedule but recently took down Georgia Tech on the road and are 4-0 on the season. These two teams also have the pleasure of claiming the title of defending champions in the Maui Invitational. Dayton's last time in the field was 2003 and they took home the title and Gonzaga won it in 2009 behind Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin. As the two programs square off for the first time in history, we will be paying attention to all these storylines and more.
Meet the opponent
Dayton Flyers (4-0), KenPom #64, RPI #19
Dayton got off to a heart-attack of a start in the 2013-14 season. It took a Jordan Sibert buzzer-beater for the Flyers to take down the IPFW Mastodons in their opening tilt. Dayton took their aggression from that first game scare out on not one, but two programs named St. Francis and won by an average margin of 17 points. Following those cakewalks, they went on to take down Georgia Tech in Atlanta by 10 points. The Yellow Jackets are a long way away from the days of Chris Bosh, Jarrett Jack, and Derrick Favors but it was still a solid early season win for the Flyers who, in a way, are still forging their own identity.
After a rough 2012-13 stretch that resulted in a 17-14 record for the Flyers, head coach Archie Miller is looking for a rejuvenated team in 2013-14. Although they lost two of their top three scorers from a year ago, including Kevin Dillard who is thought of as one of the top players in recent Dayton history, the cupboard is far from bare. Returning for the Flyers is 6'7'' forward Devin Oliver who leads the frontcourt for Miller's club. Although he is a bit undersized, Oliver is a tremendous rebounder and leads the team in that category with nearly eight boards per game.
The biggest key for Dayton's hot start has been the play of Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert. A former blue-chip recruit that didn't see much action as a Buckeye, Sibert has been a revelation for the Flyers and can really fill it up in a hurry. He will be a tough matchup for Gary Bell as he possesses great size at 6'4''. Khari Price, Dyshawn Pierre, and Vee Sanford join Sibert and Oliver as double-figure scorers for the Flyers.
What to watch out for
This is a sneaky scary matchup for the Zags. With possible matchup against Baylor on the horizon, the Bulldogs will have to be disciplined enough to keep their focus on Dayton as they are a team that is poised to pull an upset. Looking at this game on paper, I could see two possible outcomes happening.
As I noted above, this is each team's first test of the year. For the Zags, this is the first time of the year they have faced what I would call their 'kryponite'. Jordan Sibert has the potential to make the Maui Invitational his tournament and have his own coming out party after transferring away from Ohio State. As we all know, the Zags have an extremely talented backcourt but since Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell arrived, their have been issues locking down bigger guards. The best example was last year against Brandon Paul and Illinois and Sibert has the capability of getting just as hot if the Zags don't get on him early. He's currently shooting 44% from beyond the arc but, thus far, Dayton has not really shown a major desire to rely on the three. Against the Zags, however, all bets are off based on recent history.
For the Bulldogs, if there was ever a time when Przemek Karnowksi was going to jump into the spotlight, it would be tonight. While Devin Oliver is an extremely skilled forward for the Flyers, he is basically the only bright spot on the frontline for Dayton. Matt Kavanaugh, a 6'10'' center, will get about 15 minutes of run for Dayton but Karnowski should have a chance for a big night. In the same vein, Sam Dower should also be able to do what he wants in the low post for the Bulldogs. If one of these two gets into foul trouble early, it could be a long night for the Zags as Dayton would prefer to play small and let Sibert, Price, Pierre, and company make plays off the bounce.
While I would be shocked if the Bulldogs lost in this contest, I expect it to be a very close contest because of the skill that Dayton has in the backcourt. Gonzaga has a history of playing very solid basketball in November and they will need to keep that going as Maui has the potential to be a chance for this team to get several quality wins on their resume. In the end, I expect a tight game throughout with the Zags breaking away late to earn a 8-12 point victory.