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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Dayton Flyers

Avery Johnson's group faces their first real test.

That hair has to be in the top ten of ridiculous hair styles in college basketball
That hair has to be in the top ten of ridiculous hair styles in college basketball
Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

An uneven, yet promising performance in front of a lively Coleman Coliseum crowd was exactly what was needed, and expected, from Alabama's home opening win over Kennesaw State Friday night. However, the Tide doesn't have much time to rest up and continue feeling good about themselves, as they head to Dayton, Ohio to take on the Dayton Flyers. Under coach Archie Miller, the Flyers have become one of the name-brand mid-majors of recent years. They followed up their 2014 Elite Eight Cinderella run with another couple of victories in last season's NCAA Tournament. The Flyers have been so impressive lately that many programs, Alabama's included, have made overtures at Miller to lure him away from Dayton. However, Miller has stayed firm with his current team, and this year's edition of the Flyers will be much better off because of it.

Miller's teams at Dayton have been known for their tough defense and sound fundamentals. They don't beat teams with a lot of flash. This year's group should be no different, though the losses of Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre leaves a big void in their ability to score points. There is still plenty of experience and talent on this roster, and the Flyers have won 24 straight games at home for a reason. Alabama doesn't normally play a big time away game before Thanksgiving, so it will be interesting to see how Avery Johnson's team performs in his first real test as a collegiate coach this early in the year.

The Roster

Starting Five

  • PG Scoochie Smith (8.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 4.0 SPG)
  • SG Darrell Davis (15.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.0 APG)
  • SF Ryan Mikesell (21.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.0 BPG)
  • WF Kendall Pollard (8.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • C Steve McElvene (5.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG)
The Flyers return just two starters from last season in Smith and Pollard, but they got a lot out of the new guys in their opener against Southeast Missouri State last Friday. Davis is a veteran who played as a key reserve a year ago. His performance the other night was very impressive, as he knocked down half of his shot attempts, hit a couple of threes, and took care of business at the free throw line at a decent clip. His eight rebounds were also impressive for a guard. Mikesell is a true freshman who may end up making the biggest impact on this year's team, if their opener was any indication. Mikesell made 5/7 from beyond the arc, and with his 6'7 frame he could be a real headache to defend. He looked like a playmaker against the Redhawks, but the Crimson Tide should provide a little bit more resistance. 6'10 big man McElvene could be Dayton's most important player, as the rest of the team lacks height. The freshman was a partial-qualifier last season, and the Flyers could have really used his size. He will need to rebound a bit better, but he made his defensive presence felt on Friday.

It's hard to draw too many conclusions from those three guys based on a one game sample size against a cupcake team, but Smith and Pollard are known commodities. As members of both of the last two tournament teams, they know what it takes to win ball games. Smith has taken the overwhelming majority of minutes at the point over the last two seasons, and has been the main distributor of the basketball. He's not an electrifying scorer, but he leads the offense and takes care of the basketball. Pollard is the leading returning scorer from last season, when he averaged 12.7 PPG on 55.2% shooting from the field. He doesn't have much range though, and he was terrible from the free throw line (58.0%). He's definitely the kind of guy opponents want to make work for his baskets. They are both very good defenders.

The Bench
  • G Charles Cooke (7.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.0 BPG)
  • G Kyle Davis (7.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 3.0 APG)
  • G John Crosby (3.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • F Sam Miller (4.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 APG)
  • F Bobby Wehrli (4.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 APG)
  • F Xeryius Williams (2.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.0 BPG, 1.0 SPG)
Much like with some of the new starters, there's not a lot of meaningful data on any of the reserves. Cooke and Davis both showed good ability off of the bench and should both be major contributors for Dayton this year. 6'9 Sam Miller and 6'8 Xeryius Williams will both be needed for their height this season, but both are true freshmen looking to gain some relevant experience before they start making a true impact. Crosby is another freshman with potential, and Wehrli is a long-time Flyer who has never really made a significant contribution to the team.

What To Watch For

  • Avery's First Test. Avery Johnson has accomplished many things during his basketball career; winning a collegiate road game against a very good team is not one of them. As mentioned, the Flyers are tough as nails to beat, especially at home. This team is dangerously efficient and capable of grinding teams down to a pulp. Alabama will be a pretty significant road 'dog, and it will take some seriously impressive coaching and execution to come away with a victory.
  • The Battle at Point Guard. Coming into the season, the conventional wisdom was that Justin Coleman, a young player with a ton of potential and a season's worth of experience under his belt, would be the starting point guard for the Crimson Tide this year. However, true freshman Dazon Ingram has officially thrown his resume into the discussion. Not only did the 6'5 guard start in the opener, he might have been the best player on the floor in crimson and white. It will be interesting to see how things play out from here, especially in Ingram's first college game in a hostile road environment, but all signs are pointing towards Ingram being the starter. Which, honestly, isn't a bad thing for Alabama.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Make the Freshmen Uncomfortable. Archie Miller doesn't usually rotate players as much as other coaches do. His team last season only went seven-deep during their NCAA Tournament run, for example. However, he usually can rely on a number of veterans taking up those minutes. This season, at least two freshmen, Mikesell and McElvene, will be relied upon to play major roles for Dayton. With this being only their second career game, Alabama has an opportunity to knock them off rhythm and make them uncomfortable. This is especially important against Mikesell, who was the leading scorer in their opener. If Alabama can force someone else to have to be the scorer, the Tide could have a chance at the upset.
  2. Take Care of the Basketball. Limiting turnovers is always a key to winning basketball, but this is especially important against an efficient terror like Dayton. The Flyers have won games under Miller by making the most out of their possessions and forcing their opponents into bad ones. Alabama cannot afford to lose possessions and give Dayton extra ones. Especially not on the road. We could see more of Coleman in this game for that reason.
  3. Make the Free Ones. Alabama was an absolutely atrocious 15/27 from the free throw line against Kennesaw State. The Tide will not beat Dayton with that kind of performance.
This game should be a really good barometer of where this team is currently, and what it needs to do to get where it wants to go. If Alabama can go on the road and compete with Dayton, there's a chance this team could be pretty good this season. It will be interesting to see how Avery gets this team ready for a road environment, especially on such a quick turn-around.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN at noon CST as part of ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon that runs from midnight to midnight on Tuesday. Time to utilize that nice personal office and/or extended lunch break at work.