The Colorado Buffaloes will face on the biggest tests of the season when they take on the Dayton Flyers in Chicago on Saturday (4:30 pm, CBS Sports Network). Dayton is ranked 13th in the nation after an impressive 9-1 start to the season, the one loss being an overtime thriller against Kansas. The Buffaloes beat them 78-73 in the NIT in March, but this Flyers team has turned into a different beast this year.
1. Dayton is the best mid-major in the country
Dayton is the surprise team of the year, but they haven’t caught any of us off guard. Coming from the Atlantic 10, the Flyers had a solid 2018-19 that saw them make the NIT, where they lost Colorado in the first round. But this wasn’t the typical 20-something-win mid-major with limited upside; they were a highly skilled, well-coached team that was just coming together. They were the better team in that game, but McKinley Wright, a former Dayton commit, pulled the Buffs through.
Since that game, Dayton has only gotten better. Obi Toppin has taken the leap to become a college superstar. Jalen Crutcher, Ryan Mikesell and Trey Landers are all back and are shooting the lights out. Ibi Watson transferred from Michigan and has been dynamic on the perimeter. At the Maui Invitational, they outplayed Kansas until the final five minutes, and eventually lost in the overtime. Other than that, they haven’t even been challenged by a schedule that featured Saint Mary’s, Georgia and Virginia Tech.
Dayton might be Colorado’s toughest opponent from here on out, depending how you feel about Oregon and Arizona. KenPom projects them as favorites in their final 21 games; counting the A-10 tournament, they will likely enter the NCAA Tournament as a 30+ win team. If Colorado were to win on a neutral court, it would be a boon to their tournament resume.
2. Obi Toppin, World Destroyer
Dayton is elite because their offense in the one of the very best in the nation. According to KenPom, they have the 6th best offense in the nation as they are 1st in 2-pt. FG% and 16th in 3-pt. FG%. The Flyers generate the best shots in basketball with the closest thing in college basketball to a modern NBA offense. They prioritize three-point shooting in order to open up the floor for them to attack the basket. They have skilled players at every position, guys who can hit shots, move the ball or attack scrambling defenses.
All that floor spacing is designed to open up the spread pick-and-roll. The center of everything is Obi Toppin. We saw Toppin decimate the Colorado defense in the NIT, but somehow he was still just learning how to play. Since then, he has morphed into a world destroyer. He’s the best athlete on the court (even at 6’9, 230-lbs.), usually the best shooter, and his offensive versatility makes the pick-and-roll a nightmare to defend. He’s the one setting picks, but since he can shoot just as well as he can roll, you can’t use the drop-back defensive schemes Tad Boyle favors. He also has plus ball-handling and playmaking that make it impossible to double Toppin off the roll. When you defend the Dayton PNR, you’re choosing how you want Toppin to beat you, and he will.
3. Colorado needs to hit everything
The Buffaloes aren’t going to stop the Flyers from scoring. The hope is to slow them down, but even that will be a tough task. The Buffaloes do have one of the best defenses in the nation, however the strengths of CU don’t quite line up with Dayton’s. Boyle wants to wall off the paint, send help on drives and contest everything inside the arc. The issue is that Colorado gives up a lot of threes off ball movement, which is exactly what Dayton wants. Tyler Bey could be a major help in neutralizing Obi Toppin, but the Flyers’ role players may be more dangerous because of their shot-making ability.
On the other end, Dayton has a solid defense. Dayton is going to score 70+, so the Buffs will have to get their offense right to keep it close. The Flyers play very small with Toppin at center surrounded by wings, so there’s a chance Colorado can win the interior and work outward from there. That would require big games from Evan Battey and Tyler Bey, as well as hot shooting from D’Shawn Schwartz and the other wings. It goes without saying that the team has to take care of the ball to have a shot at the win. I’m not confident this CU offense can keep up with Dayton, but if there’s game to pop off, this would be it.
Dayton 82, Colorado 70