- Marcus Hartman
With the NFL playoffs winding down and the NBA playoffs likely to be a waste of time, now looks like a good time for college basketball to shine.
That’s especially true in southwest Ohio, where three teams are looking like they could make some noise in March.
But that’s par for the course anymore.
As has become the norm, Xavier and Cincinnati are having strong seasons. The Musketeers are ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press and 12th in the coaches poll while the Bearcats are 12th in the former and 11th in the latter.
And of course we in the Miami Valley don’t take a backseat to anybody when it comes to college basketball.
We’ve got a team of scrappy youngsters building toward what they hope is not just a strong regular season but a memorable March, too.
Except this season, there’s something different.
With the Dayton Flyers in the throes of adjusting to a new coach and a new-look roster, Wright State has stepped into the void.
Second-year coach Scott Nagy’s Raiders are riding high into the second half of the season, winners of eight in a row and holding first place in the Horizon League.
If the NCAA tournament field were selected today, ESPN’s Tom Lunardi projects Wright State would be headed to Dallas to take on Wichita State (ironically the team that sent Dayton home from last year’s Big Dance).
Meanwhile, the Flyers still have red jerseys, but their prospects are far less rosy at the moment.
Scuffling along at 9-9 in Anthony Grant’s first year as head coach, Dayton just can’t get any consistency going.
So we couldn’t help but wonder as Fairborn rocks and south Dayton roils…. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a Gem City Jam this year?
The answer is multi-pronged.
First of all, it’s always yes. Every year, we want to see Dayton and Wright State play on the hardwood. No exceptions. It would be great for players, fans, schools and region, not only to decide bragging rights but to give some network an excuse to promote both programs on a national level for at least a couple of hours.
Second, we suspect this might even be a year Flyers fans would accept the challenge. Why? Because Dayton’s primary argument — that there is nothing for UD to gain by granting WSU a contest — does not apply.
Rather, 2018 finds the shoe on the other foot.
There is some definite pride on the line for the Flyers this season.
If Wright State fans start to get a little full of themselves, what better way to put them in their place than to have to watch the Flyers stuff the Raiders, be it at UD Arena or Nutter Center?
But, then again, is that what would happen?
We’ll probably never know (unless the NIT selectors bless us unexpectedly), but we can always speculate. (This is the internet, after all.)
Wright State checks in this week almost 30 spots ahead of Dayton in the RPI, where the Flyers are 95th and the Raiders are 69th, but that’s not really a measure of team strength so much as a measure of what they have accomplished against their schedules.
Dayton still has the advantage in the KenPom.com rankings (which do measure how the teams play), but not by much. There the Flyers are No. 132, seven spots ahead of WSU.
That site also gives us a hint about what kind of game a hypothetical 2018 Gem City Jam might be: Grant’s team would have the advantage offensively (ranking 87th in offensive efficiency) while Nagy’s Raiders hang their hats on defense (37th in defensive efficiency).
Numbers don’t decide games, though. Players do.
Which team has the advantage there?
Oh, it’s a fascinating matchup.
Dayton might have more quickness and length, but Wright State more often plays a bigger lineup.
Can you imagine Flyer forward Josh Cunningham tangling with Raider phenom Loudon Love in the post?
(Or Love and Kostas Antetokounmpo vying for the title of best redshirt freshman with tremendous upside?)
What about senior guards Grant Benzinger (WSU) and Darrell Davis (UD) matching up on the wing?
Young point guards Jalen Crutcher (UD) and Cole Gentry (WSU) could put on a show, too, trying to set those guys up.
But which squad would come out on top?
Well, that’s why they play the games — or in this case, you know, don’t.