DAYTON — The Dayton Flyers have surprised most of the nation by reaching the first week of February with a 20-2 record — but not themselves and certainly not coach Anthony Grant.
“I don’t put any limitation on any team I coach,” Grant said.
Dayton reached 20 victories on March 6 last season and never hit that milestone earlier than Feb. 9 during its four-year run of NCAA tournament appearances in the Archie Miller era. This team keeps making history every week and achieved another feat Monday by climbing one spot to No. 6 in the Associated Press poll, making it the highest-ranked Atlantic 10 Conference team since George Washington in 2006.
Dayton, which sits alone atop the A-10 at 9-0, can ensure a fourth straight week in the top 10 and perhaps a move into the top five if it wins its only game this week. It faces Saint Louis (17-5, 6-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday at UD Arena. The Flyers beat the Billikens 78-76 in overtime thanks Jalen Crutcher’s last-second 3-pointer on Jan. 7 at Chaifetz Arena.
The Flyers get six days off from game action following their 70-56 victory Saturday against Fordham. This is their last extended break before the A-10 tournament and their last week this season without a road trip. Grant said Dayton will use the time to try to get better.
“We’ll take advantage of this week to get back on the practice floor a little bit,” he said. “We’ll be smart with what we do. It’s a chance to see where we’re at, to maybe evaluate some things we’re doing and try to do them a little better and maybe add some things we feel we need as we approach the back nine of the conference schedule and get ready for what lies ahead of us.”
Dayton has won 11 games in a row since its 78-76 overtime loss to Colorado on Dec. 21 in Chicago. It has yet to lose a game in the first 40 minutes or lose a game at home. Through Sunday, it was one of four teams in the country with 20 or more victories, along with San Diego State (23-0), Gonzaga (23-1) and Liberty (21-3).
As strong as the Flyers have been, they have not been perfect. Dayton continues to have the No. 1 offense in the country, based on points per possession (1.2), but its defense has slipped to No. 58 (0.95).
If Dayton wants to live up to the hype it’s getting as a national championship contender, it likely will have to improve that defensive number. That’s doable because Dayton’s defense ranked 39th two weeks ago. It will be a challenge, though, because six of the last nine regular-season games are against teams ranked in the top 100 of the Ken Pomeroy ratings. The Flyers still have to play second-place Rhode Island (16-5, 8-1) twice.
“We always get everyone’s best shot,” guard Rodney Chatman said. “We know that. Nothing’s going to be easy. We know that. We’ve just got to stay focused.”