Dayton isn’t wasting any time putting its No. 21 ranking and 20-game home winning streak on the line against a quality opponent.
The Flyers won’t face an easy task Saturday when they take on Creighton, which has won at least 20 games for 11 straight seasons to set a Missouri Valley Conference record.
Dayton is ranked in a preseason poll for the first time since 1967-68. The Flyers went 27-8 last season and finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Atlantic 10, then lost to Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Expectations are high with Dayton selling a record 9,754 season tickets. The Flyers have four starters back and hope to provide some relief to a community hit hard by economic woes.
“I think we have an opportunity to be a great story here in Dayton,” athletics director Tim Wabler said. “With some of the bad news around Dayton at times, I can see where people perhaps are grabbing ahold of the Flyers.”
Creighton isn’t the type of opponent most ranked teams schedule for their openers. The Bluejays have three starters back from a squad that went 27-8 and finished in a first-place tie with Northern Iowa in the MVC.
“Our team is a little more experienced than we’ve been in the last couple of years,” coach Dana Altman said. “Hopefully that’ll help us.”
The teams’ 54 combined wins from last season are the most of any season-opening game in 2009-10.
Creighton will try to hand Dayton its first home loss since Feb. 24, 2008. The Bluejays spoiled the Flyers’ 8-0 start last season with a 77-59 victory Jan. 6, limiting Dayton to 35.7 percent shooting.
Flyers star forward Chris Wright was held to eight points and eight rebounds in the loss. Wright led Dayton with 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season while setting a school record with 54 dunks.
Dayton believes Wright will turn in more performances similar to his 27-point, 10-rebound effort in last season’s first-round NCAA win over West Virginia.
“He does some things better than anybody in the country,” coach Brian Gregory said. “No one plays as hard. No one finishes on the break better. No one goes to the offensive glass better. Those traits make him unique.”
Steady point guard London Warren is back along with shooting guard Marcus Johnson. The Flyers, who ranked 25th nationally in field-goal percentage defense, also have Rob Lowery - a slashing guard sidelined by a knee injury the final 10 games of last season.
“His ability to pressure the ball and cause havoc defensively, his ability to run the team and give us a punch scoring-wise from that position were very, very instrumental in the success we had,” Gregory said of Lowery.
Creighton’s top returning scorer is forward P’Allen Stinnett, who averaged 12.5 points. Cavel Witter may move into the starting lineup after being the Bluejays’ top scorer off the bench in 2008-09.
Stinnett and Witter combined for 27 points in last season’s win over Dayton.
The Flyers lead the all-time series 6-4 and 4-1 at home.