Dayton forward Josh Cunningham has his sights set on being 100 percent healthy for the 2017-18 season after returning from surgery to complete last season.
After tearing a ligament in his ankle finishing a dunk against Alabama last November, Cunningham had surgery and missed a large chunk of the season before returning to play in the Flyers’ final nine games.
In a story from David Jablonski of the Dayton Daily News, Cunningham revealed that he wasn’t fully healthy when he returned late last season, saying that he estimated he was at 70 to 75 percent health, but he doesn’t regret doing so. Cunningham gave Dayton a much-needed body on the interior as they made an NCAA tournament run.
“I just wanted to go back and give it my all for the team,” Cunningham said to reporters. “I’m very happy I came back. It gave me the confidence in my ankle to know I can come back out here and play on this and it’s nothing to worry about. I think I was probably a step slower just because I was hesitant about making moves and shifting to my left ankle.”
Now that Cunningham has this full offseason to recover, he’s hoping to be fully healthy for next season as he should be a vital part of Dayton’s plans under new head coach Anthony Grant. While Cunningham didn’t put up big numbers last season, in large part due to minutes restrictions and his injury, he has the potential to be one of the better frontcourt players in the Atlantic 10 next season.
March Madness 2017 Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards
Atlantic 10 Player of the Year: T.J. Cline, Richmond
The 6-foot-9 senior forward was not only one of the most efficient players in the conference, he was the only player in the Atlantic 10 to rank top-5 in (18.6 PPG), rebounds (8.1 RPG) and assists (5.7 APG). He had a triple-double — 34 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists — against Duquesne and then recorded another one — 19 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — in his final game at Richmond.
Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year: Archie Miller, Dayton
Last year, Dayton was in a three-way tie for first place. This season, the Flyers won it outright with a 15-3 conference record. Miller had to balance early-season injuries to Kendall Pollard and transfer Josh Cunningham, which shortended his frontline. Following a loss to VCU, which finished in second place, the Flyers went on a nine-game winning streak, capped with a win at home against the Rams.
First-Team All-Atlantic 10
T.J. Cline, Richmond
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure: The senior guard was second in the conference in scoring at 20.8 points, and led the A10 in assists and 6.6 dimes per game.
Charles Cooke, Dayton: Also an all-defense selection by the A10 coaches, Cooke led the Flyers in scoring at 16.5 points per game to go along with his 5.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists a night.
Jack Gibbs, Davidson: The conference’s leading scorer at 22.0 points per game. The repeat selection registered a handful of 30-point games.
Marquise Moore, George Mason: At 6-foot-2, the senior guard averaged a double-double — 17.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game — leading the A10 in rebounding at 6-foot-2. He was instrumental in an eight-win turnaround for the Patriots.
It’s been three years since the Atlantic 10 set a conference record by sending six teams to the NCAA Tournament. For the third straight year, the league is set to send half that amount, at best.
Rhode Island entered the season in the preseason top-25, but will likely remain on the bubble unless it makes it to Sunday’s tournament title game. Dayton won the league outright after overcoming early season injuries on the frontline. The Flyers are safe, as is VCU, who finished second to Dayton in the A10 standings this season.
The A10 wasn’t as strong as in previous seasons, but it could result in an eventful week in Pittsburgh. Will Dayton and VCU face off in a rubber match? Will Rhode Island secure its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1999? Or is there a bid stealer ready to make a run?
The Flyers topped the league for the second straight season; this time outright. After dealing with injuries early in the season, which played a role in a loss in a marquee home game against Saint Mary’s, followed by an upset loss to Nebraska, putting them on the wrong side of the Wooden Legacy bracket. However, Dayton enters Pittsburgh as winners of nine of its last 10. That span includes a win at Rhode Island and avenging a loss to VCU. Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke and Kendall Pollard lead an experienced team with the league’s best offense, matched with a solid defense.
And if they lose?: VCU
The Rams finished second in the A10 and owns a win over Dayton. Like the Flyers, VCU has an experienced group led by seniors JeQuan Lewis and Mo-Alie Cox. Both meetings were decided by single digits. In both games, the Rams frontline, anchored by Cox and Justin Tillman, gave Dayton’s front court fits.
Rhode Island: The Rams enter this year as the conference favorite. They certainly have the talent, and perhaps a sense of urgency kicks in as the Rams are still one the bubble.
Richmond: Led by A10 Player of the Year T.J. Cline, the Spiders head to Pittsburgh as winners of four in a row. However, Richmond is 0-2 against VCU this season, a team it could potential face in the semifinals.
Sleeper: St. Bonaventure
With Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, the Bonnies have two guards who can really light it up. While they finished the regular season 6-4, they did give both VCU and Dayton a tough test during meetings last month.
The Bubble Dwellers: One
Rhode Island: The Rams followed up a marquee non-conference win against a ranked Cincinnati team by losing four of their next six. A 21-win season, and a recent win over VCU, could keep URI on the right side of the bubble. However, a one-an-done performance this week could mean a long night on Selection Sunday.
Defining moment of the season: JeQuan Lewis takes a charge on in-bounds pass with 0.4 seconds remaining.
On Feb. 8, George Washington’s Yuta Watanabe hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in a game against VCU. In lieu of going the length of the court for the next-to-impossible buzzer-beater, JeQuan Lewis drew a charge on Tyler Cavanaugh, sunk two free throws and the Rams left D.C. with the heist of a 54-53 victory. The previous game, a premature court storm by the St. Bonaventure fans, gave VCU a free throw, which helped force overtime.
VCU would have been on the wrong side of the bubble had it not won both those games, especially with Lewis’ quick thinking against the Colonials. Instead, the Rams are all but assured a seventh consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament.
CBT Prediction: Dayton
WATCH LIVE: Atlantic 10 basketball doubleheader Saturday on NBCSN
Dayton announced on Saturday that forward Josh Cunningham will be out approximately three months after undergoing surgery Friday to repair a torn ligament in his left ankle.
The redshirt sophomore finished an emphatic dunk to help the Flyers beat Alabama on the road but he was fouled on the play and landed awkwardly on his left leg. Although Cunningham didn’t need any surgery for his knee, the ankle and lower leg area needed repair and that injury should put the forward out until at least February.
It’s hard to say what happens with Cunningham’s 2016-17 season, since he’s out for such a large chunk of time. If he were to return at the three-month mark, Dayton would still have some regular season games, the Atlantic 10 tournament and the postseason for Cunningham to come back for. With an experienced roster that desperately needs Cunningham’s size and athleticism inside, the Flyers could look to have Cunningham return for the stretch run.
This is Cunningham’s first season playing for Dayton after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. The former top-100 prospect from Chicago spent his freshman year at Bradley before opting to transfer.
Cunningham was averaging 12.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in the first two games of the season and he was also 10-for-12 from the field. Hopefully he can get healthy and give Dayton a more complete roster heading into the postseason.
Thursday morning the match-ups for the 2016 Wooden Legacy were announced, an eight-team event that includes programs such as UCLA, Dayton, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech. Of the eight teams in the field just two made NCAA tournament appearances last season, Dayton and Texas A&M. Both were eliminated by eventual Final Four participants, with Dayton falling to Syracuse in the first round and Texas A&M losing to Oklahoma in the Sweet 16.
The Wooden Legacy will run from November 24-27, with each team being guaranteed three games and the event taking a day off Saturday, November 26. The first two days of games will be played at Titan Gym on the campus of Cal State Fullerton, with the final round scheduled for the Honda Center in Anaheim.
There will also be one unbracketed game in the Wooden Legacy, with UCLA hosting CSUN Sunday, November 13 at Pauley Pavilion.
Thursday, November 24 (all times Eastern)
2:00 p.m.: Texas A&M vs. CSUN
4:30 p.m.: New Mexico vs. Virginia Tech
8:30 p.m.: Dayton vs. Nebraska
11:00 p.m.: Portland vs. UCLA
Thursday afternoon another in-season event was announced, with Big Ten programs Illinois and Northwestern being two of the four participants. The State Farm Chicago Legends event will be played for the first time December 17 at the United Center, with BYU and Dayton making the trip to Chicago as well.
The Cougars facing Illinois in one game and Dayton playing Northwestern in the other matchup.
Of the four teams only Dayton reached the NCAA tournament last season, and with most of their rotation returning Archie Miller’s Flyers are expected to do so once again in 2016-17. BYU, even with the loss of Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer, should also be an NCAA tournament team with Nick Emery returning for his sophomore season and he’ll be joined by the likes of forward Eric Mika and guard T.J. Haws (both return from LDS missions).
Illinois will look to rebound from a disappointing season that included injuries (Tracy Abrams’ ruptured Achilles) and disciplinary issues. Malcolm Hill, one of the Big Ten’s top scorers, will be back to lead the way. And Northwestern will continue its quest for the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament bid, with a promising rotation that includes point guard Bryant McIntosh, small forward Vic Law IV and forward Dererk Pardon.