Monday, January 21, 2008

We Still Have Brian Roberts

There has been much doom and gloom in Dayton Flyer Land these last few days. Much doom and gloom, indeed. It's certainly justifiable. A week ago, the slightly-more delusional among us were thinking, "Hey, if we beat UMass then steal one at Xavier and win a few more . . . could we be a No. 1 seed?" Of course, much has changed in the last week. A back-to-earth loss to UMass, followed soon after by yet another injury, this one to the one player that, with Chris Wright already out, you really don't want to lose. Couple that with eight days off and a Xavier game on the horizon that looks significantly less winnable than it did a week ago, and you have doom and gloom.

But. One thing has not changed.

Brian Roberts is still playing for the Dayton Flyers. When I feel down, I think about this. The foot injury bug has not bitten him. The curse of the powder blue did not touch him. He is fine. He got triple-teamed and everything last game, but he is fine.

Remind yourself of this. I know he can't do it all. To be sure, the UMAss game showed that. Other people have to step up, even moreso with Little and Wright out. Without them, Marcus Johnson is the only player other than Roberts averaging more than 6.2 points per game.

But for some reason, I believe in Brian Roberts. I believe this team will go as far as he can take them. And I believe that's pretty far.

It's hard to explain. I was thinking the other day about penning an epic post about the difference between this year and last, with every possible explanation laid out. All of them play a part, from the general increase in depth and talent to the emergence of Kurt Huelsman to the fact that somewhere along the line, this group bought what Brian Gregory was selling.

But all of those are secondary. If I posed the question, "What's the real difference?," the post would contain just two words: Brian Roberts.

Sure, he's putting up numbers similar to those he put up last year and even the year before. He's hitting big shots. He's coming through in the clutch. This is nothing new.

But more important than all of that is his presence. At some point, maybe after quiet-leader veterans graduated, maybe after a few problem players hit the road, this became Brian Roberts' team and Brian Roberts' year. There is a feeling of destiny surrounding it. He doesn't want to lose anymore. Every big game the Flyers have won, they've won because of him.

Think they walk into Freedom Hall and play with confidence if Brian Roberts doesn't walk in with them? Think they attack Pittburgh if Brian Roberts isn't firing the first shot? Think they run with Rhode Island if Brian Roberts doesn't line up on the starting line?

I don't think they do. Without Brian Roberts, I don't know what this team is. With him, they believe in themselves more than they ever normally would. Roberts is that type of player. He doesn't just make everyone better. He makes them believe they're better. For this team, this team that hasn't really done anything yet, the impact of that can't be overstated. Different players have stepped up in different games, but without Roberts laying the foundation, I'm not sure they would step up.

And so here we sit, at 14-2, still hanging on to a spot in the Top 25, still on the right lines in bracketology. But there is that feeling that the sky is falling, that things colud slip very easily. First Xavier then a tough road game at Richmond, then the St. Louis team that gave us fits, followed by a trip to Rhode Island.


But I don't think Brian Roberts is worried. Can he take a banged up team into the Cintas Center and accomplish something no Dayton team has accomplished in 22 years? Can he still take over games when there's a blueprint that says, "Stop him and you stop Dayton?" Can he somehow hold down the fort for a month and keep a dream season on track?

I don't know.

But if anybody can do it, it's Brian Roberts.


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