Three games to go before Pittsburgh and the end of the regular season can’t come soon enough. After a season replete with shrugs and yawns, the final nine days of the season are upon us. For whatever reason, be it the underwhelming competition, complacency, or maybe I’m slowly losing my ability to focus, this whole season has been like watching Eyes Wide Shut. I’m not really paying attention, but I keep lifting my head every five minutes hoping to see a guy in an owl mask banging a woman from Moldova.
In reality, I’m just a spoiled child. Archie Miller’s consistent success now bores me. Part of me longs for the tempestuous days of yore, when Brian Francis Gregory was pacing the sidelines for the Flyers and we were sweating out games (at home!) against Duquesne and Charlotte. This season has been a reflection of Archie’s personality: dull, stale and increasingly predictable.
That’s all about to change over the coming weeks (not Archie’s personality, he will always have the disposition of a mortician). The Flyers have the opportunity to win their FIRST EVER outright A10 regular season title – for those of you scoring at home, UD has been in the Atlantic Ten for 22 years. Additionally, Dayton has a realistic opportunity to win the A10 tournament title – something the program hasn’t done in 14 years (and that was on their home court, so put an asterisk next to that one).
We have survived what has been a nuclear winter as far as Dayton’s 2016-17 campaign is concerned. Flyer fans have watched their team fail to take down Saint Mary’s at home, a win that would have greatly bolstered their current standing and alleviated some doubts. UD supporters were left disappointed as their squad finished a distant fifth in the Wooden Legacy. In early December, loyal LOWD devotees (around 12,500) showed up to watch the home team take on Saint Joseph’s College, a D2 school that is literally shuttering its doors after graduation ceremonies in early May. Dayton enthusiasts made the trek to the Windy City, only to watch their Flyers get completely outclassed by Northwestern before a late-game barrage made the final margin respectable. They’ve survived a conference schedule ripe with teams that were keeping the faith for NIT slots before the league slate even began.
Long story, short, UD fans have paid their dues this season. They’ve remained patient, LOWD and obedient. I congratulate you all for making it through this year. It’s time for the payoff.
Davidson had lofty expectations headed into this season. With four starters returning from last year’s club, the Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the conference preseason poll and challenge Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island for league supremacy. It is with great regret that I must inform you that Davidson’s season hasn’t lived up to the hype. Bob McKillop’s squad is 14-12 on the year, a baffling 7-8 in A10 play. The Wildcats don’t necessarily have any bad losses, a loss at home to Fordham is probably the worst on the resume, and Davidson did go out and play stellar non-conference competition – facing off against Clemson, North Carolina and Kansas – the Cats simply didn’t string together enough wins to compete this year.
You know what to expect from McKillop’s team – the Wildcats are soft on D and get up a ton of three-point shots. An astounding 46% of Davidson’s field-goal attempts come from behind the arc, thirteenth most in the nation. A “finesse” team, the Cats are rarely in position to grab offensive rebounds and don’t aggressively challenge their opponents enough to get to the foul-line. That being said, on the rare chance Davidson does get to the line, they are knocking down a more than respectable 75% from the stripe. Davidson turns the ball over too much, which is a real shame. In sum, McKillop’s club basically flows offensively through just two players and must rely on three-point shooting to win games.
Defensively, Davidson barely puts up a fight around the perimeter. The Wildcats’ opposition has had the green light to shoot from deep all season long. Inside the paint it’s a different story. Davidson has impressive size and challenges shots around the bucket, opposing teams are shooting just 45% on two-point attempts against the Cats this season. The Davidson bigs do work on the defensive boards, keeping second-chance points to a minimum.
Davidson is of course led by senior guard Jack Gibbs. Currently averaging 21.2 points per game, Gibbs is the definition of high usage. He takes a heaping share of the Wildcats’ shots when he is on the floor and everything that occurs offensively flows through his gentle, nurturing hands. Even though he is every defense’s chief concern, Gibbs manages to get off good shots and get to the basket off the dribble. He’s knocking down 40% of his three-point attempts; Gibbs rebounds the ball well for his size and is the one Wildcat that gets to the foul-line with regularity. You stop Gibbs, you stop Davidson. It’s as simple as that. Expect Gibbs to go forty minutes tonight. (Sidebar: how many times do you think Gibbs told an unsuspecting girl that he was Drake’s younger brother?)
Peyton Aldridge is the ivory to Gibbs’ ebony. Aldridge has taken a major leap forward this season, solidifying himself as one of the best players in the whole damn league. Aldridge is scoring 20.7 points per contest, grabbing eight boards a game and shooting an impressive 43% from three. He’s an absolute nightmare matchup due to his ability to stretch the floor and put the ball on the floor. You can anticipate Aldridge going for forty minutes tonight as well. If there was a movie made about an elite zombie basketball player (sort of an updated Teen Wolf) Aldridge could be the body double.
Jon AXEL Gudmundsson, a freshman from Iceland, has struggled to find consistency with his offense (although he is coming off a fifteen point performance against Richmond on Tuesday night) but is one of McKillop’s most trusted soldiers. AXEL can handle the ball and probably listens to the shittiest music you can think of. Anyway, I’m excited about Gudmundsson; I think every A10 team should have at least one Scandinavian on the roster.
Not sure if regular starter Will Magarity will play, he got banged up against George Washington eight days ago and hasn’t seen the court since. Senior forward Andrew McAuliffe has started in Magarity’s place the past two games. McAuliffe is a massive human put on this earth to set screens and move furniture. Filling out Davidson’s starting lineup will be KiShawn Pritchett (I would have love to have seen the look on the face of Davidson’s AD when McKillop told him he just signed a kid named “KiShawn”), a 6’6” freshman guard who basically camps out behind the three-point where is shooting an insufficient 33%.
Davidson has one of the thinnest benches in the country, the Wildcat reserves only account for 25.9% of the team’s minutes played (Dayton is actually worse, coming in at 25.6%). McKillop utilizes just three players off the pine: Rusty Reigel, Jordan Watkins and Nathan Ekwu. Rusty Reigel is a cartoon character from the 50s, Watkins looked promising in his freshman year but has continued to regress offensively and Ekwu has been banged up for a good part of the season. In sum, don’t expect an impact from the Wildcat bench tonight.
This year’s Davidson team isn’t incredibly different than last year’s Wildcat team. They lost Brian Sullivan, the offense isn’t as potent, the defense a little more effective and, at the end of the day, their success comes down to the output of Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge.
Gibbs and Aldridge dominate the team. They’re near the top of the country in a variety of offensive statistics that clearly indicate they’re doing everything they possibly can on offense. Minutes played, usage, shot percentage, offensive rating; these guys rank high nationally in all of these categories. Both shoot a lot and very accurately from outside. Gibbs is shooting 40% on 184 field-goal attempts while Aldridge is shooting 43% on 138 launches. It probably goes without saying that Davidson needs these guys to make threes in order to put up points. Nearly 40% of the Wildcats points come from behind the arc and they rank 13th in the country in three-pointers attempted as a percentage of total field-goal attempts.
The Wildcat defense is slightly improved this year. They’re defending the paint much better, allowing 45% shooting inside the arc, and keeping teams off the glass. Basically, Davidson is not going to turn you over and they’re not going to allow you to score from the outside.
At the end of the day this game will come down to how well Dayton can defend Gibbs and Aldridge and how often the Flyers can force them into tough shots. You’re not going to stop these guys completley, you just need to slow them down and not let others beat you. Like at any good high school dance, a shy person will not be rewarded at this sock hop. The Flyers must attack offensively to win. A slow start and cold offense, on the road, could be very troublesome.
I’m going to level with you mouth-breathers, I had this down as a loss before the season started. Dayton usually puts up a few bed-shitters on the road during conference play and I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the throttling the Flyers received the last time they played at Davidson.
Time, being the great equalizer, has proved those initial leanings to be fake news. Davidson is too banged up, too reliant on two players and too thin depth-wise to hang with Dayton for forty minutes. At least that is what my gut is telling me. Dayton wins a close one, 74-68. Charles Cooke shakes off some rust and drops a game-high 22 points. John Crosby proves his performance against George Mason was merely a one-night stand.
Additionally, VCU edges Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon and the brawl for it all takes place on March 1st in the Sweater Centre. Stay vigilant and stay forever #LOWD.