The legend of Archie Miller has been built upon a run to the Elite Eight, three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament and an impressive record against members of the power conferences. Every interview Miller does until he leaves the Gem City will touch upon all of these accomplishments. They are the foundation upon which all elite mid-major (is that a thing?) college basketball programs are built.
The great David Jablonski is no different than most out of town reporters, as he opens up his column today with the following tidbit:
For the record, the DDN needs better interns because the BR research desk has Archie at an even more impressive 19-6 against Power 5 squads during his reign.
So let’s talk perception vs. reality. The perception is that Archie is a giant killer, the reality is only four of those nineteen wins came against teams that made the NCAA tournament (five participated in the NIT). Miller, of course, can only play against the competition on his schedule. If a team underachieves and doesn’t live up to their preseason hype, that’s just part and parcel of setting up the non-conference slate.
Nevertheless, programs like UD’s are judged by how they perform against high major teams. It’s a metric all casual observers will fixate on. Which is why the Northwestern tilt holds more meaning than games against East Tennessee or Winthrop. Both those aforementioned teams could very well make the NCAA tournament this March while Northwestern is once again sitting at home. Wins against the Bucs and Eagles may be as valuable as a victory over the Wildcats this weekend, there’s no way of knowing. What we do know is the Northwestern name will jump off the page quicker than that of a Southern Conference team.
We commonly stress the importance of “name brand” wins and tomorrow’s game, whatever your thoughts, will be played on national television (something called the Big Ten Network?) against a squad with membership in what has become an upmarket club.
For Dayton, still (always) building its reputation, a win against Northwestern still holds significance. Regardless if the Wildcats outperform expectations and rack up 22 wins this season, which would be nice, or end up with a losing record, victories against P5 squads still matter, goddamnit. The message to the “elite” leagues is pretty clear: The Flyers may not be as good as your best, but they’re just as good as your worst. Is that something to be proud of? I don’t know, but let’s all get drunk tomorrow night anyway.
Picked to finish tenth in the Big Ten during the preseason, Northwestern returns three starters from last year’s squad, including six of their top eight scorers (although two of those fellas are not going to be suiting up against the Flyers). Chris Collins has shown steady improvement since becoming the Wildcats’ head coach three seasons ago – winning 14, 15 and 20 games over that span. The members of Collins’ first recruiting class are now juniors and make up the bulk of the basketballin’ being performed in Evanston.
Northwestern sits at 8-2 this season, their latest win coming in a too close for comfort game against Chicago State on Wednesday night. The Wildcats and Flyers have similar resumes coming into tomorrow night’s game – impressive win totals that lack quality (Northwestern has the edge when it comes to “name brand” recognition, wins over Wake Forest, Texas and DePaul, and close defeats to Notre Dame and Butler).
Northwestern runs a deliberate system on both sides of the floor. Collins’ club is patient on offense, rarely turns the ball over and makes their opponent work for a good look on the defensive end. The Wildcats’ adversaries average a shot every 18.2 seconds while they have the ball, which ranks Northwestern in the top 20 of that category. While not a team that gets to the line often, the Windy City Cats are converting an impressive 77% of their attempts from the charity stripe.
The Cats have decent size, certainly in comparison to Dayton, block shots and, to this point, have held their opponent’s to a mind-boggling 38% shooting from the floor. Northwestern doesn’t give the impression that they are an elite defensive team, but that is exactly what they’ve been up to this point of the season. Dayton is going to need easy looks, transition buckets and plenty of visits to the foul-line to come out victorious.
Vic Law is a matchup nightmare for Dayton. A 6’7” wing with the ability to score in ways James Naismith never anticipated, Law is Northwestern’s leading scorer (15.8 ppg) and Collins’ first top 100 recruit. Law is deadly from three (50% 3fg) and the most athletic player on the Wildcat roster. He’s gonna be a fucking headache to game plan for.
Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey make up the Wildcat starting backcourt. McIntosh is a pass-first point-guard, someone who makes everyone on the floor better. A white kid from Indiana…who plays just like a white kid from Indiana. McIntosh has been off to a slow start shooting the ball from the perimeter but is damn near automatic from the foul-line. Lindsey is 6’5” guard that can absolutely shoot the lights out. He comes into the game against Dayton converting 44% of his threes, 89% from the line, scoring 15.3 points per game. Lindsey vs. Cooke may be the deciding factor on Saturday night.
Up front, Collins starts Gavin Skelly and Sanjay Lumpkin. Skelly has taken advantage of the absence of Derek Pardon, a 6’8” sophomore who hurt himself doing an elephant walk during a fraternity initiation. Skelly is scoring eight points a contest and leads the squad in blocked shots. Lumpkin, also the benefactor of an injury (6’8” wing Aaron Falzon, a player that can really stretch the floor with his outside shooting, will miss the entire season after badly damaging his knee rescuing a child from a ball pit back in November), is a solid scorer (6.6 ppg)and rebounder (6.1 rpg).
Northwestern doesn’t feature a deep bench, three players garner the majority of the team’s bench minutes. Freshman combo-guard Isiah Brown is probably the best of the bunch, a volume scorer who can spell either guard spot. Nathan Taphorn and Barret Benson fill out Collins’ frontcourt. Taphorn, a 6’7” senior, camps out around the arc. Benson is a 6’10” freshman forward that is primarily a space eater at this young stage of his career.
Whenever I begin analyzing a team the first thing I look at is, “How do they score?” Which is immediately followed by “How do their opponents score?” Northwestern doesn’t appear to be overly skewed in one direction or the other on either side of the ball. The next aspect that sticks out is their shooting percentages. They shoot over 38% from three, over 77% from the charity stripe, but under 50% from inside the arc. With their three-point and free-throw shooting percentages so high, one would think their scoring would skew that way, however it does not. Northwestern barely gets to the free throw line, and takes a better than average number of threes but nothing crazy. To me, this all indicates a perimeter oriented team. They’re going to have to make threes to beat the Flyers.
The three guys to watch in this area are Vic Law, Scottie Lindsay and Gavin Skelly. They’re shooting 50%, 44% and 50% from three, respectively. These aren’t small samples either. Law has launched 48 shots from long range on this young season, Lindsay 50 and Skelly has trailed at 24. Still, not super flukey. The Flyers forcing Northwestern to get their points inside the arc, and not at the free throw line, will be a key to their success.
For those of you know sales folks who aren’t working from home in sweatpants all day, I called this game to open with Dayton as a 2 point dog and closing at a pick ’em on the Tweeter dot com yesterday. Last weekend I had the movement inverted. I said the Flyers would open as 8.5 point favorites and close at 8. Dayton opened at 7.5 and closed at 8.5 against ETSU. On the season I’m 2 total points off openers and 5.5 off the closing number.
I know I’m on record for espousing Archie’s ability to consistently beat lower-tier Power 5 schools, but I have a sneaking suspicion this game will be an exception. The Wildcats are one of the better three-point shooting teams in the land (currently hit 39% of their attempts) and I predict points will be tough to come by from the perimeter given the fact that college teams routinely have issues shooting in larger sized arenas.
Dayton takes the L, their one chance to add a decent out-of-conference win goes by the wayside. Scoochie Smith leads the Flyers in scoring, the Wildcats force UD to shoot under 40% and we quickly turn our sights onto Vanderbilt.