It’s still the first week of January and I’m already prepared to make some nonsensical pronouncements. With just two games into the conference schedule, the Atlantic Ten is a three-horse race (don’t even try to @ me about Richmond, I ain’t with it). I’m sure this will come as no surprise when I say Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island will be battling for the top of the league over the next seven weeks. This is not to say that these three teams are exponentially better than the rest of the conference, they’re not, it’s just that the hierarchy has been established and the aforementioned teams seem best suited to rack up 13-15 league wins (which is probably what it would take for an A10 team to get on the NCAA tournament committee radar).
That being said, games between the three programs will be important. Dayton will play two games against both Rhody and VCU, and it seems clear that at least a split against each would be necessary to keep hope alive (VCU and Rhody play against each other once, so a true round robin among the league’s top triumvirate is unfortunately not in the works). With two games down, and sixteen remaining, UD would have to rack up somewhere between eleven to thirteen wins to be in the post-season mix going into the Atlantic Ten tournament.
This is all based on the premise that VCU, UD and URI strike down the unwashed masses with ease and put a sizable gap between themselves and the rest of the league — and believe me, I wouldn’t mind to see complete anarchy unfold, everyone finish up 9-9 and have a no holds barred faceoff in Pittsburgh in early March. Truth be told, I could see a Davidson or Richmond rolling winning the A10 tournament and fucking it up for one of the league’s chosen three.
Now let’s just get to the point, if there is one. As vital as a win against URI is tonight, and I declare it is relatively essential, victories against the also-rans in the conference will be just important. We always discuss the “landmine” nature that is the A10 gauntlet, and this year is no different. Going 3-1 against Virginia Commonwealth and Rhode Island will mean nothing coupled with losses against Duquesne, George Washington and UMass. This season in particular will be a major slog for the Flyers. It’s the ultimate marathon of mediocrity that we have grown to expect year in and year out (to be fair, this might be the worst shape the league has been since Virginia Tech left the league in 2000). In summation — BEWARE THE IDES OF ARCH!!!
Lastly, in case you missed it earlier, and how could you not, here is the podcast we taped with Dave from RhodyRampage.com discussing today’s tilt with the Rams.
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Dayton and Rhode Island are mirror images of themselves at this point in the season. Both teams enter today’s game with a 2-0 conference record, looking for a victory to hang their hats on. Although both squads had the opportunity to make some noise in their non-conference schedule, neither program was able to take advantage of their opportunities. The Rams come into the Sweater Centre with a 10-4 overall record, tough losses coming at the hands of Duke, Houston, Providence and Valpo. URI does hold a solid win over Cincinnati, which ranks as one of the best non-con wins the Atlantic Ten enjoyed this season.
The Rams are as complete a team as the Flyers have seen all season. For the most part UD has faced squads that excelled at one end of the floor (teams like VMI, St. Joey’s College and Austin Peay were clubs that did little else than collect a check), Rhode Island has a group of kids that get it done on both sides of the court. Like your Flyers, Rhody doesn’t necessarily have to be clicking on offense to abscond with a W, their defense can carry the day. The Rams make you work for a good shot, they lock down the paint and keep their opponents off the glass. In short, you are not likely to blow out Danny Hurley’s club.
Offensively, Rhody has a handful of guys that can heat up on offense. URI is an efficient offensive team, one that gets good looks and rarely turns the ball over. They have an effective field-goal percentage of 52.7% and crash the offensive glass with ferocity. Rhode Island is an average perimeter shooting squad and they have their struggles from the foul-line. In short, they basically (on paper) have the same profile as the Daytona Fliers. It’s going to be like fighting your evil twin brother to the death.
This Rhody team reminds of the Spice Girls at their peak. There’s a lot of versatility, it seems like a different member of the team steps up each night and we will probably be talking about how fat they all got in a decade from now. Leading the group is E.C. Matthews. Back from an ACL tear suffered in the first game of last season, Matthews has been up and down all season. Currently averaging 15.3 points per game, he seems like he is back on the upswing 23, 17, and 20 over his last three outings. Matthews can score in a variety of ways and is a fairly solid rebounder. I’d expect Kyle Davis will be assigned to locking him down.
The junior tandem of Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett fill out the rest of Rhode Island’s three-guard attack. Terrell is still built like a brick shithouse and still gets buckets. Scoring around fifteen points per contest, JT has impecible shot-selection and rarely turns the ball over. He is the Rams most steady perimeter presence. Garrett, no longer wearing the comically ornate face mask, has taken a bit of a backseat offensively with the return of Matthews. He remains the team’s best distributor and can get to the basket with ease.
The front court is of course anchored by 6’7″ senior Hassan Martin. Martin is an absolute terror that controls the paint on both sides of the floor. Averaging 15.5 points, 7.8 boards and 4 blocks a game, he is back from a early-season leg injury that led to five missed games. Martin returned for Tuesday’s game against UMass and is locked and loaded. Kuran Iverson starts at the other forward position, he’s a player that hasn’t seemed to reach his potential yet (and may never). Iverson is a ridiculous athlete who simply never evolved offensively. On the plus side, he is a committed defender and doesn’t shy away from working the boards.
Stanford Robinson, Nicola Akele and Cyril Langevine are Hurley’s main contributors off the bench. Robinson, the transfer from Indiana, is a big guard who gives the Rams some backup at the guard spots. He’s an excellent defender who can score in transition. Akele is a black dude from Italy that has some size and range on his shot. Langevine is a freshman who absolutely kills in on the glass and will likely develop into a very solid player for Rhody over the next three seasons.
We all know how good Charles Cooke is and I’m not much for playing Archie’s games on if the plays or not. I’m going to analyze this match up as if he is playing, in which case it’s about as even as it gets. Right now Dayton is ranked number 32 in Ken Pom’s metrics, Rhode Island number 33. Dayton opened as a four-point favorite. Assuming three points for home court advantage, and throw an extra half or one point tick up for LOWD, and these teams are even on a neutral court. Although according to Ed Cooley the only neutral court for Dayton is in Providence, RI, but I digress. From a perspective of how these teams operate, it’s so even due to strength meeting strength, with one key exception.
When Rhode Island is on offense their ability to score is skewed to scoring inside the arc. They score about 55% of their points there, while the national average hovers around 50%. They shoot a respectable percentage from three, but URI is not firing all that often. The Rams, like the Flyers, struggle from the free-throw line, although they don’t get to the charity stripe as often as most upper-tier teams do. They rely on scoring from fifteen feet in, hitting the offensive glass and avoiding turnovers. Fortuitously, if you look at Dayton’s defense, these are the areas the Flyers happen to excel in. Despite a lack of height, Dayton is Top 50 in the country in snagging defensive boards, defending the interior and creating turnovers. Rhode’s offense against Dayton’s defense is a wash on paper.
On defense, the Rams strength is their fierce protection of the three-point line, Hassan Martin’s ability to block shots and their guard’s ability to create turnovers. Essentially, you have to score inside with easy looks or get to the line recurrently to score points on the Rams. Dayton has a fairly balanced scoring attack in terms of where they get their points from, with no major component being an outlier. It could be argued that if Dayton were to shoot a free-throw percentage that appeased your average Red Sweater, their scoring would be skewed more this way due to the Flyer’s remarkably above-average ability to get to the charity stripe. For Rhode Island, this area is their goddamn kryptonite. The Rams rank in the bottom fifty nationally in terms of how often they send their opponents to the line. Kuran Iverson is the main offender, along with role players Cyril Langevine and Andre Berry. Even Hassan Martin can run into foul trouble from time to time. Dayton’s ability to exploit this weakness, and leverage LOWD, will be what delivers a W tonight.
Yesterday I called an open of -3. As stated above, the line opened -4. I wouldn’t expect much movement and anticipate it while stay there. Nailed the open of “pick” in the Bonnies game, the line closing with Dayton as a one-point dog. Five points off the openers, nine off the close year to date.
This has the makings of a pretty damn good game and I hope we are all entertained. That being said, Charles Cooke’s availability is going to be key. Rhody doesn’t play the same laissez faire defense that define La Salle and St. Bonaventure. Simply put, if Cooke plays, Dayton wins a close one. If Cooke site, the Flyers lose a close one. I think he plays.
This is a vital game for the Flyers as it would give them their best win to date and give them a perfect 3-0 record with two road games on the slate next week (at UMass next Wednesday, in Pittsburgh to face the Dukes on Saturday afternoon). This should be a fun one, let’s get LOWD.