When you strike at a king, you must kill him. Fordham took this to heart last night, dispatching VCU at home in overtime. The reaction on #A10Twitter was palpable – the ship be sinking. A league that was already experiencing a downward spiral wasn’t prepared for the ramifications that come when a conference blueblood is taken down by a syphilitic also-ran. Before league play began most keen observers, the keenest!, figured three teams (VCU, URI, UD in particular) would have to distance itself from the rest of the pack to ensure the A10 received multiple bids to the NCAA tournament.
With Rhode Island’s struggles and VCU’s slipups, the conference is getting off to just about as bad of a start imaginable. The middle of the pack will likely continue to beat itself up and the bottom feeders (SLU, Dukes, Fordham, etc.) will no doubt settle down the drain. As conference play continues, the likelihood of three teams breaking off from the rest seem less and less likely.
This all leaves Dayton in a rather enviable spot. Although the loss at UMass was a setback, UD still has a clear road ahead of them. If you project Dayton needs fourteen wins to, and the keenest! among us do, then the Flyers have plenty of room to get on a roll and start to distance themselves with the pack. Tonight is a huge opportunity as UD takes on Richmond, currently standing on top of the mountain at 5-0.
The A-10 is a shit show, yes. Archie’s boys can still be the stars, and that still means something in the City of Gems.
Richmond has no non-conference resume to speak of; the Spiders best win came at the expense of Boston College. Chris Mooney’s squad didn’t beat a single sub-150 RPI team before league play began. But that matters not. Richmond, and every team in the A10, started from scratch on December 31st. Whichever two teams (three seems unrealistic at this point) can markedly distance itself from the rest of the pack should be sitting in the driver’s seat come March. To this point, at a perfect 5-0, Richmond is leading the way.
The Spiders took down Davidson, Fordham, George Washington, St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph’s. Now Mooney’s team takes on its biggest challenge – a roadie at the Sweater Centre to take on your Dayton Flyers. There is still a whiff of skepticism surrounding UR, a win against UD on the road will solidify the Spiders as a true challenger to the throne (it’s just a chair with a foam cushion on it).
Nothing Richmond does on either side of the floor jumps out at you. They are a bit overly reliant on the three, don’t get to the line enough and barely rebound the ball offensively. One thing the Spiders emphasize – taking good shots. This has resulted in a two-point field goal percentage of 54.8%, tops in the conference. Mooney’s club makes a point of guarding the three-point line, which, as a result, always leads to a higher percentage of allowed offensive rebounds. This holds true for Richmond as opponents have racked up a 31.7% offensive rebounding percentage against the Spiders, dead last in the Atlantic Ten.
On paper, it appears the Richmond winning streak is all smoke and mirrors. They don’t do any one thing on the court that can be deemed advantageous. What they have done in the past five contests is shoot the ball extremely well. The Spiders averaged a little over a point per possession, shot 51.6% from the floor and 41.7% from three. On the season, Richmond is shooting 46.5% from the field, 33.9% from behind the three-point line. Is this recent uptick an anomaly? Are the Spiders poised to come back to earth against UD’s stingy defense? Let’s hope so.
The Spiders are led by 6’9″ senior T.J. Cline. He is the best all-around player in the Atlantic Ten, the only player in the nation averaging at least 18 points, 8 boards and 5 assists. When Cline transferred into the Richmond program from Niagara, I figured being a poor man’s Dan Geriot (still the GOAT) was his ceiling. It’s safe to say that Cline has exceeded expectations. The offense runs through the big man, he accounts for 30% of the Spiders’ shots and has the conference’s best assist rate (37.3). Cline faces doubles all night, so his ability to find open shooters is paramount. While he is having an off year from behind the arc, hitting just 28% of his three-point attempts, Cline is still racking up an effective field-goal percentage of 54%. He is basically a more talented Nigel Hayes, only he is white and plays in a mid-major conference so no one knows about him. I’m hoping Trump’s America can change all that.
This is yet another undersized Richmond team, Chris Mooney knows he can recruit guys over 6’3″ right? Starting alongside Cline are four guards, each smaller than 6’4″. ShawnDre’ (yup) Jones is back and has an even more expanded role in his final season as a Spider. Jones has always been deadly from three, he is connecting on 42% of his shots from deep, and is excellent with the ball in his hands (boasting a 2:1 assist/turnover ratio). Mooney is heavily reliant on Jones, look for him to basically go the distance against Dayton tonight. Joining Jones in the backcourt is sophomore guard Khwan Fore. Fore mad the All-Freshman team last season and is enjoying an excellent season thus far — averaging 11 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists per contest. Although he’s a bit undersized, listed at “six-foot,” Fore is the Spider’s best defender.
Mooney’s starting lineup is rounded out with two other guards, freshman De’Monte Buckingham and sophomore Julius Johnson. Apparently, Buckingham didn’t come to Richmond to fuck around. The freshman has exploded in conference play, scoring seventeen points a game since league play began. A 6’4″ wing, Buckingham is going to be an absolute difference-maker for the Spiders over the next three years. Mooney got himself a good one, beating out Virginia and Maryland for his services. Johnson has shown glimpses this season, but hasn’t put it all together just yet. He’s a solid player who doesn’t hurt the Spiders, but doesn’t really help them that much either.
Richmond features one of the thinnest benches in all of the land, reserves account for just 24.5% of their minutes (ranking them 336th in the country). Nick Sherod is the unquestioned sixth man for UR. Sherod, a freshman, is averaging ten points per game and knocking down 42% of his three-point attempts. If he is hitting from three, he’s a factor, if not, he is essentially absent. Joe Kirby and Kwesi Abakah will see some minutes off the Spider bench as well. Joe is not related to Bruno and Abakah’s last name makes me really nervous.
At a high level, Richmond is a slightly above average team on both sides of the ball. They rank 132nd in offensive efficiency and 104th in defensive efficiency. They’re not a very good rebounding team on either end of the floor or when it comes to getting to or keeping your opponent from the line; they’re weak in both areas. Their main strength on defensive is guarding the three-point line, which is predicated primarily by their opponent’s prowess from the perimeter. When the Spiders have the ball they must move it, make shots inside the arc and rely heavily on TJ Cline.
TJ Cline is the Spiders main man. He’s in the upper-echelon of division one players when it comes to possession usage, which basically measures how often a possession ends with a player making, missing or turning the ball over when he’s on the court. It could be argued as Cline goes, so goes the Spider offense. This is especially true given he’s sporting a two-point shooting percentage over 60 and the proportion of his team’s shots are one of the highest in the country. Given Cline is 6′ 9″ this could pose a problem for Dayton. Cline does have a weakness though. Beyond his combination of quantity and quality when shooting he is turnover prone. When he ends the possession, 20% of those end with him turning it over.
Given the aforementioned, I would initially think Archie would want to double Cline, especially inside. The one drawback is that Richmond is a very good passing team. They’re 10th in the country in field goals made with an assist. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. The data would say Richmond is driven by TJ Cline, but not in a one-on-one capacity. Richmond needs to move the ball to score, with much of that going through Cline. Dayton’s ability to force Cline to catch the ball in bad spots where he’s forced to take tougher shots, turn him over when he catches it in a good spot, while being able to help and recover on other players are the keys to victory. Given Dayton’s defensive prowess all year I would think this is something they should actually excel at.
I called this game landing at -11. For all the #LOWDTwitter game line calls follow along with @UDKingo. I think he’ll be posting individual stats as well.
Give Richmond credit, they have shown a proficiency for winning on the road. Three of the Spiders victories in conference play have come away from home. However, Richmond hasn’t faced a team that plays defense like Dayton and they certainly haven’t played in a cauldron of doom like the Sweater Centre.
Flyers take this one, 71-65. Charles Cooke continues his reemergence, leading Dayton with 21 points. TJ Cline is held to 12 points and 6 rebounds. UD goes to 5-1 in league play, putting itself in a first-place tie with Richmond and La Salle (after the Explorers take down Davidson tonight.) All’s good in FlyerLand.