Maverick vs. Iceman, Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed, O.J. vs. Nicole, these are the rivalries that have defined a generation. For almost a century, the Dayton Flyers and their Overlords from Cincinnati were bitter counterparts. Families were divided, neighbors attacked each other with unchecked blood lust and let’s not even speak of the unfortunate incident that occurred at the Hardee’s just west of the Arena in 2005.
But times change. Xavier left the A10, apparently the Musketeers now play games that air on something called Fox Sports 1 (you’ll have to Google the satellite coordinates), and Dayton was left with a burning hole in their soul. Yes, there’s the Arch Baron Cup, a bitter and historic biannual matchup that captures the nation’s attention. However, given the precipitous slide that Saint Louis has experienced lately, a competitive void remained. Enter Virginia Commonwealth University, a Johnny-come-lately to the A10 – yet a program that has already asserted itself as part of the league’s elite.
Wheras in the past a Dayton backer would only encounter a VCU fan while ambling past a methadone clinic or calling someone to clean their pool, the world of social media has connected the world and convenient, global communication is upon us. You can join ISIS, get your favorite porn star’s thoughts on immigration and talk medieval shit to basketball fans across the country. It’s really great and has clearly improved our lives for the better.
As some of you know, Donny and I became obsessed with stirring up trouble and becoming bitter enemies with VCU’s fan base. The reasons were two-fold: one, the Rams have a very good basketball program that will likely continue to succeed in the Atlantic Ten, and two, their supporters were way too nice. Well, that has all changed. Although we’d like to take credit for the tide changing, the credit really goes to a handful of VCU Twitter accounts (which will remain unnamed) stirring up vitriol. UD returned fire and the two factions persist in verbal warfare as we speak.
So, yes, there is plenty on the line tonight as the Flyers take on the Rams for a chance to clinch the A10 regular season title. First and foremost, we want the seniors to go out as winners as they play on Blackburn Court for the last time. As loyal devotees to the Red and Blue, we have paid our dues this season as a group, surviving a tortuously boring campaign that will all be worth it if the boys in white can cut down the nets this evening. But most importantly, UD must win so the Flyers’ warring Twitter nation can send crying Jordan pics and profanity-laced invectives to faceless strangers on the Internet. This is 2017, and all bets are off.
You guys know all about VCU by now, but I’m going to fill this space with the overview anyway because I have the keyboard. The chicken-fried Rams had the chance to cement tonight’s game as a “Loser Leaves Town” match but Will Wade’s squad got upended in Kingston over the weekend, losing 69-59 to a Rhode Island team that has now become bubble-worthy. The defeat means VCU would have to take out UD tonight and win at home against Mason on Saturday to earn a share of the regular-season title. For Dayton, it’s rather simple – win tonight and the crown, and all of its spoils (are there spoils?), is theirs. There are other scenarios, of course, for instance VCU winning tonight and against Mason coupled with a UD loss on Saturday to GW would give the Rams the outright title. However, this is a simple blog written for, and by, simpletons, let’s take it one game at a time.
Nevertheless, you have to believe that when it’s all said and done, VCU will probably have somewhere between 25-27 wins at the conclusion of the A10 tournament, clearly establishing itself as a worthy at-large selection when the committee turns in its final bracket. Dayton, needless to say, is likely to end up with a similar amount of victories before everything is said and done, so maybe this game isn’t life or death (it literally is though, don’t be fooled). Let’s give VCU some credit, since beating Dayton a month ago, the Rams went on a nice little tear, winning seven in a row before bowing out against URI. Now, sure, two of those wins were games in which the refs probably should have faced criminal charges – the technical called at the end of the St. Bonaventure game might be a capital crime depending on the jurisdiction (and if Dayton ever loses a game like GW did against the Rams I will track down the offending referee and break all the windows out of his motherfucking house). Regardless, VCU has escaped, persevered and made plays when it had to and stands on the precipice of its seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
We are all well aware of what VCU brings to the table as a squad. They turn you over, struggle shooting from the perimeter and make you work for every point. It’s probably more informative to review how the Rams took down the Flyers the first time around rather than examine their overall profile. The most glaring edge came on the offensive glass, where Ryan Mikesell got completely bodied on both ends of the floor by Justin Tillman. Tillman grabbed nine boards, five of them the offensive variety, and scored eighteen points on the night. If my memory serves me correctly, all nine of Tillman’s buckets were monstrous dunks on Mikesell’s face. The game in Richmond was won on second chance opportunities: 26 points for the Rams, just 8 for the Flyers. VCU out-rebounded Dayton 41-24 on the night, certainly a point of emphasis for the Cagers tonight. Perhaps Josh Cunningham can put his big ass on Tillman’s body for fifteen minutes this time around, hopefully keeping JT at bay this time around.
I feel like you are all extremely savvy and knowledgeable A10 basketball fans, so don’t be insulted that I’ve opted to breakdown the Rams for the second time this season. Just bear with me.
JeQuan Lewis remains VCU’s main cog offensively, a 6’1″ senior guard who leads the team in scoring (15.1 ppg) had an uncharacteristically quiet came against the Flyers back in January. Lewis shot just 2-of-10 from the field, 1-of-7 from three, and finished the game with nine points in thirty minutes of play. Lewis is the only Ram to start every game this season, shifting from shooting-guard to point-guard seven games into the conference schedule. He is also the team’s best on-the-ball defender, which is pretty cool. Samir Doughty stepped into the starting off-guard spot when Lewis was handed the point-guard reins. Doughty was effective against Dayton, putting up a 11-5-5 line in the Rams’ win. The 6’4″ slasher is having an extremely productive freshman campaign, scoring nine points a game and snagging four boards per contest. Doughty was originally a St. John’s signee but his academic skills were lagging far behind his basketball skills, sad.
Dougie Brooks is Wade’s starting small forward, a 6’4″ senior from the great state of Florida. Brooks is an excellent defensive player, Flyer fans may remember Brooks as the dirty dog that intercepted a Scoochie Smith pass late in the 2015 A10 championship game that led to a key bucket for VCU (don’t feel like a lesser fan if you don’t recall it, only true psychopaths remember such things years after the fact). Not offensively inclined, Brooks is probably best described as an “energy” guy. Playing alongside Brooks is Dayton-killer Justin Tillman. Tillman’s performance in the first matchup has already been discussed at length, so let’s not digress. After starting the season off to a somewhat slow start, Tillman has been as consistent as can be since A10 play began. The junior is scoring twelve points a game and pulling down eight rebounds per outing. He’s not a flashy player, just the kind of player that puts on his hard-hat and makes loves to your wife when you are out of town.
Mo Alie-Cox, the Black Joe Camel, didn’t make a major leap forward between his junior season and now, but he continues to be a steady presence for VCU on both sides of the floor. Alie-Cox is a 6’7″ forward hell-bent of slapping the shit out of Ram opponent’s shots around the hoop. Although he’s never been an elite rebounder, Alie-Cox does eat up space and is physical down low. He’s certainly not going to take over a game offensively, he’s quite limited on that side of the floor, he is a potent garbage man that plays within his abilities.
The Ram’s bench is led by Jonathan Williams, Mohamed Hamdy and Jordan Burgess. Williams started eighteen games this season but his unruly beard has caused issues between him and Wade. Wade apparently told Williams that his facial hair looks like “a Persian woman’s bagina hair.” (Wade is very conservative and his calls women’s genitals “baginas”) Neither Trump’s travel ban or Dayton’s bigs could slow down Hamdy the last time these two teams met. He racked up twelve points and eight rebounds in just sixteen minutes of play against UD. Let’s not let that happen again. Burgess, who seems like he’s been in a VCU uniform forever (maybe because his brother used to play for the program as well?), is a middling player who probably won’t factor much tonight.
Everyone knows what tonight means, and at this point probably knows all there is to know about VCU and some of their more active fans on Twitter, amirite!!???!!!! Rather than talk about VCU’s season, lets deep dive on the first match up.
There’s obviously three ways to score in basketball. On two-point attempts both teams shot essentially the same percentage, VCU 56% and Dayton 55%. Dayton was much better from behind the arc than VCU, shooting 31% to VCU’s measly 13%. From the line, VCU shot 73% while UD shot 68%. The key is how many shots both teams got up. Dayton and VCU were pretty equal in shots taken from long range, 16 and 15 respectively, Dayton making three more on the night.
This benefit to Dayton was offset by VCU getting to the line five more times and making eight more free throws than the Flyers. The difference in the game ended up being the three extra two-point buckets VCU got on five extra attempts. How did VCU offset the Flyers better shooting from the outside with so many more free throw attempts and two point attempts? It wasn’t UD turnovers as you might expect, Dayton simply got annihilated on the boards.
In the first matchup VCU didn’t just out rebound Dayton 41 to 24, the troubling aspect was how often they got offensive boards. Total rebounds can be deceiving if teams are missing a ton of shots. Rebound percentage is a better metric. VCU was not only able to grab 63% of all rebounds, but over half of their own misses! On the season the Flyers allow 26% of their opponents misses to be rebounded by the offensive team, on Jan 27th it was a staggering 54%. The Rams literally grabbed more offensive boards than Dayton snagged defensive boards, which is inexcusable. It was by far the Flyer’s worst defensive rebounding game of the season.
Now if you recall watching the game this was readily apparent as it was happening. Ryan Mikesell and Sam Miller were getting destroyed by Justin Tillman and Mo Allie-Cox. The two combined for just one, uno, mono, a single defensive rebound in 29 minutes of play. Mikesell actually got skunked in his 23 minutes. Since that time the XMan has taken over Mikesell’s starting role and taken substantial minutes away from him. Josh Cunnigham has returned to reduced minutes, but at least he’s taking Sam Millers’ playing time. Stats say Williams is a slightly better defensive rebounder than Mikesell, but is much stronger on the offensive glass. It’s hard to say what Cunningham is, at least statistically this year, there’s not enough evidence to make a call. If he returns to his form at Bradley, even in limited minutes, he’d be the best rebounder on this team.
Every game is random. Rarely does a rematch play out exactly as the first time two teams met. Either squad can go off from behind the arc, create more turnovers or get a parade going to the free throw line. I do know if Dayton allows VCU to crush the glass the way they did on Jan. 27th Dayton will have a steep uphill climb to raise a banner.
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It’s a home game, the last one of the season, and the Flyers don’t lose in the Sweater Centre. While VCU’s loss to Rhode Island this past weekend certainly made our mouth’s salivate, it absolutely took some pressure off the visiting Rams. Wade’s club should play loose and carefree while the Flyers might have a slight case of tightened asshole.
However, I just can’t see UD coming out lacking the aggression they failed to display the first time around. With Cunningham in the mix, Archie can throw a big body at Tillman and Black Joe Camel, even if it’s just for a spell or two. Additionally, I’d expect Dayton to shoot better than the 31% they shot from behind the arc in Richmond. Basically, everything is trending in the Flyers’ direction – which, I know, seems like a complete setup for an emotional breakdown around 10 p.m. tonight. Fret not, Gem City crowns champions tonight, Flyers 72, Rams 66.