Well, we made it. After a season of what could best be described as indifference, I’m still not over that St. Joseph’s College game, Flyer fans are rewarded with their just desserts. A fourth straight NCAA appearance sets a new standard for the Dayton Flier basketball program. Some say the journey is its own reward, that’s just loser talk for professional movers and absentee fathers. Results are what matter and Archie Miller and Co. have delivered.
Before we look forward, let’s quickly glance in the rear-view. I asked the two other literate members of the Blackburn Review Klan to briefly discuss the highlight and lowlight of the season, and what play personified the year that was in the Gem City (note: we forgot to do this at the end of our last podcast).
During a five month season we bitch a lot, about a lot of basketball-related things. We bitch about these things because quite honestly…bitching is fun, man! But at the end of the season, you eventually must come clean about the moments of sheer elation that were given to you by the University of Dayton Flyers. It happens every year, the highs and lows, and that’s what keeps us coming back to our dirty meth-dealing basketball players.
Don’t take this the wrong way, because flying to Dayton from Chicago and watching the Flyers cut down the nets on Senior night was great, but my favorite moment of the year was the Xeryius Williams miracle in Kingston against URI. Two reasons for this: 1. Winning the conference title outright started that night in Kingston. I think all the time about what happens to this Dayton team down the stretch if they lose that game in early February to a URI team that desperately needed a big win. I’ve convinced myself if X-man doesn’t go off, we don’t win the conference. 2. I watched that game in Denver with a small group of ten Flyers that got together at a local spot by Coors Field. A couple of the guys were over 40 and talked to us truthfully about how the University of Dayton has done a lot for their lives. That’s cool to hear every time, no matter where you are. I’ve never met a fellow Flyer who had bad things to say about UD, and even the miserable bastards who read this site can agree that it’s cool to break bread over Flyer hoops.
Alright, enough of that. A good many things have sucked about this season too. Not as many as usual, but you know certain things have sucked, be real. One moment stands outs:
Josh Cunningham busting himself up was absolutely, positively the shittiest, most unfortunate bullshit that happened to us this season. The kid worked so hard in his transfer season to get better to add value to an undersized Flyers team this year, and two games in he’s back out again. With that said, Josh did an incredible job of getting back on the floor by mid-February, but damn, what if he plays the whole season? Do we lose to UMass? People forget, VCU lost to Fordham.
Blackburn also asked me to pick the play that best summarizes this season, but here’s the thing, I just don’t know who this team “is.” I think they find different ways to win basketball games every night and I still can’t tell if it will help us or hurt us on Friday/in the tournament beyond. I mentioned on the podcast that we’re all holding onto this idea that the seniors have just a bit of magic left in them after winning the regular season, but are we all sure? I’m not, I’m nervous as shit, but I’m holding onto the idea until Friday, at least. Go Flyers.
My favorite moment of the season was Xeyrius Williams, specifically the game against Rhode Island, where he dropped two 3-bombs in the last thirty seconds to get the win. The kid was a big question mark last season – no one could agree on how he would develop or what kind of role he would play. As I said earlier this season, I’ve hitched my wagon to the X-Man and can’t wait to watch him get even better over these next two seasons. Hopefully he takes Trey and Crosby along the same path with him (please God?). He’s got potential to be that next “Floor General” this team will desperately need.
Worst moment of the season by default is losing Big Steve. Worst moment on the court was the Davidson A10 tournament game. Still not over it; won’t get over it.
I’ll admit this is about as “UDPride” as you can get, but the most defining moments were the loss of Big Steve + Cunningham’s injury. And why wouldn’t they be? First the team loses arguably their most important player to a sudden death. Can’t get worse than a blow like that. Then Josh Cunningham goes down in the first few days of the season – not that you can compare that to losing Big Steve, but a huge setback nonetheless. If we came out and played flat the rest of the season, we’d all be disappointed and angry, but people would justify it as “those team’s spirit was broken from the start”. Instead, we grabbed the season by the balls and put up the second most wins in school history, won the A10 outright, and are dancing for the 4th straight year.
For me, it was Scoochie’s performance in overtime against Davidson. UD needed someone to step up and Mr. Smith was of course up to the challenge. Scooch’s play over the game’s last five minutes kind of summed up his career nicely. Up to that point he was quiet, not really affecting the game, but once it was all on the line the balls engorged and it was game over, man.
The low point of the season was the loss at UMass. That listless performance put the fear of God in me, I kept seeing Brian Gregory’s face in my dreams that night. Thankfully the boys recovered quickly, winning twelve of their last thirteen.
Play that personified the season? Probably X-Man’s steal/travel/charge at the end of the home loss to Saint Mary’s. On the outside, UD’s season looks great — 24 wins, their first outright regular-season title in the Atlantic Ten and two Arch-Baron Cups. However, and I’m speaking for myself here, this season (up to this point) has left me wanting. Let’s see if the Flyers can’t change that tomorrow night.
There’s a lot of overlap between your Dayton Flyers and the media darlings that are the Wichita State Shockers. Both teams put up an impressive amount of wins, 24 for UD and 30 for Wichita, without a ton of quality to speak of. UD and WSU both had opportunities to make noise during their non-conference slate but neither managed to put up a respectable win before league play. Dayton won their league’s regular-season title and the Shockers took home the Missouri Valley crown for the fourth year in a row.
Give Wichita State credit, unlike Dayton they were able to keep their focus, sack up, and win their conference tournament. Gregg Marshall’s program is the firm in the Missouri Valley. The Shockers don’t sweat the small stuff, they simply take care of business when it needs to be done (which, hopefully, is the direction our beloved Flyers are meandering in going forward).
It would probably be easier to discuss what WSU does poorly as opposed to covering the areas they excel in. But goddamnit, there’s no easy way out. The Shockers, as you surely know by now, are essentially KenPom University. Analytically speaking, Wichita State jumps off the screen and grabs you by the nutbag. WSU is top twenty in both offensive and defensive efficiency – only Kentucky and Villanova can say the same. Even if you consider the Shockers’ somewhat lackluster competition this season, that is still a remarkable streak of consistency on both ends of the court.
Some more numbers that will probably keep Archie Miller up at night clutching his NC State Wolfpack plushy: Wichita is the third best three-point shooting team in the nation (40.7%), they rarely turn the ball over and rebound with the intensity of five Ryan Perryman’s. Further bad news for the Flyers – the Shockers are an excellent offensive rebounding team, an aspect of the game that has caused UD more than enough trouble this season (see Rhode Island, George Washington, Saint Mary’s and VCU for an example).
Although this certainly isn’t one of Marshall’s most talented squads, it’s still a team that knows its capabilities and its individual roles. Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet are finally gone, and only two starters return from last year’s 26 win team. Regardless, Marshall has found the right dudes to fill in the gaps, with ten players logging at least twelve minutes per game. Don’t expect one player to do all the dirty work against the Flyers, the Shockers come at you in waves, they’re as cohesive a unit as you’ll find in college basketball.
Let’s get it started with the Missouri Valley tournament MVP, Wichita’s starting guard Conner Frankamp (9.2 ppg, 45% 3fg). Frankamp has been offensively ridiculous to close the season, knocking down threes at an absurd rate and giving Marshall extremely effective minutes. Frankamp won’t create his own shot, he lives and dies from the three-point line. He’s the white guy that looks like he might be on your Dad’s softball team. Frankamp is the player most likely to hit a shot that leads to you putting a hole in the wall.
Joining Frankamp in the starting backcourt is redshirt freshman Landry Shamet. Shamet (11.1 ppg, 3:1 a/to) has taken over the point-guard duties for the Shockers, he’s an athletic kid with some really good size – my man is a lanky six-five. Shamet can certainly knock down perimeter shots, currently converting 45% of his three-point attempts, but he also has the ability to get to the hole and score going to the basket. He’s got that Fred VanVleet light-skin action going on.
Starting in Marshall’s frontcourt are junior Zach Brown and sophomore Markis McDuffie. McDuffie is the team’s leading scorer (11.8 ppg) and rebounder (5.7 rpg). He has a pretty solid all-around game offensively, capable of knocking down shots from outside and getting garbage points around the bucket. Like a senile old man at the movies, McDuffie is going to be a problem. Brown is 6’7” wing who is the Shockers’ lock-down defender. Look for him to guard Charles Cooke and assert himself physically throughout the game.
Wichita State has what they deem a “true center’ in 6’8” junior Shaq Morris. Morris is a solid rebounder, a great shot-blocker for his size and shoots an impressive 82% from the foul-line. He’s a big ol’ boy with not a lot of range offensively, but knows what he’s does well and executes accordingly.
The Shockers’ bench is deep and bountiful. Marshall will more than likely go ten deep against the Flyers and you can expect 6’8” forward Darral Willis to get plenty of time off the pine. Willis is a big southpaw, and you guys know there’s nothing more dangerous than a lefty with size (he’s also a JUCO which means he gives no fucks). He’s always looking for his shot, mostly mid-range, and is one of Wichita State’s better rebounders. Rauno Nurger is a fun name and also the biggest body on WSU’s roster. Originally from Estonia, the 6’10” Nurger has the typical Euro-game, and that includes a lack of foot speed. He is a matchup problem because he can knock down shots on the perimeter and stretch the floor. Given UD’s lack of size, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him utilized closer to the hoop on Friday night.
I would be doing you all a great disservice if I failed to mention Daishon “Smoochie” Smith, Rashard Kelly and Austin Reeves. Smith started some games before being relegated to bench duty. He’s a quick guard who can create steals and relies mostly on a mid-range jumper offensively. Kelly is an outstanding rebounder and garbage-man offensively. Austin Reeves is so white he came out of the womb in a polo shirt. He, shockingly, does most of his work from outside the arc. He’s probably considered the tenth man in Marshall’s rotation.
By the time you’re reading this, you’re probably already tired of hearing about how good Wichita State is. ESPN, CBS, Twitter and contributors to this site even (Hi fam!) have likely gone on and on about what a jobbing the Shockers, and in turn the Flyers, got. I’ll go through a little bit why people see it that way, and what logic the committee may have attempted to apply that resulted in the Shockers being a 10 seed.
Why do people believe Wichita St. is so undervalued? Well, they straight up dominated everyone they should have. If the MVC was a poor man’s A10, Wichita had a land mine on its schedule pretty much every night. They were undefeated at home in conference play, with the closest margin of victory being twelve. Every other game they won by nineteen or more. On the road they had one slip up at Illinois State, which isn’t dissimilar to playing at VCU. The other land mines? They went Hurt Locker on them. No slip ups at the likes of Evansville or SIU (similar to UMass or GW) and no squeakers like the Flyers experienced at Davidson. They won all their road games by two plus possessions. Combine this with the #12 offense and #19 defense in Ken Poms ratings and you see why people think they’re heavily under-seeded.
The selection committee said they would use more “advanced metrics” this year. Wichita is the prime example that they are full of shit. By using standard committee analysis Wichita is right where they should be. They didn’t beat anyone! They lost on neutrals to Louisville and Michigan State, at home to Oklahoma State and at Illinois State. Does Wichita St. just know how to punch down on the little guys, but can’t perform in their weight class? We’ll see. I believe winning margin matters, which is why you may have seen me go apoplectic Sunday night.
So, what are their weaknesses? On offense they don’t shoot particularly well inside the arc. They’re fantastic at pretty much everything else. Being third in the country in three-point percentage is a significant concern and the Shockers perimeter shooting is not dominated by just one guy. They play 8-10 guys and over half of them hit threes at north of 40%. Not good for the pack line defense. Oh, and they hit the glass too…great.
Wichita’s defensive approach is where Dayton may have an edge that can be exploited. The Shockers defend both threes and twos very well, at an elite level to be exact. What they don’t do is keep you from getting to the free throw line. Only Markis McDuffie in the front court averages less than four fouls per 40 minutes and he’s more of a wing. Their true front court players, Darral Willis, Shaquille Morris and Rauno Nurger all have foul rates higher than 5. Now there are three of them to rotate, but the Flyers will have to be efficient in getting to the line, and converting, to win. Additionally, given how often they were ahead, they were rarely fouling to stay in or comeback in games. You could almost argue their foul rate is a weakness that is actually understated.
I’m not all that hopeful. The Shockers were the one team that I did not want to see Dayton opposite of regardless if they were a 7, 8, 9 or 10 seed. But alas, here we are. History and trends on betting lines mean nothing, but a bit of perspective: Dayton opened at +6.5 and I expect them to close around +8. They were 6.5 point dogs when beating Ohio St and 8 point dogs to Syracuse when they won in 2014. They were actually 9 point dogs to West Virginia under Gregory. Somehow this feels like a much steeper hill to climb. Maybe our boys need a bit more credit. Based on Ken Pom’s rankings this team is almost exactly as good as 2003 team that was a 4 seed and almost 1.5 to 2 points better than any team has entered the tournament under Archie. Let’s hope something’s blinded us to how good these guys could be and we get to roll the dice one more time on Sunday.
There’s a lot to be concerned about when examining Wichita State. First and foremost, it’s a program with tournament success, a program used to the hot lights and even hotter nights. The Shockers have good size, they’re fundamentally sound and they have insane depth. Now toss in the fact that Dayton is reeling off of two pretty shitty losses and it’s clear to see where the advantage lies.
That being said, there’s no way these four seniors go out like schnooks in what could be their final game together. I feel like this is going to be closer than all the nerds and naysayers believe, but in the end Wichita State eeks out a victory over your Daytona Fliers, 70-66. As my effeminate sixth grade teacher used to say: “Don’t cry because it’s over smile because it happened.” Actually, don’t cry. At all. Crying over a first-round tournament game is fucking embarrassing, be a man for christsakes.