Dayton makes an important trek to the capital city of Virginia tonight as the Flyers take on the beloved Rams of Virginia Commonwealth University. We have continually stressed the importance of UD earning a first-round bye in this season’s Atlantic Ten tournament. Obviously, a top four finish would provide Dayton with an easier path to the conference title. The Flyers would get to skip the Thursday games (and Wednesday) and place themselves just three wins away from an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament (hola, Juan Bid!). For a team that hasn’t won an A-10 tournament title since 2003 — when it was played in the Sweater Centre — every little bit helps.
In a sense, I look at the A10 as if it is the English Premier League. Anything below fourth place is the drop zone and Grant’s squad simply needs to finish in one of the “Champions League” spots. And, like the EPL, the race for the crown has basically (and quickly) been trimmed down to just a handful of teams — Dayton, VCU, Davidson, Saint Louis (and George Mason if you are feeling frisky. I’m not quite ready to put Duquesne into the equation but that could change in a matter of weeks, so act accordingly). Fortunately for both UD and VCU, Davidson took a horrible loss against St. Joe’s last night which makes tonight’s game even more crucial. It is particularly important for VCU, as a loss to the Flyers would drop them to 2-2 in league play and provide UD and Saint Louis with a comfortable two game cushion over the Rams. Making up a two game gap would seem difficult given the standard of play currently exhibited by the league’s lessers.
Am I therefore saying the pressure is squarely on the Richmond Rams? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. The Flyers can and should play with a loose and relaxed mentality in the Cafenasium. The onus is clearly on VCU to take care of business.
Keys to the game:
- Can your boy Jordan Davis keep up his torrid shooting from the perimeter? Jordan Davis has finally started to knock down shots from the perimeter, and Dayton is a totally different animal when he is on. Can JD sustain his stroke and provide the Flyers with a much-needed infusion of scoring? My guess is probably not, VCU guards the perimeter like fiends and Davis will be launching bombs in foreign territory — that’s not an inspiring combination.
- How will Dayton handle VCU’s pressure? This has to be the biggest concern coming into this ballgame. We saw UD crumble under ball pressure during the BAD BOY MOWERS BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS earlier this season, it was not a pleasant sight. Once the ball leaves Jalen Crutchers paws it is pucker time for Dayton fans. The Rams are turning their opponents over at an impressive clip this season and they make you work the ball around for good looks. It goes without saying that Dayton wants to get the ball in Cunningham and Toppin’s hands as much as possible, Dayton’s most pronounced advantage is in the frontcourt, the question will be whether or not the Flyers can effectively get into their offense to feed the ball down low.
- Rebounding the gotdamn basketball. The Flyers were outrebounded by UMass and were only able to grab three offensive boards against the Minutemen. UD’s bigs have to make a concerted effort to hammer the boards against VCU. Possessions will be precious and second-chance points will be rare. If Dayton can control the glass they have an excellent chance of leaving Richmond with the W.
Marcus Evans is going to shoot a lot. This is good, we want Evans to shoot as much as possible. If I was coaching UD, and someday that’ll probably be a reality, I’d tell my guys to give Evans a wide berth and let him shoot from the perimeter as much as he wants. Let him get ten threes up, who gives a fuck? Evans is a volume scorer, a player that can either shoot VCU into a game or shoot them right out of a game.
De’Riante (no joke) Jenkins is VCU’s shooting guard, a steady player who has regressed a bit offensively this season. He is still getting buckets but his shooting percentages are an affront to decency. He hath no shame. Sean “The White Guy” Mobley is struggling offensively as well this season — by the way, you can literally say this about just about every player on VCU’s roster. I can’t stress how poor of a perimeter shooting team this is. It’s ghastly, folks. I have watched VCU a handful of times this season and remain shocked at how many three-pointers this team puts up per game. The Rams are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation and yet the deep ball accounts for almost 45% of their shot attempts. You try figuring that one out.
The biggest factor for VCU may be the play of Marcus Santos-Silva. He will be tasked with keeping Cunningham and Toppin in check defensively while limiting the two UD bigs on the boards. Heavy lies the crown on the head of the sophomore forward. VCU’s aim will be to pressure the ball and limit the amount of passes into the post, but when it does get busy on the blocks Santos-Silva’s play will be vital.
I realize I just spent the better part of the past 800 words scolding VCU for their offensive offense, which might lead you to believe that Dayton would be the pick here. NAY! My bubbling gut tells me that the Rams will turn UD over plenty of times and will make it their mission to close down on the perimeter. Additionally, I don’t trust anyone to effectively handle the ball outside of Crutcher, Mikesell could end up with five turnovers, and it’s always a safe play to pick against the Flyers when they are away from home. Hence, I got it Rams 62, Flyers 57. Dayton certainly has a chance to take down VCU, I just think the opportunity for Flyer regression is bountiful — particularly in a hostile Richmond Cafenasium.
Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o' D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.