Will the Flyers ever lose again this season? Absolutely, yes. More times than we would like probably. But that’s okay, it’s a long, oftentimes tedious, season. As Dayton fans we realize the unavailing nature of UD’s schedule, it is part and parcel of the Flyers’ standing in the college basketball hierarchy. Dayton is assuredly in the toughest of spots — not quite a major program, but clearly somewhere above the dreck that has come to define mid-majordom. UD is caught in the middle of two clearly delineated worlds, a most unadvantageous predicament.
The trevails have been established repeatedly on this very website: It’s difficult, to put it mildly, to get a home-and-home with Power 5 programs. It’s next to impossible to get even a visiting one-off with a “name-brand” team. The Louisville’s, Kentucky’s and Syracuse’s of the world are simply not looking at Dayton to fill out their non-conference schedule. This, my friends, has been established. It’s the precarious framework Dayton must work within season after season. We know it, we understand it, we grudgingly accept it, we move on (well, most of us move on).
The advent of early-season tournaments have turned out to be godsend for mid-major programs with a solid reputation and track record. It gives a school like Dayton the chance to play a Kansas or a Michigan State when all other paths have been effectively closed off. As this point, it’s the most important portion of Dayton’s calendar each season, an opportunity to rack up some notable wins and build an eye-catching resume for March. The fact that UD’s season is often predicated on their success in mid-November is further proof that their standing in the college basketball province is treacherous and perpetually unforgiving. But, I digress.
For me, Dayton’s schedule always conjures up this poignant scene from The Departed:
The Flyers’ slate is invariably chock-full of teams they can afford to lose to and teams they absolutely cannot afford to lose to, mostly the latter. We are extremely aware that a potential loss to a program like Charleston Southern (hey, Cuonzo!) or North Texas could derail all the good faith Dayton earned in Maui. Moreover, the Atlantic Ten is rife with teams we have affectionately labeled “landmines.” These are teams that, as the name suggests, can blow up Dayton’s season should the Flyers suffer a defeat at their hands. The A10 is seemingly in a constant state of flux, although the top half of the league has remained somewhat constant (VCU, UD, Davidson, Rhode Island), the number of landmines the Flyers face off against in league play flows back and forth like the tides of the Great Miami River (is the Miami a tidal river? Let’s just assume it is).
All this incessant blathering brings us to the game on Sunday, the day of the Lord. As you are no doubt aware, the Flyers take on mid-major darling Saint Mary’s in Phoenix. Why Phoenix? Apparently if Jerry Colangelo offers to host your school at a basketball tournament located on an Indian reservation you just can’t turn the man down. The “Air Force Reserve Jerry Colangelo Classic” field is kind of wild. There’s Grand Canyon University, a for-profit Christian school located in nearby Phoenix, and five other schools (Dayton, Saint Louis, Tulane, Liberty and Saint Mary’s) that have no connection to the American Southwest in any way, shape or form (who are the ad wizards?).
Saint Mary’s venerable pedigree has long been established. Randy Bennett has piloted the Gael program to unprecedented heights — an astounding 70% winning percentage since taking over the program in 2001, with seven NCAA tournament appearance sprinkled over his tenure. In each year since 2008, the program has participated in either the NCAA tournament or the NIT. After signing a ten-year extension two years ago, it would appear that the fifty-seven year old Bennett will be a SMC lifer. He has turned down plenty of decent coaching opportunities along the way, including taking a pass on the Dayton job in 2011.
While this is the rare contest the Flyers technically “can lose,” the current trajectory of the season undoubtedly makes it feel like a must-win game. To keep up with the Joneses you have to win like the Joneses. A win over the Gaels would go a long way in solidifying the Flyers’ credentials come Selection Sunday. With only two games of substance left on the non-conference schedule, SMC and Colorado in two weeks, UD must be results focused. The Atlantic Ten hasn’t completely shaken out yet, we have no way of knowing what kind of value a win over teams like Richmond, Duquesne and even VCU will have when conference play rolls around. With so many potential pitfalls ahead, Dayton must, I say must, take advantage of the precious few opportunities it has left.
The Saint Mary’s blueprint for success remains unchanged. Start with a shifty, barely six-foot point guard with the ability to knock down threes and impeccably run the offense, load up the wings with Aussies, Kiwis and Eastern Europeans that can stretch the floor, throw in some seven-footers that look imposing (but can’t really play), and go out and win 25 games. It’s been Bennett’s successful formula for over a decade, and he certainly isn’t changing up the ingredients any time soon.
Saint Mary’s comes into the game against UD with a 9-1 record, the Gaels have already racked up decent wins against Wisconsin and Utah State. The lone defeat came at the hands of Winthrop in Moraga. If you ever seen Bennett’s teams play you already know what to expect — they shoot the ball from the perimeter extremely well, rarely turn the ball over and seldom get to the charity stripe. The Gaels are a finesse team that play at a deliberate pace. The Flyers will have to stay active on defense as SMC uses the shot clock, patiently working for good shots.
Senior guard Jordan Ford (20.2 ppg/42% 3fg) takes over the role formerly, and admirably, served by such Gael luminaries as Patrick Mills, Mickey McConnell, Matty Dellavedova and Emmett Naar. Ford was an All-WCC selection last season after finishing second in the league in scoring with 21.1 points per game. Malik Fitts (13.8 ppg/7.9 rpg) is a 6’8″ forward capable of doing just about everything on the floor. Fitts will drift outside and knock down threes, currently shooting 39% from behind the arc, he’s one of the floor-spacers essential to the Gael offensive attack. Tanner Krebs (12.9 ppg/4.6 rpg/57% 3fg) is a 6’6″ wing, an absolute deadly shooter from Australia. To be fair, everything from Australia is deadly.
After spending about 1,200 words on Dayton’s prowess both shooting and defending from the perimeter, we get to see if the Flyers can get those 3-point defensive numbers down and continue the better than expected shooting from deep against a team that seems elite at doing both. The St. Mary’s Gaels are 15th in the country in Ken Pom’s offensive efficiency metric at 110.8 (a reminder that this estimates how many points per 100 possessions a team scores). This is largely on the back of the fact that they shoot 42% from 3-point range this season, which is 7th among all D1 teams and they only turn the ball over on 18% of their possessions, 16th among D1 teams.
The Gaels are also better than average at two-point field goals, shooting 50.2% on those attempts. They only take 21% of their shots from the mid-range, so they are taking them more often from the more efficient locations on the floor. In short, the Gaels are a good offensive team which is summarized well by their 31st best in the country 55.6% effective field goal rate.
Of course, our Dayton Flyers have been no slouches scoring the ball this season. The Flyers come in ranked 5th in KenPom’s Offensive Efficiency at 112.7. They are 1st in effective field goal rate at 63.1% and in two-point field goal % at 67.4%. As mentioned earlier this week, Dayton has shot the three surprisingly well, netting 38.5% of their attempts from deep. With both teams effectively scoring the ball so far this season, it would be natural to expect a barn burning, high scoring game.
Not so fast, my friends! Both Dayton and St. Mary’s have been able to score the ball efficiently this season so far, but neither tries to push the pace when they play. The Flyers average 69 (nice) possessions a game and 16.7 seconds per possession, which are just 200th and 122nd in the country respectively. The Gaels slow things to a crawl, only averaging 64 possessions a game and 20.2 seconds per possession — a slow pace that would make Desmond Adedeji blush and good for 338th and 344th among division 1 teams. Dayton’s offense will likely focus on making sure Obi gets a touch and finds open shots for teammates based on SMC’s defensive approach, and St. Mary’s will bleed the clock until they find a good three-point shot. KenPom is predicting 138 points in this game, while my L.O.W.D. (Looking Over Weird Data) Model has it at 142 (73-69 to our Flyers, for the record).
Given the aforementioned offensive metrics, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Gaels have multiple players that can light up the scoreboard. Jordan Ford, Tanner Krebs, and Mathias Tass all have offensive ratings of at least 114 on the season so far. Ford is a do-everything guard who is comfortable assisting teammates with a 14.4% assist rate and takes care of the ball with a extremely low 9.1% turnover rate. He has a 114.4 offensive rating and a54.1% effective field goal rate, which stems primarily from his good shooting from the perimeter, where he shoots 37.9% from and takes 41% of his shots.
Krebs and Tass are bigger bodies who put the ball in the hoop effectively. Tass is 6’10” — but is a well-rounded player who has an impressive assist rate of 22.1%, an superb true shooting rate of 57.3%, and block rate of 6.4%, which is 100th in the country. Krebs is 6’6” — but makes 54.5% of the threes he attempts, though he is not the most efficient player at the rim only finishing 21.2% of shots at the rim. Whomever is guarding Krebs will need to continually fight through screens or hope switches stay close to him, as he’s is essentially immune to driving to the basket. Three-point defending will be crucial for Dayton as a whole Sunday. We’ve written about Dayton’s ugly 3-point defensive shooting %, but the Flyers are well above-average when it comes to restricting opponents from taking shots from behind the arc. The Flyers will need to continue this trend against St. Mary’s, as the Gaels are overly reliant on the deep shot.
This will obviously be a stern test for your Flyers. Saint Mary’s is a disciplined team that won’t beat itself. They are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation, and as anyone who has watched college basketball over the last two decades knows — the three-point shot is the great equalizer. That being said, Dayton has Obi Toppin. There’s no stopping Obi Toppin. This is the rare year where Dayton will have the best player on the floor every time they tip the ball. To be quite honest, I don’t see many instances where I’m going to pick against the Flyers this season (maybe at VCU?) as long as Obi, Crutcher and Chip Mikesell are healthy.
That being said, Flyers win a close one, 69-66. UD will rack up a key out of conference win, head back to the Gem City with pushed out chests and look towards their key tilt against Colorado in two weeks. Stay LOWD.
Also, don’t forget to pick up your “No Stoppin’” shirt from Breaking T. Use ” BFSAVE15″ for 15% off.
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.