I hope everyone enjoyed the Christmas break, took the time to mentally regroup and emotionally prepare for what could be a very frustrating conference season. The Flyers are coming off a much needed week away from the bright lights of Tom Blackburn Court but get busy over the next seven days — with tonight’s visit from North Florida and back-to-back roadies against La Salle and St. Joseph’s to open up league play. This week begins a trying slog that will last a little over three months. Buckle up.
It wouldn’t be a Dayton basketball season without some needless drama. The current turmoil in FlyerWorld involves Dirt Road Johnson’s whereabouts, which are still unknown as of this writing. After missing the past four games with an undisclosed “illness,” idiots, scallywags and, yes, even yokels on social media were reporting Dirt Road’s imminent return to campus and availability for tonight’s game. HOWEVER, after a week spent back home deleting Instagram pictures almost immediately before posting them (such mystery!), it appears that not only will Dirt Road not be in uniform tonight, he’s not even back in the Gem City.
No one could have predicted that Johnson would have become a headache this soon. No one, nope, not a soul. There were simply no warning signs, ahem. Regardless of how this situation resolves itself, it is clear that Johnson’s presence, or absence, won’t have an impact on the trajectory of this season. It certainly won’t have any affect tonight against North Florida.
The Birds of Trey are back in UD Arena after opening up last season against the Flyers, losing a 78-70 decision to the good guys. If you saw the Ospreys play a year ago, you already know what to expect: threes, threes and more threes. UNF currently leads the nation in three-point attempts, three-pointers made and are number seven in the country in foul-shooting percentage. Shooting is their business and, buddy, business has been good.
North Florida comes into the game with a 7-7 record, having tested itself mightily on the road against Florida, Iowa, Creighton, Florida State and Syracuse (and, of course, tonight against the still nationally-ranked Flyers). Although none of those games resulted in a win, they added some precious shekels to the ledger and helped rack up some decent frequent flier miles (I always wonder if the players are allowed to have a flyer account with an airline, is that a violation? If so, who keeps the miles, the coaches, the school administration? Are they donated? I need answers to these nonsensical questions).
North Florida does one thing, and only one thing, well. They are going to shoot a lot of threes. They are going to make many of them. Now, in between taking and making many of those aforementioned threes, the North Florida Ospreys tend to dribble the ball off their foot often, get shots blocked before they get them off and allow opponents to score at will. The Ospreys shoot 54.9% of their field goals attempts from behind the three-point line, the highest percentage of any Division 1 side in these here United States. They make 37.4% of those three’s, 38th among all D1 teams. A lot of these three’s seem the result of good ball movement around the court, with 60.1% of their field goals made being assisted on — which is the 26th best in the country.
That is, unfortunately, the end of any discussion regarding the positive things North Florida do and thus why they are 5-7 against Division 1 teams this season. The Ospreys have a laundry list of crappy defensive metrics to look at, highlighted by their 298th ranked 105.9 KenPom Defensive Efficiency rating. They concede a 52.4% effective field goal metric, ranking 280th in the country. They allow opponents to convert 53.5% of their two-point field goals attempts, 31.4% of the total field goals attempted against North Florida come at the rim. Opponents are taking 30.3% of their field goal attempts from the perimeter, 21st highest in the country.
While North Florida can shoot the three well, and they shoot them often, there isn’t much else they do well on offense. 14% of their shots are blocked; only 6 teams in Division 1 have their shots rejected more. They have turned the ball over on 21% of their possessions so far, 257th worst so far this season. The Ospreys’ ratio of free throws-to-field goal attempts is at 28%, ranking just 272nd in the country (though when they do get to the line, the Ospreys are shooting 79.9%, sixth best in the country). If North Florida isn’t shooting a three, they are likely turning the ball over and laying the red carpet out for their opponent to score.
Unsurprisingly, the Ospreys have multiple players who take a lot of threes and, encouragingly, make a good portion of them. Four UNF players have attempted at least 60 three-pointers this season and three have already taken more than 80(!). All of those players have hit at least 35% of their attempts, well above the national average of 33.1%. North Florida will likely start those four “perimeter-oriented” players in Garrett Sams, Ivan Gandia-Rosa, Carter Hendricksen, and JT Escobar, with Wajid Aminu running around there striving to be their personal rebounder. Aminu has a 12.4% offensive rebound rate, which puts him 95th in the country, but the 6’7” senior forward has attempted less than half of the field goals compared to the rest of his fellow starters.
This could actually be a somewhat interesting game given North Florida’s style. If the Ospreys can hit threes and keep it close we might have ourselves a ballgame. That being said, North Florida is an absolutely abhorrent defensive team. UNF plays like a Sigma Chi team in a frat league, complete indifference on defense leading to an offensive possession resulting in whomever can get off a quick three. I just don’t see how this will be sustainable over forty minutes against Dayton. Obi Toppin should have a field day against the Ospreys. Dayton breaks 90 and goes into Atlantic Ten play with a comfortable win.
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.