We turn the page, gentlefolks. The non-conference treated the Flyers pretty well (Go Dawgs! Go Hokies! Go Gaels!), and now we move towards the eighteen game drudgery known as the A10 league schedule. While we have spent the previous six weeks rubbing our hands meekly at the sea of landmines the Flyers will face until March comes around, Dayton has a handful of chances to “impress” in Atlantic Ten play — on paper, the two games against VCU, maybe the games against Rhode Island, perhaps the road game against SLU (I’m grasping at straws here). You get the point.
What will matter going forward is not the quality of wins but the quantity. Our site has repeatedly, annoyingly, advocated that UD’s stated goal is to become the new Xavier of the A10. Morph into the bully, dominate the league. Well, this is our beloved program’s opportunity. The hope is that UD plays with consistent effort from here on out and has a lot of easy nights (especially when competing in places like the Mullins Center, Gola Arena, Hagan Arena, et al.). The most encouraging conference result for Dayton would be something along the lines of 16-2, 15-3, with plenty of blowout victories.
It all starts tonight in Philly against La Salle.
The Explorers are up to their old tricks again. Yes, they are 9-3 on the season, which has probably got you nodding like, “Oh, okay.” La Salle is still following the Gospel of Dr. John, who I personally miss dearly. They loaded up on cupcakes to rack up nine victories and then got dismantled in Big Five play, with losses to Penn, Temple and Villanova. This isn’t to say that La Salle isn’t a decent team, we simply don’t have enough evidence to point either way.
One thing I do know is that Tom Gola ARENA has been one of the tougher venues for our Flyers. Although it appears that in recent years the Gola jinx has subsided, the chlorine fumes still have a tendency to wear down the visitors as the game progresses. Or so I’ve been told (Do we even know if the pool thing is true? I’ve never actually took the time to find out, and I certainly won’t do so now as I like the idea of it).
La Salle is still La Salle. They play with effort on the defensive end and probably take too many threes on the offensive end. Around 45% of the Explorers’ shot attempts come from behind the arc and, to be fair, they are connecting on 35% of them — which ain’t terrible. Coach Ashley Howard has a pretty young squad this year and with that comes the usual issues, mainly in the turnover and shot-selection department. All in all, this should be a fairly decent test for the Flyers to start their A10 campaign.
With the non-conference portion of schedule finished, Dayton’s opening Atlantic 10 opponents La Salle come into conference play surprisingly not terrible! Yer auld da here had them in the bottom half of the A10, though not approaching Fordham territory, at the beginning of the season. Yet while not exactly playing a ton of good competition (their “best” win comes against Wright State) outside of the city of Philadelphia, the Explorers 9-3 record is certainly an improvement on the 2-10 record they had this time last season.
A quick glance at Ashley Howard’s teams numbers and it becomes apparent that La Salle’s success comes on defense. Ranked 247th in KenPom Offensive Efficiency with a below average 96.8 shows us they won’t light up the scoreboards in their elementary school multi-purpose room gymnasium. Yet a 90th ranked 95.3 KenPom Defensive Efficiency tells us their early season success has been built largely on top of stopping opponents.
When on offense, the Explorers do shoot the three-ball at an above average rate at 35.3% and take 42.2% of their attempts from behind the line, so they are a threat from deep. When they move the ball inside the arc though, La Salle has much less success. They get a ton of shots blocked, 11.5% of their attempts so far, near the bottom of all Division 1 teams. They have only made 48.8% of 2-point field goals, slightly below average across the country. Getting even more finite, they only take 37.4% of their field goal attempts at the rim and score on 57.9% of them which is good for 1.16 points per shot. Compare that to the 1.43 points per shot our Flyers from the U of D put up at the rim. La Salle does a decent job getting to the free throw line, with a slightly above average 34.5% ratio of free throws to field goal attempts, but the Explorers have only hit 67.8% of those attempts.
The metrics on defense for La Salle appear to be better on paper. Their effective field goal conceded of 43.9% is 24th among all teams. They only allow 45.8% of 2-point field goals to be scored against them, which is 89th among D1 teams. They create their own turnovers well, with a 10.3% block rate and a 10.2% steal rate, good enough for 102nd and 107th respectively in the country. While the Explorers do well creating some turnovers, I wonder if their other impressive numbers on defense come from what NBA Analytics writer Seth Partnow calls “Jedi Defense”. As mentioned, Wright State was the highest ranked opponent not from the city of Philadelphia that has been on their schedule for La Salle so far. Those opponents shot a collective 27.1% from the three point arc so far. Is there anything La Salle is doing to specifically cause their opponents to shoot poorly from deep?
My initial thought is “nah”. We had discussed earlier this season that defenses do not seem to have much effect on an opponent’s 3-point percentage when talking about the Flyers’ defensive numbers. Teams do have much more control on how many threes their opponents take, and we see that La Salle’s opponents have taken 36.9% of their field goals from the three point line. This isn’t a terrible number but it’s slightly above average across D1. Teams are able to get off threes against the Explorers, but given that the Wright State Raiders are the standard of quality in La Salle’s non-conference schedule, their opponents might just be crappy shooters.
La Salle’s defensive numbers could be inflated by inferior competition so far, then again opposing shooters could just be distracted by the old ladies waiting to set up for bingo after the game. Dayton come into the game ranked 10th in the country in three-point shooting, hitting 39.6% of their attempts and have taken 42.9% of all their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. My pessimistic nature always makes me think Dayton is always one performance away from a regression to the mean, so it will be a good match-up to see if Dayton’s perimeter shooting can succeed against the La Salle perimeter defense. Furthermore, if the Explorers do close out on shooters hard, a few pump fakes could lead to a conga line of dunks led by Obi Toppin.
There’s nothing that leads me to believe Dayton will lose this game. La Salle doesn’t have anyone that can match up with Obi Toppin and, as we have seen, this usually ends poorly for the opposition. However, the Explorer defense is good enough to keep them in this one. If La Salle can turn this into a rock fight we might have ourselves a game. On the flipside, I don’t think Ashley Howard’s squad has enough offense to match UD bucket for bucket. At the end of the day cream always rises to the top. Flyers win 72-65.
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.