Somewhere around the ten minute mark of the second half against La Salle a thought occurred to me: this could be a very boring couple of months ahead of us. While I do love, adore, the Flyers beating the ever-living dogpiss out of teams, I kept checking to see if I could use the remote to fast-forward to March (it didn’t work). You can call it cocky, call it arrogant, call it foolish, whatever term you deem appropriate, but I feel like our minds are going to wander over the next seventeen games.
On one hand, what lies ahead should be a welcome respite from sweating out victories over the likes of La Salle, St. Joe’s and Duquesne. That is what we are used to. What we see on the court this season is a whole different animal. Your Flyers have been winning games by an average margin of TWENTY-TWO points this season (the five point win over Indiana State remains the weird outlier). As fans we should be extremely happy that the days of allowing lesser-talented teams hang around too long appears to be over, at least for one season.
With that said, the concerns now turn to more less pressing issues. First and foremost, avoiding a major injury (besides post-concussive stress syndrome). Watching Obi Toppin on the floor with four minutes left up twenty-six points is not a scene I want to rewatch too many times this season. I actually got stressed out seeing most of the starters on the court with the game well in hand, I guess it something I will just have to get used to. For the record here is the hierarchy of guys UD simply can’t afford to get injured as we head into March:
While I do realize the Flyers aren’t going to storm through the league and rack up a 18-0 record, the odds of that happening are somewhere between 3-5%, there will be some joy in watching the Flyers finally rise above the muck and leave no prisoners. It’s a moment we have all been waiting for since Xavier and Butler left for greener pastures. So the mission is clear: avoid the landmines (of which, mercy, there’s a bunch), stay healthy and run roughshod through the conference. And, yes, enjoy this ride because they will be very few and far between.
Speaking of landmines, the Flyers take on St. Joseph’s tomorrow afternoon. I say this here without any hesitation or qualifiers — St. Joey’s will finish last in the Atlantic Ten, behind the Fordham Rams. I honestly think the current iteration of the Hawks might be one of the worst teams we have ever seen in the A10. Danny Hurley should be forever shamed for losing to this SJU squad.
St. Joe’s is coming off a 32 point drubbing at Richmond and now has to face the Death Star, life is not fair sometimes. First year coach Billy Lange may look like a cool customer on the sidelines, but each night ends with a cheesesteak in bed as his wife tearfully comforts him. To be fair, Lange knew what he was getting into. After legendary coach Phil Martelli…resigned…three key players left the program post haste. Lamar Kimble transferred to Louisville, Jared Bynum took his talents to Providence and Charlie Brown quickly packed up his shit and opted to join the National Basketball Association. Billy Lange ran into a fire wearing a suit dipped in gasoline. On a positive note, Lange didn’t have to go through the arduous process of moving into a new home, as he was hired from the 76ers where he was an assistant. Focus on the good things, Billy.
I have, sadly, watched SJU played a few times this season. The only thing worth watching is Delaware transfer Ryan Daly. While not a dead-eye perimeter shooter, Daly has the ability to get buckets. Daly is 6’5″ yet somehow looks like he is a squat 5’10” walkon, he reminds me of UD football players that come to the RecPlex to get “physical.” Regardless, the kid is going to get up a lot of shots this season and will have a very good chance of leading the Atlantic Ten in scoring. Taylor Funk is probably the only other player UD fans will recognize, but he has been out since the end of November with a thumb injury so you’ll have to happy spotting him on the bench. I’ll let Matt get into the nuts and bolts because I don’t want to expend more calories than it’s worth breaking down the hapless Hawks.
With the Flyer’s recent history in the city of Philadelphia, it was understandable why fans proceeded with caution before Thursday’s game against La Salle. Averaging 1.15 points per possession while conceding 0.79 points per possession against the Explorers in a blowout win helped ease Daytons fans fears and now the Flyers are finishing their Philly trip against a St. Joe’s side with a much, much worse statistical profile than their neighbors from the city of Brotherly Love.
After continually being informed that the Hawk will never die, the Phil Martelli-less Hawks seem on life support after a non-conference schedule that was ranked a robust 44th in the country. They limped into conference play with only three wins and had the misery piled on earlier this week with a 32 point loss at Richmond to open A10 play. After a season of Flyer victories largely based on scoring points efficiently, St. Joe’s 106.6 KenPom defensive efficiency ranking (308th in the nation) must look awful promising to UD. While in comparison the Hawk’s KenPom offensive efficiency at 99.6, ranking them 190th in the country, is adequate, it likely isn’t going to be able to keep up with the Flyers’ fire power.
Admittedly not knowing much about new coach Billy Lange’s system, it seems he is intent on implementing a methodology that relies on pace. St. Joe’s averages 75 possessions a game, 19th highest in the country. They aren’t trying to waste time on either offense or defense, averaging 16 seconds a possession on offensive and 16.8 seconds on defense, which are ranked 56th and 92nd respectively. The Hawks also take a ton of three-point attempts, averaging 49.9% of their field goals attempts from beyond the perimeter—fourth highest among all Division 1 teams.
Despite nearly taking half of their shots from behind the arc, they do not seem to be that good at, you know, making them. The Hawks have shot a putrid 29.7% from three-point land so far, which is 293rd in the country. This has resulted in the Hawks averaging a mere 0.89 points per shot on threes. When your local old newspaper columnist/Ice Road Trucker is yelling about analytics guys constantly reaffirming that teams should always take threes when possible, that’s usually a strawman argument. Tell that old cranky guy that Matt, your local stats guy, says St. Joe’s should stop taking so many threes. He concedes.
Shots inside the perimeter aren’t going much better for the Hawks, with St. Joe’s only shooting 46.4% on two-point field goal attempts. The Hawks shoot a decent 54.3% at the rim and register 1.09 points per shot on those same attempts — but perhaps they are so hesitant to shoot anything other than three’s since 14.9% of their shots are blocked—the 3rd highest percentage in the country. The Hawks may be suffering from Blocked Shot Syndrome, with any trip to the lane triggering a form of PTSD.
The defensive numbers for St. Joe’s seem even uglier on the surface. Along with their poor defensive efficiency metric, the Hawks’ are unable to force many turnovers against their opponents, only earning a 6.8% block rate and 7.2% steal rate, both among the bottom third of all teams. Teams are also shooting 39.3% from three and 76.6% from the free throw line against St. Joe’s, earning them the rank of 340th for both metrics among D1 teams. There are 353 Division One basketball teams.
As already discussed a few times this year, we have theorized that teams have limited effect on their opponent’s three-point shooting success and you would suspect that “free throw defense” would be a similar story. Teams of course can avoid fouling opponents to put them on the line. But once their opponents are on the line, is there much a team can do besides putting a guy in a chicken suit in the front row to hinder opponent’s free throw shooting? St. Joe’s does put teams on the line more than they should, with opponents netting a free throw attempt-to-field goal attempt of 32.9%, 202nd in the country.
From there, St. Joe’s opponents have made those chances pay off, hitting 76.6% of their free throw attempts. This puts the Hawks at 340th in “free throw defense.” From the perimeter, the Hawks do a bit better preventing three-point attempts, only allowing 33% of opponent’s field goal attempts to come from beyond the perimeter. Acknowledging that up to this point in the season St. Joe’s opponents have been tougher, could we possibly see the percentage of three point field goals St. Joe’s gives up go down as they play some of the poorer shooting Atlantic 10 teams? Hopefully not before Sunday, but it seems feasible.
I’m going to quickly piggyback off of Matt’s discussion of “free-throw defense.” It’s a metric I have never understood and, to be frank, probably shouldn’t be tracked at all. What does it even measure — how shitty your opposition is, how rowdy your fans are? Here’s a quick peek at the nation’s top ten “best” programs at “defending” free-throws:
It’s just a hodgepodge of teams. It’s nonsensical. While the inclusion of Duke at four may give some credence that players don’t like to shoot foul shots while Asians in face paint yell at them, it doesn’t seem to really indicate anything of substance. I realize the growing trend is to track everything from the amount of steps a player takes in a game to the number of occasions a player might adjust his balls during play, but this seems like overkill to me. Although it is important to note that the Flyers will have to be on their game when they take on Mason however, the Patriots seem very good at defending free throws.
Oh, and to close, the Flyers will dismantle St. Joe’s. A 25+ point beatdown seems certain.
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.