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ReconU. Dayton BasketballRecon: Saint Louis

The first game of this year's Arch Baron Cup sees the Flyers traveling to St. Louis

With the huge win over VCU comfortably behind us, we turn our collective focus to Saint Louis and the first game of this season’s Arch Baron Cup. While it is abundantly clear that UD is the class of the Atlantic Ten this year, you absolutely throw out all the records when the ABC is on the line. Dayton is coming off a big win and the Billikens have the type of defensive approach that can frustrate opponents and viewers alike.

We don’t need to get into the weeds as far as the history and intensity of the Arch Baron Cup is concerned. If you are new to the series or just want to reeducate yourself, the Arch Baron Foundation’s website should be your first stop for all your ABC related needs:

The pressure, clearly, is on Saint Louis. Dayton has been rather dominant in the series the past few years, and a win over Dayton later tonight would be a major resume builder for the Bills. While Anthony Grant isn’t as focused on the Arch Baron Cup as his predecessor, in fact, Grant has taken the extraordinary step of not commenting at all on the ABC since arriving in the Gem City two seasons ago, he is well aware that performance in the ABC is essential to ingratiate himself to the Flyer fanbase.

Although the fanfare surrounding the Arch Baron Cup reaches a fever pitch right up until the tip, the actual games are consistently…less than appetizing. Some of the Archie Miller/Jim Crews matchups in particular were responsible for setting college basketball back a decade. Much of this has to do with the style, or lack thereof, that the Billikens employ. Saint Louis oftentimes looks like a team of football players playing basketball to stay in shape. Don’t take that as a knock either, SLU is one of those programs that finds a way to impose their style on opponents, it’s just not aesthetically pleasing.

Bruce Springsteen playing during the halftime of an Arch Baron Cup game on February 23, 2016

The blueprint for a Billiken player the past twenty years seems to be: athletic, stocky, a below-average perimeter shooter, physical and a nose for the ball. SLU prioritizes attacking the boards on both sides of the floor and getting to the hoop offensively. A result of attacking the rim with purpose? Plenty of opportunities from the charity stripe. And this, my friends, is where the Saint Louis Billikens become an enigma.

For a team that prides itself on their offensive play in the lane, the Bills are currently the worst foul-shooting team in the entire nation. So while their aggressive approach lends itself, in theory, to easy points from the line, the fact that they only connect on 56% of their freebies seems less than optimal given their methodology. Matt will get into the Bills’ foul-shooting woes later in the post, but I just wanted to quickly lay out SLU’s historically horrible shooting from the stripe.

Here are SLU’s foul-shooting numbers over the past decade:

While there were a few seasons over the past decade that saw SLU hit a decent amount of their foul-shots, for the most part, the Billikens’ free-throw shooting has been deplorable. I’m having trouble trying to explain the Bills’ consistent struggles from the line. My best guess is that is it has to with the type of players they bring into their system — guys who exert a great deal of effort, get after it defensively, but are not necessarily fundamentally sound.

Hassan French (12.9 ppg/10.2 rpg), one of the best defenders in the conference, is the poster boy of SLU basketball, he embodies Billiken Ball. French is built like a brick shithouse and absolutely sweats the jersey. For SLU to have a shot against UD, French is going to need to have a night. I’m talking an 18 point, 12 rebound kinda night. Jordan Goodwin (who I guess has put his troubles behind him?) is the Billikens’ leading scorer. Goodwin (16.1 ppg/10.5 rpg) does a little bit of everything for Coach Travis Ford’s squad. His most impressive asset is his effort on the glass, as Goodwin is one of the best rebounding guards in the nation. Javonte Perkins is another name you should know — Perkins is a JUCO transfer Ford brought in to boost the Bills’ scoring.

On the surface, the latest tussle for the Arch Baron Cup seems to present the Flyers with a foe similar to the now vanquished VCU Rams. Saint Louis have numbers that show a club that is built on the bedrock of solid defense and forcing turnovers while trying to piece together some type of offense output. Of course when the Arch Baron Cup is up for grabs, you can throw away the form book (or the spreadsheet in the 21st century?). While these hate-filled matchups have often can throw surprises into the equation, we can try to quantify the madness that is the ABC the best we can.

Travis Ford has molded the Billikens into a defense first, second and third team. Three of Ford’s four years at the helm of SLU have seen the university that sits farthest west of the Atlantic 10 (if we finally kick a few A10 bottom feeders out, how about a rebrand?) among the top 100 in KenPom Defensive Efficiency. This season, Ford’s Billikens currently are ranked 49th among Division 1 squads with a 92.9 rating. SLU packs the paint and lets few opponents into those high efficiency areas, with opponents only converting 42.1% of their two-point field goals. They are blocking 12.9% of opponent’s shots, which ranks them 42nd in the country for that metric. Teams are only scoring on 52.1% of field goal attempts at the rim, the lowest allowed by any Atlantic 10 team. SLU opponents are only averaging 1.04 points per shot at the rim, a far cry from even the A10 average of 1.14. 

In addition to constructing a wall around the basket, SLU have sticky fingers on the defensive end, earning a steal rate of 11.4%, good enough for 49th best in the country. The Billikens opponents have shot a meagerly 45.3% effective field goal rate, demonstrating the tough defense that Saint Louis has relied on to earn a 14-3 record so far. While the Billikens defense seems daunting when examining these numbers, there is one area that the Flyers could exploit. And it lies within our old friend, the three-point attempt rate stat.

We know it will be hard sledding getting much success in the paint against SLU. Certainly if anyone can find a way to break through that area, it is this version of the Flyers. While the results of Dayton’s efficiency in the pain gets most of the retweets and Sportscenter highlights, Dayton is also shooting 37.3% from three this season—good enough for 29th in the country. The Flyers also take a higher than average percentage of attempts from the perimeter, taking 39.8% of field goals from behind the line. While Saint Louis may be elite at stopping teams in the paint, their perimeter defense isn’t quite up to those same standards. 

Coming into Friday’s game, SLU’s opponents are shooting a slightly above average 33.6% from the perimeter. More importantly, regular readers know that three point attempt rate is a vital stat when looking at perimeter defense and this season the Billikens have given up 37.5% of field goals from deep. This is about the D1 average this season, but so far this season the Flyers haven’t been an average three point-shooting team. Given the emphasis Saint Louis puts on protecting the paint, a good perimeter shooting game from Jalen, Ibi and nationally ranked in three-point shooting Trey Landers could be important to unlocking the tough Saint Louis defense.

Similar to the Richmond Rams, Saint Louis’ offense is a huge step-down compared to their defense. Their 49% effective field goal rate ranks them 189th in the country. They shoot a mediocre 45.6% from field goals at the rim and take 58.4% of their field goal attempts there, good for 1.17 points per shot. They aren’t a great shooting team from three either, only hitting 32.3% of their shots from deep. They seem to recognize this, only taking 29.6% of their shots from three. However, they nearly take the same number of shots from the midrange, taking 25% of field goal attempts from those shots and putting them on the analytics naughty step. 

There are no two ways about it, SLU is not a good shooting three-point team, yet given they average 0.96 points per shot from deep compared to 0.64 points per shot from the mid-range, it is baffling why Saint Louis would not at least take a few steps back and unload instead of clanking on these 15 footers. For our own selfish reasons, I’m fine with Travis Ford allowing his squad to take those mid-rangers as much as they want. SLU’s poor shooting allow them numerous opportunities to get offensive rebounds, which they excel at with a 35.1% offensive rebound rate. Dayton will have to limit the Billikens to one opportunity on offense, as they likely will not be able to keep up with the Flyers scoring if they aren’t bringing in offensive rebounds.

The other headline grabbing stat for Saint Louis on offense is the Division 1 worst 56.2% from the free throw line. The physical nature of SLU means they get plenty of opportunities to get to the charity stripe, with a 34th best in the nation 39.5% free throw to field goal attempt ratio, but boy is it ugly once they are on the line. There are only three SLU players shooting over 70% from the free throw line, with Hasahn French shooting an incredible 33.7% from the line. Christ! This season, three Dayton players shoot a higher percentage from the three point line than French does from the charity stripe.

During the VCU game, friend of the blog Tom Eggemeier suggested fouling 54.3% foul shooting Marcus Santos-Silva who missed all of his free throws against the Flyers. Now it was certainly on-brand for Tom to be suggesting this when the Flyers were up double digits in the second half, but it got the wheels turning in my head for this game against SLU. If Saint Louis is successful in making the game ugly and the game is close, Anthony Grant most definitely should employ Hack-a-Hasahn. French has the highest usage rate and is SLU’s best offensive rebounder, pulling a 12.5% offensive rebound rate. Either forcing him to go to the free throw line where he is a historically bad shooter or forcing Travis Ford to pull him would be a huge advantage for our Flyers that could propel them to victory in a close game.

I question the relevance of this space as I’ve conceded that, barring any major injury, I’m unlikely to predict a Flyer loss for the rest of the regular season. That being said, this one has the right recipe for a Flyer loss, does it not? A road game, after a big win, against a team that can ugly things up? It has all the hallmarks of a potential upset.

So while I believe the Flyers do pull this one out, and maybe even convincingly, it would seem SLU has the type of personnel to frustrate UD’s offense. The Billiken interior defense will challenge Dayton and more than likely limit the amount of easy baskets the Flyers have become accustomed to getting. Of course, the question remains: can SLU score enough to beat Dayton? The easy answer is no. Dayton wins 70-59. The Cup comes home.

Tom Blackburn

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.

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