With Florida State’s loss to UVA last night, Dayton’s rise into the TOP FIVE of the national polls seems inevitable. We are inching ever closer to Dayton inexplicably being ranked #1 in the nation at some point leading casual observers to shout “what are we even doing here?!?” from the rooftops ( although Dayton is probably more likely to lose before Gonzaga at this point). I’m all for it, it’s all I ever wanted as a UD basketball obsessive.
I want UD to move away from being the cute story, the little engine that could, to the program who gets derided flippantly at every mention. Flyer fans have never had the opportunity to turn heel, this season may be our only shot. Now, you may ask — isn’t mockery in regards to Dayton’s lofty ranking unfounded and unnecessary? After all, we have been inundated with feel good stories about the program all year long and both seen and heard countless references to Dayton as a legitimate Final Four contender.
Yes and no. For starters, this has been an absolute shit show of a college basketball season, the rare opportunity for a team positioned like Dayton to rise above the muck. This is an extremely unique season where there hasn’t been a group of teams separating itself from the pack, it’s the perfect storm for teams like Baylor, San Diego State and Dayton to take advantage of what is kindly called “parity.” On the other hand, is Dayton a top five team from a resume standpoint? In any other year, no goddamn way. I haven’t done the research, and don’t plan to, but I have to assume Dayton might be one of the few teams in college basketball history to reach the top of the polls without a single marquee victory to its name.
If Saint Mary’s plays its way out of the tournament, they are currently slotted anywhere from an 8-10 seed depending on your source, Dayton could be the highest seeded team ever to not have a single victory over another team in the NCAA Tournament field. So, yeah, it’s been that kinda year, guys. Stars are shining upon the Gem City, it’s okay to look.
Lastly, I had the “If Dayton makes the Final Four I’m going no matter what” talk last night with my life partner and it went surprisingly well. That’s a conversation I never thought I’d be having. It did feel good to say it out loud.
Now, onto tonight’s opponent, the Duquesne Dukes.
No one really knew what to make of Duquesne this season. While the Dukes were accumulating wins during their non-conference schedule, racking up a 10-2 record, the jury was still out on Keith Dambrot’s team. Duquesne opened up their A10 account with five straight wins — victories over Saint Louis, George Washington, Davidson, Fordham and Saint Joseph’s — and the rest of the league sat up a bit straighter in their chairs.
Then, the inevitable happened. The Dukes got their doors blown off at Rhode Island and got beat by UMass last week. While the bloom is not completely off the rose, Duquesne is starting to look more pretender than contender. A good way to get back on track? Beat the Flyers tonight. Dambrot has done a great job at Duquesne in his three seasons. 16 wins in his first year, 19 last season and on pace for anywhere between 20-23 wins this year. With everyone coming back and the reopening of the Palumbo Center next year, the Dukes are poised to make noise next season (the same can be said for UMass, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis and George Mason — the Atlantic Ten should be much improved next year).
As Matt will explain in greater detail, the Dukes offensive attack is rather unique in the year of our Lord 2020. While the Dukes attempt way too many threes than they should, you could say the same about 300 other D1 teams, they are also one of the more post-heavy offenses on God’s green earth. Marcus Weathers (14.2 ppg/8.2 rpg) has continued his emergence as a double-double threat every night and junior Michael Hughes (10.0 ppg/6.8 rpb) bangs alongside of him with great vengeance and furious anger. Sincere Carry (11.5 ppg/4.5 apg) is probably the one Dukes’ player you know — the junior has slid a little offensively this year, not a Marcus Evans-like slide, mind you, but he’s still one of the better point-guards in the league.
Last thing, the Dukes haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1977. It could always be a lot worse.
The Flyers were victorious in dispatching the Richmond Spiders Saturday, who presented a unique challenge among A10 foes. The Spiders, albeit without a NBA lottery pick, also rely on their efficient scoring but were not able to keep up with the Dayton offensive juggernaut. On Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, that will certainly not be what Duquesne will be doing. Similarly to what most of UD’s recent opponents have done, the Dukes will likely be trying to slow Dayton down with defense and physical play in the paint.
Recent narratives around analytics in basketball have blamed stats for the death of the post up in basketball. Your dad has probably lamented the lack of big men with their back to the basket in the paint and thinks all of these three point attempts are “soft.” Indeed, for most players it is not an efficient shot compared to others on the floor. In the Atlantic 10, there are only 6 players averaging at least 1 point per shot on attempts Synergy considers post ups. On Wednesday night, we will see two of them.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that nearly any shot Obi Toppin takes is efficient and post ups the future NBA player attempts are no different. Obi is averaging 1.012 points per possession on post ups, which ranks him 6th in the A10. While Obi does well scoring on post-ups, there will be two players Wednesday night on the other side of the ball who can take it down low as well. Duquesne junior Michael Hughes takes nearly half of his possessions in the paint and scores 0.967 points per possession on post ups, ranking him 7th best in the A10. Teammate Marcus Weathers doesn’t take as many post ups, but scores 1.167 points per possession on them—second best in the conference. The two big men are able to be physical against opponents down low and are among the best scorers on post ups in the conference.
As a team, Duquesne takes the highest percentage of shots of any A10 from post ups at 13.4% and is second in points per possession in the conference on post ups at 0.97 per possession. On shots at the rim overall, Duquesne is scoring 1.29 points per shot and score 53.3% of two-point field goals which ranks them 37th nationally. Clearly the Dukes do well paint, but they don’t seem to be able to use their strength in the paint to cash in on open shots convert opportunities on the perimeter. They have only hit 31.6% of their attempts from three even though they take 42.5% of their field goal attempts from there. This averages out to 0.947 points per shot, below the 0.967 points per possession the Dukes earn on post ups. Here is an example where analytics encourages a team to post up opposed to shooting threes, something you don’t see much of these days. It will be interesting to see if Trey and Obi can restrict the Dukes in the paint or if it is an opportunity for Jordy’s size and strength to try and restrict post ups from Duquesne, as in most instances the Flyers will be able to sag off shooters to protect the paint.
Predictably, teams such as Duquesne who like to bang in the paint on offense are also a tough nosed defensive team in the paint as well. The Dukes have only allowed 47% of 2-point field goals, have blocked 16.8% of attempts against them—ranking them 5th nationally, and have only allowed 1.08 points per shot on attempts against them at the rim. Dayton has been elite scoring at the rim this season, averaging 1.43 points per possession on those shots, so it’ll be strength versus strength when UD attacks the paint against Duquesne.
Teams have shot poorly from the perimeter against Duquesne this season, only hitting 28.7% of attempts from three. Yet given the very audible criticism of Duquesne’s non-conference schedule and looking at the 37.4% of field goal attempts that Duquesne allow from the perimeter, we might suspect Duquesne has had a bit of good luck facing poor shooting teams. If the Flyers shoot near their 37.3% three-point percentage, it could be a key to a Flyers victory Wednesday.
This game is on the road and, yes, that’s usually a factor when making a basketballin’ prediction. But this is Duquesne, they have no home. They are strangers in a strange land. PPG Paints Arena is going to look awfully empty on television. Will this be yet another game where UD’s opponent hangs around for 10-15 minutes before the Flyers go on a sustained run and all but end the game halfway through the second half? Probably, but you’ll watch anyway. Flyers win, 83-70.