Dayton has survived their toughest two-game swing, racking up victories on the road against Richmond and Duquesne. The Flyers return to the Gem City and will begin a three-game homestand starting with Fordham tomorrow afternoon. After the tuneup against the Rams, the Flyers take a nice week long break before Saint Louis and Rhode Island come calling.
It’s already been a strange trip for the Flyer Faithful. How strange? We got folks on social media speculating about Dayton’s tournament seed and it’s not even FEBRUARY. I’m on the record saying UD’s seeding ceiling is probably a three, you can absolutely talk me into a two if the Flyers run the table the rest of the way. While UD has received a bountiful amount of good press and achieved a historic ranking in the national polls, there’s more involved than just positive perception once Selection Sunday rolls around.
The old adage “Who did you beat and where did you beat them?” becomes gospel once the ten-member selection committee meets behind closed doors in Indianapolis. Maybe I’m pessimistic because I emphatically believe Dayton has been screwed by the powers that be before, underseeded in 2004, 2009 and 2015 (The only time you could make a case that Dayton was overseeded was in 2003). Hence, I have a “show me” mentality when it comes to how the committee will treat the Flyers this season. That being said, I’m not going to sweat or overthink where Dayton ends up seed-wise. This team has proven it’s good enough to hang with anyone.
Joe Lunardi was on Justin Kinner’s show on Wednesday afternoon and briefly discussed Dayton’s seeding fate. Lunardi believes this Dayton team is the best in A10 since the Nelson/West St. Joe’s squad (agreed) and had them as a three seed and the ninth overall team in the field (fair). Joey Brackets doesn’t see a scenario where UD could jump up to the one line simply due to the lack of quality wins and the unlikelihood of self-inflicted wounds from the teams ahead of them (also fair). Essentially Lunardi is telling UD fans to avoid the noise, avoid the Noid, and just keep winning. The fact of the matter is Dayton simply won’t have enough “quality” wins to get to that top line.
We will surely get more into seeding implications as the season rolls on towards March, but, for now, Dayton still has ten games left on its regular season schedule. First up, everyone’s favorite punchline, the Fordham Rams.
This one could get disgustingly ugly. The blueprint to beat the Flyers this year seems evident: rebound the basketball and try to match Dayton bucket-for-bucket for 40 mins, or 45 in the case of Colorado and Kansas. The Flyers were outrebounded by 10 against the Buffaloes and by 8 against the Jayhawks (Saint Louis, who had Dayton beat, outboarded UD by 12). Both Kansas and Colorado were able to out-physical Dayton and had the ability to consistently, and more importantly efficiently, attack the Flyers in the paint. Make no mistake, physical teams that can rebound and get to the rim are proving to be UD’s kryptonite this season. I will concede that both Colorado and Kansas were led by elite point-guards, a major factor in both contests as well, and those don’t grow on trees.
Fordham doesn’t rebound well, to be generous, and the Rams certainly lack the offensive firepower to keep up with a team like Dayton. The Rams are fortunate if they can break sixty against middling competition — Jeff Neubauer’s club is currently averaging 58 points per game, just under 53 points per contest in conference play. Fordham, to put it plainly, is Fordham. Ain’t a damn thing changed. That being said, I do think this is the year the Rams’ fan has been waiting for all of his life — I predict that Fordham will finish 13th this season, not last, barely edging out the horror show that are the St. Joseph’s Hawks.
The first question you have to ask when evaluating Fordham is who is the promising underclassman that will more than likely transfer after the season — the answer is clearly sophomore guard Jalen Cobb. Cobb is the team’s leading scorer and one of the better on-ball defenders in the conference. Senior guard Antwon Portley was the Rams’ leading returning scorer and assist man. Portley was injured for most of January but came back into the fold last Sunday in Fordham’s 55-39 loss to Saint Louis. Give credit to the kid coming back at all, lesser men would have faked a groin injury until the season was over.
Chuba Ohams, one of the Rams’ big dogs coming into the season suffered a season-ending injury against La Salle on January 5th. Jeff Neubauer must cry himself to sleep every night. Ty Perry has stepped up in Ohams’ absence, scoring eleven points a game, establishing himself as one of Fordham’s better perimeter shooters during Atlantic Ten play. In the preseason, Neubauer was touting incoming freshman Joel Soriano, a 6’11” center, as “easily the best prospect” Fordham has brought into the program during his tenure. Soriano is currently averaging 1.8 points a game, shooting 31% from the field. Talent evaluation might be an issue on Rose Hill.
You probably do not need advanced stats and metrics to determine how good Fordham is. The fabled eye test of watching the Rams play is probably not even needed; instead we can employ the “name test”. It’s Fordham, they are probably bad. We can quickly share some of the lowlights of stats for the Rams including a 348th ranked 89.0 KenPom offensive efficiency metric, a 44.8% effective field goal rate (15.5% worse than the Flyers), and a 42.2% field goal % from 2-point field goals. Fordham have been actually competent this season on defense, with a 92nd ranked in the country 98.1 KenPom defensive efficiency metric. Much of that defensive success has come from their best defensive player Chuba Ohams, who had an impressive 4% block rate and 2.8% steal rate as well as a top 100 ranked nationally offensive and defensive rebound rates. Of course, with it being Fordham, Ohams has not played an Atlantic 10 game due to an injury suffered in THE WARM UP of their A10 opener against La Salle. Yikes.
With the token glance at the stats for the current Fordham squad completed, I wanted to try to quantify the issue that has united rivals across the Atlantic 10 conference—kicking Fordham the fuck out of the conference. From Amherst to Saint Louis, there doesn’t seem to be any fan base that would shed many tears if the Rams were forcibly removed from the A10. For the Flyers and most A10, a schedule that can put them in the conversation for an NCAA at-large bid requires careful planning. The conventional wisdom is that this planning is made tougher by a millstone around the metaphorical neck of Dayton, Rhode Island, VCU and the rest of the conference that is Fordham. Do the numbers reflect this thinking? I wanted to look at if playing Fordham at least once a year was the strength of schedule anchor to their Atlantic 10 peers that most assume it is.
To do this, I took the average KenPom Adjusted Efficiency Metric for every Division 1 side the past ten seasons, the Fordham KenPom Efficiency Metric each of those ten seasons, and used a statistical measure called Z-score that measures how many standard deviations something is above or below the mean. In English, we can use this to measure how many levels above or below Fordham has been compared to the average division 1 side in the NCAA.
Perhaps surprisingly, we see for 7 of the last 10 seasons Fordham has had a KenPom Efficiency Metric above the average team the last ten seasons. It has been a literal roller coaster for the Rams the past ten years, with Fordham earning their worst number in 2010/11, then seeing slow progress up the next five years, only to see it drop off the last four seasons. These seemingly competent numbers the last decade surprised me a bit but then I realized “hey, there are a lot of shitty teams in D1.” This season, in the Atlantic 10 Dayton, Rhode Island, VCU, Richmond, Saint Louis, Duquesne, and Davidson all are ranked in the KenPom top 100 but currently the Flyers are the only team safely in the NCAA Tournament field. Fordham being somewhere between slightly better or slightly worse than the average team in college basketball doesn’t help the A10. So how do they compare to their Atlantic 10 peers.
We can do the same Z-score test for Fordham and the rest of the A10’s KenPom Efficiency Metric. Less surprisingly in these numbers, we see Fordham has only been an average Atlantic 10 team or above two of the last ten years. Not only are the Rams typically not at the level of an average Atlantic 10 team, they have been a level below average for four of the past ten years. In 2010/11 and 2017/18, Fordham were at least 1 standard deviation below the Atlantic 10 average as well as in 2011/12 and this season, the Rams are just below that -1 deviation, earning at least a -0.9 Z-score. Of course, some team has to be the worst team in the A10 and there always is going to be a team with these poor scores if we employ this measurement. It is Fordham’s consistency in performing well below the average Atlantic 10 side that makes them worthy of the ire of the rest of the conference and has me in the twitter mob looking to take them by the neck and throw them into the MAAC.
Let’s quickly look at Fordham’s offensive numbers in Atlantic Ten play: 36% field goal percentage, 32% three-point percentage and a 61% foul-shooting percentage. Those are ghastly, incriminating statistics. You know doubt will not be surprised to learn that the Rams are one of the least offensive efficient teams in the nation (347th). The one thing Fordham has going for them against Dayton is their snail-like pace of play.
To put a cherry on top, here’s is the title of a NYC Sports blog post from yesterday:
I just don’t want anyone to get hurt, physically or emotionally. Mostly emotionally. Flyers roll, BIG.