A few weeks to go in A10 play and the picture is becoming clearer. VCU’s unfortunate loss to George Mason has the Rams on the outside looking in. We tried warning everyone about the landmines but the Richmond Rams just refused to listen. Let’s check in on the Cafenasium real quick.
Ya hate to see it.
After taking the feeble pulse of the Ram Nation, it appears they are hedging all their bets on a victory over Dayton next week. We wish them well, as mercy is for the weak. Putting an end to VCU’s season at the Cafenasium would be yet another feather in this season’s cap.
Rhode Island is tenuously holding onto an at-large bid and would be best served not following in VCU’s footsteps. The Kingston Rams are currently 18-6 and have five very winnable games ahead, as well as a visit from UD on March 4th. While victories outside of UD won’t raise any eyebrows, URI, like most mid-majors in their situation, are strictly focused on racking up wins and hoping other bubble teams will implode along the way. Of course, a win against Dayton would certainly solidify Rhody’s tournament resume.
If you want to join me on the Richmond hype train, you are more than welcome. The Spiders are sitting comfortably in fourth place in the league and are 18-6 on the season. Blake Francis is back in the fold and Chris Mooney’s squad has six winnable games left on the docket — a key matchup with VCU this weekend and a vital clash at Saint Bonaventure the following Saturday. If the Spiders can find a way to run the table (and not shit the bed in Brooklyn), albeit an unlikely occurrence, Richmond could find itself in the field of 68. This weekend’s game against Virginia Commonwealth would appear to be an elimination game of sorts. The last time my Spidey senses were tingling like this I was asked to leave a restaurant.
UMass, on the other hand, is just playing out the string and have shifted their focus to the rest of the hockey season. The Minutemen, who will be much improved (in theory) next season, are set to play spoiler from here on out. Their first potential victim? YOUR DAYTONA FLIERS!!! ON SATURDAY!!!
You guys, being super fans during what has become UD’s Renaissance period, probably sat through Dayton’s tilt with UMass earlier this year. Additionally, you likely don’t remember a single thing about that game, outside of the fact that the Flyers won handily. In the first matchup, Dayton had six players score in double-figures and, as a team, shot 61% on two-point attempts. The Flyers were rather dreadful from behind the arc, converting just 26% of their threes, yet won the game by 28 points. That’s just not fair, but it’s the life the rest of the conference chose.
While Tre Mitchell struggled offensively, he still managed to put up 16 points and 7 rebounds. He was the man in the firing squad with a blank in the chamber, putting forth his best effort even though his discharge was perfunctory. We, as a rabid tribe, respect the shit outta that. Mitchell is going to be a thorn in the side of the rest of the A10 for years to come, UMass has its main building block in place, and the rest of the league is on notice.
Carl Pierre, UMass’ junior guard and leader, is a decent perimeter shooter. He has seen some dark days, people. The rest of the team is essentially a youth movement, kids who are getting solid minutes and gaining invaluable experience (again, hypothetically to make a serious move in the league next season). TJ Weeks looked like the best of the rest before he went down with a season-ending injury. Freshman Sean East comes off the bench but plays starters’ minutes, he’s a solid passer and a two-time Rookie of the Week selection. Preston Santos, Samba Diallo and Dibaji Walker are a trio of underclassmen who have shown promise and potential, which is what we all had at that age. Now look at us — a bunch of goddamn slobs no woman could truly love.
How the hell did Dayton get two games against UMass? The A10 having presumed contenders play each other twice to create a stronger schedule is a good wait to help improve strength of schedules for potential A10 bubble teams. With the Flyers other pod partners, as of writing UD has five KenPom Quad A games and two Quad B games (though if VCU keeps losing to the likes of George Mason, who knows what they will be lol) against the teams they have twice in the schedule. I’m not sure who at the A10 offices projected the Minutemen as a contender and thus ended up on Dayton’s schedule twice, but they severely miscalculated.
Before the matchup at UD Arena in January, I wrote that the Minutemen were inexperienced, weren’t great scoring inside the 3-point line, and struggle to stop opponents in the paint. The old cliché of freshmen become sophomores at a certain point of the season may be nonsensical, but through 60% of the Atlantic 10 games the young Minutemen have gained experience. Yet they haven’t been able to change their flaws much.
Before the Atlantic 10 campaign got underway, UMass was hitting 36.5% of threes and taking over 40% of their field goals from beyond the arc. Since then, the Minutemen have seen their perimeter shooting regress to a 33.4% rate. Their efficiency in the paint hasn’t improved since January either, averaging 1.15 points per shot in field goal attempts at the rim—well below the average team in the A10.
Teams are still getting to the rim at ease against UMass, taking nearly half of their shots at the rim against the Minutemen and scoring 1.21 points per shot against them. Matt McCall seems to emphasize preventing threes on defense, with only 31.3% of field goal attempts against UMass coming from beyond the arc. This seems a bit backwards in the college game, as in the Atlantic 10 this season teams are averaging 1.18 points per shot at the rim and only 1.01 point per shot on threes. Of course, how individual teams shoot should affect a defensive game plan. Yet these figures suggest it is a focus by the Minutemen to prevent the 3 at expense of their interior defense. The numbers suggest that’s a backwards tradeoff on the court.
Tre Mitchell and Carl Pierre remain the scoring threats for UMass this season. While the team as a whole isn’t great at scoring inside, Mitchell has done well in the paint this season. The 6’9” freshman is a player that offers a glimmer of hope to Minutemen fans. He takes nearly half his shots at the rim and averages 1.34 points per shot there. His physical play in the paint also earns him frequent trips to the free throw line, earning 5.3 fouls committed against him per 40 minutes and a 34.4% free throw rate. He also shoots it at a decent clip when he is at the line, hitting 70.5% of attempts this season. In addition to being an inside threat, Mitchell has shown signs of being a competent defensive player. This season, Mitchell is pulling down 19.8% of defensive rebounding opportunities and blocking 3.3% of shots while he’s on the floor.
The only knock against Mitchell is he seems to think he has a competent jump shot when the evidence of one isn’t there Taking 27% of his shots from the mid-range and 25% from three, Mitchell is earning 0.65 points per shot from mid-range jumpers and 0.86 on threes. Since half of his shots are coming from these spots, it’s tanked his efficiency a bit.
The drop in three-point shooting for UMass has largely mirrored Carl Pierre’s regression in the same area. At the beginning of Atlantic 10 portion of the schedule, Pierre was shooting 41% from deep. Since then that figure has dropped to 36.2%. This is still a respectable rate, but given that Pierre is the only above average shooter from the perimeter for the Minutemen, if Pierre isn’t hot from deep then there doesn’t seem to be anyone on UMass that is a concern from the perimeter.
Dayton is the highest ranked opponent to come to the Mullins Center since that historic Saint Joseph’s team back in 2004. You and Delonte West don’t remember it. To say that the team and fans will be hyped up for this one is stretching the truth, tickets are going for as little as ten bucks, but certainly playing a soon-to-be Top Five team brings with it some intrigue and motivation. UMass has done a decent job of protecting its home floor this year, going 9-3 in Amherst. While the Mullins Center decibel level never seems to reach a fever pitch, empty seats make no noise, it is lit like Carlsbad Caverns — and you can’t anticipate the effect it will have on visitors.
UMass gives up a ton of easy buckets, and Dayton, as you know, are currently the Kings of Easy Buckets (thanks, Obi!). Although Coach McCall will make defending the paint of point of emphasis, you are what you are when you get to this point in the season. This will be easy work, Dayton rolls 81-66.
Lastly, don’t forget to pick up the OFFICIALLY LICENSED “Decibel Dungeon” tshirt/hoodie from Breaking T. We are partnering with Breaking T, run by a Dayton alum, to provide some original and tasty attire. This is our first release, with many others on the way. We greatly appreciate your patronage. Women and youth sizes are available.
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.