The NumbersU. Dayton Basketball“But He Only Dunks!” Why Iowa Fans Made Obi Toppin’s Case for Us

The Gem City big man reigns supreme, no matter the outside noise
Matt Rhein7 months ago87 min

As all Dayton fans continue to think about what could have been this season, Obi Toppin has continued to collect awards. Unsurprisingly, Obi announced today that he would be entering the NBA Draft and hiring an agent. That was on the back of Obi picking up the AP Player of the Year award for Men’s College Basketball. Clearly it is not just those loyal to the red and blue who see just how incredible Obi has been in this shortened season. However, much of Iowa has taken to Twitter dot com to express their displeasure with the Associated Press anointing our boy Obi.

Even before these pandemic times, subtlety and nuance have never been characteristics of Twitter. The discourse surrounding Obi has often not even met those low standards though. Every Dayton or Obi tweet these days has someone in the replies with a Hawkeye avatar.

Sure there have been reasonable Iowa fans who think their guy is best but understand Obi is very good as well. And there is nothing wrong with liking your team’s guy the most. Sports boil down to cheering for your team and booing the other team. However, it seems to be the same few, easily dismissed arguments those stumping for Garza continue to make. Most Hawkeye fans argument seems to relate to either “Obi Toppin only dunks!” or “The A10 sucks!”.

The first argument is the most amusing, as if a player that is able to get to the basket and score at will is a bad thing. This season, we’ve gone on a basketball analytics journey together. One of the main themes of my writing here has been the efficiency of shots and the rim and the Flyers ability to score there being their strength. This is true in the Atlantic 10, Big 10, or anywhere basketball is played.

Shot map for Obi Toppin in games tracked by ESPN. Efficient.

In all of college basketball, the field goal attempt at the rim is the most efficient. In the Atlantic 10, on average it is worth 1.18 points per shot. Shots at the rim in the Big 10 are worth on average 1.21 points per shot. These are high value shots. An Obi Toppin shot at the rim is even more valuable.

This season, when Obi Toppin gets a shot at the rim, he scored on average 1.66 points per shot. You don’t need to be well versed in analytics to know that is a lot. The idea that someone would think it is a bad thing that a player who scores 1.66 points per shot would shoot a lot of these shots is absurd. Now, Luka Garza averaged 1.41 shots at the rim this season, well above the average in the Big Ten. This is impressive in it’s own right, but Obi is clearly the more efficient scorer at the rim.

How efficient were Obi & Luka versus the average player in each conference.

But of course Obi Toppin doesn’t “just dunk.” While 52.5% of Obi’s shots this season were at the rim, he was efficient no matter where he got his shot off. The AP Player of the Year scored 0.88 points per shot from mid-range jumpers and 1.17 points per shot from three. Both of these numbers are well above the averages in either the Atlantic 10 or Big 10. Again, Luka Garza also is above average in both these areas as well at 0.84 and 1.07 points per shot respectively. These are both below the averages Obi put forth this past season, continuing the theme of the supreme efficiency of Obi Toppin.

I hear Hawkeye4Lyfe69420’s reaction to this article already (who may or may not be Fran McAffery’s son). “It’s easy to be efficient against scrubs like Fordham lol!” I’ll first point out that against Quad 1 and 2 teams this season, the Flyers were 13-2, where Obi had a 119.7 offensive rating, a 64.2% effective field goal %, and 66.1% true shooting rate in those game. Obi had no trouble playing top competition. With that said, I would never claim the competition in the Atlantic 10 is as high as the Big 10. However,  there are similarities between playing in the two conferences.

Obi dunk picture from the god of Dayton Flyer coverage, David Jablonski.

Most Hawkeye honks are quick to pronounce that Obi could not get to the basket like he did against the big men in the Big 10. These statements are usually followed by telling us how much A10 basketball they watched. These Iowans must have missed all the games that Hasahn French, Michael Hughes and AJ Wilson played in then. The talent in the Atlantic 10 might not have the high ceiling many in the Big 10 do, but Christ there are a lot of brick house centers who will swat a shot into the seventh row. We can quantify this looking at the block rates in each conference. In the Big 10, the average team has a block rate of 10%. The Atlantic 10 is slightly below that at 9.7%. Both averages are well above the national average of 8.9%. There are no easy baskets in either conference.

No matter how many replies from zealot Iowa basketball fans there are, Obi Toppin won the National Player of the Year with the Dayton Flyers. UD fans will forever wonder what could have been this year. Though the dream of cutting down the nets in Atlanta was stopped not by a foe on the court but by a fucking pandemic, Obi and the 2019-2020 Dayton Flyers will be remembered by fans as long as they are playing basketball on Edwin C. Moses Boulevard.

Matt Rhein