A win, is a win, is a win. That hollow cliché used to have meaning in Flyer circles not so long ago. In fact, it was a credible sentiment just three years ago, when Dayton escaped with a one-point win on a Josh Cunningham buzzer-beater to beat the mighty Ball State Cardinals in Anthony Grant’s first game as head coach. It was the first contest after Archie Miller left the program for greener pa$ture$, the program was coming off its fourth straight NCAA appearance and Flyer veneration was at an all-time high.
To be fair, most fans were aware that Grant’s first season would be a set back, a year in which the talents of Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, Kendall Pollard and even Kyle Davis would be sorely missed. It was a restart in almost every way imaginable : a new coaching staff, a completely revamped lineup and, if memory serves, the advent of a complete restoration of UD Arena (I still remember Neil Sullivan stating it was, “not a renovation, but a transformational project.” Sure, Neil.).
It was an interesting year, to put it mildly. Early losses to Hofstra, Old Dominion, Auburn, Mississippi State and Penn established a fruitless season before the calendar even hit mid-December. The Penn loss, in particular, was a major blow to our collective psyches and intestinal linings (most years there’s a loss during the season which compels me to email/text/DM everyone involved in the site and ask the lingering question — “Should we just shut the site down? Why are we doing this??” The defeat to the Quakers was one such time). While there is always blind optimism heading into every UD basketball season, it was clear early on that expectations were in need of a major recalibration.
Which brings us to Tuesday night’s game against Eastern Illinois. It was disconcerting, a walk-on played significant minutes, the offense seemed to run in slow-motion and the Flyers nearly pissed away what should have been a nice evening for us all (I can’t stress this enough, playing Christian Wilson thirteen minutes is the strangest coaching decision I have seen since Dave Bliss directed a murder-mystery on the Baylor campus). The red-tinted glasses contingent was trying to sell the ol’ “Hey, it’s just one game” tripe on social media, but their hearts just weren’t in it. But…it is just one game. We will certainly know much more about your Flyers after Saturday’s matchup with SMU.
SMU is already 3-0 on the season, with shellackings against Sam Houston State, Texas A&M Corpus-Christi and Houston Baptist on the resume. Not exactly a murder’s row, but at this stage of the game you play anyone with five healthy bodies. The halcyon days of Larry Brown are long gone, buried under a pile of suspensions, postseason bans, probation, loss of scholarships and academic fraud. Not a lot of return on investment, the Mustangs basically had three years of evil Brian Gregory. Last season was SMU’s first year with a full roster of scholarship athletes, the days of seven player practices a thing of the past. Coached by Tim Jankovich, the ‘Stangs went 19-11 last season, 9-9 in the AAC, with a team that was offensively elite but defensively deplete.
SMU returns four starters from last year and was picked third in the American Athletic’s preseason poll. The Mustangs feature a very colorful roster. Their leading scorer, Tyson Jolly, has been essentially AWOL from the team after quitting the squad because some friends were lost to “gang violence.” Jolly has been sitting on the bench during games, but his availability going forward is a question mark. Second-leading scorer, Feron Hunt? Well, he threatened to quit basketball altogether over *checks notes* “social injustice.” Like most keyboard social justice warriors, Hunt, a legit NBA prospect, quickly got tired of the act and is back playing basketball with SMU. Ball don’t lie, clearly.
Jankovich worked some magic and landed Oklahoma State transfer, Yor Anei, a 6’10” shot-blocker with two years of eligibility left in late July. Anei has yet to play this season due to an infection in his wrist, which is definitely not a first world problem. Compounding Anei’s life is the fact that he lost two fingers in a childhood blender accident. He was apparently the only young, black Jimmy Buffett fan in existence and obviously adheres to a very risk-heavy lifestyle, making Anei perfect for Southern Methodist.
Kendric Davis, SMU’s second-leading scorer a year ago, flirted with the leaving for the NBA last spring but returned to Dallas for another run at whatever it is college basketball has to offer in the year 2020. Davis is scoring 21.3 points per game and 9.6 assists a contest, all while shooting 56% from three and 94% from the charity stripe. He’s one of the best point-guards in the nation, with his stature, my man stands just 5’10” in sneakers, the only thing stunting his professional potential.
One thing is for sure, SMU is going to score a bunch of points against our Flyers. The Mustangs are a deep team, with decent size and play at a breakneck pace. They are essentially the exact opposite of the Dayton team we saw Tuesday night. The Flyers will likely not have to face Jolly on Saturday, a major check in the plus column for UD. Nevertheless, SMU has NCAA tournament talent, and will be Dayton’s sternest test on the non-conference schedule. Unless we see a different Flyer team this weekend, this one has trouble written all over it.
Matt, whattaya got for us?
Before we examine the data for SMU, I quickly wanted to discuss Dayton’s second half against Eastern Illinois. Yes, the offensive rebound problems from last year haven’t improved. UD allowed Eastern Illinois to get a 35% offensive rebound rate. That’s not good. However in the second half, the Panthers got their third offensive rebound of the half with 18:27 left, then did not get another offensive rebound in the half until there was 3:19 left. The Panthers got their last offensive rebound of the game with 2:58 remaining, with UD holding a ten point lead at 64-54. From that point, UD scored 2 more points.
The Flyer’s largest lead of 16 points came 13:18 left in the game. From that point, Dayton took 13 field goal attempts, making 5. That is a 38.46% field goal percentage. You don’t need me to tell you that is very bad. They would also only hit 60% of their free throws in that time frame and earn a 46.15% effective field goal percentage. The Dayton Flyers of Obi Toppin, this was not. The ineffective offense was largely due to shot selection for the Flyers. During this time frame, UD took 23.08% of their shots at the rim, 38.46% were 2-point jumpers, and 38.46% were from three. Compare these numbers to the averages last season of 40.5% of shots at the rim, 20.5% 2-point jumpers, and 37.1% from three we see Dayton was unable to get the easy shots at the rim that were so plentiful last season. Now with guys who can shoot like Jalen Crutcher, Ibi Watson and perhaps Chase Johnson(?!?!?!), you will see plenty of runs like we saw at the beginning of each half where shots are falling for the Flyers. You will also see regression come in the form of cold streaks that nearly saw Eastern Illinois catch the Flyers.
Now let’s move on to the Pony Express. At first glance, SMU have put forth some impressive stats at a breakneck pace. They have scored 96.7 points per game, with an offensive rating of 109.67 points per 100 possessions. They are averaging 78.1 possessions per 40 minutes, 18th highest in the country so far. This year’s SMU has certainly channeled the Pony Express up to this point of the season. There is a huge caveat though. All 3 of the Mustang’s games thus far have come against 300+ KenPom ranked teams. The Flyers will be the first team with even the smallest of expectations this season (also the first team outside of Texas) SMU will come across.
While playing opponents who are only technically Division 1 athletes in name only helped SMU inflate stats to levels like a 40% 3-point percentage, a 58.4% effective field goal percentage, and 69% (nice) assist to field goal ratio, there’s reason to believe the Mustangs have an efficient offense. The players that appeared in nearly 60% of minutes for SMU last season returned and earned an offensive rating of 112.4 points per 100 possessions. Most worrying for the Flyer Faithful is the 34.1% offensive rebound rate last season and 41.6% offensive rebound rate for the Mustangs this season. The Flyers could be in for another long night on the boards.
That potent offense so far this season has been led by junior guard Kendric Davis. The SMU guard has throttled the tomato can opponents in his path so far averaging 21.3 points per game and 9.7 assists per game. Davis is doing it efficiently, with a 58.3 effective field goal %, a 64.5% true shooting %, and 55.6% three-point %. Against living, breathing competition Davis will likely see a regression shooting from deep as he is only a 32% career three-point shooter. However, seeing a 36.4% free throw rate where he hit 85.4% of his free throws last season makes it seem that his 38.1% free throw rate where he has hit 93.8% of his free throws this season will be sustainable. We also can assume his gaudy assist numbers can continue after looking at his 39.1% assist rate last season which was 11th in the entire country.
It is tougher to glean meaning from SMU’s defensive metrics from games against a school named after a guy who fought in the Texas War of Independence, a satellite campus of Texas A&M, and a Baptist college. Since there is a lot of continuity from last season for Tim Jankovich’s ball club, we can try to get something from last year’s numbers. The big thing that sticks out is the 43% of field goals attempts the Mustangs allowed came from the perimeter. In an article last season, I discussed you can learn more about a team’s perimeter defense from their three point attempt % allowed than their actual three point percentage. UD should have plenty of opportunities from beyond the arc. If the Flyers can hit their fair share of threes, it can help lead them to victory over SMU.
Matt’s breakdown provides us with a glimmer of hope. While its obvious the Mustangs have been racking up points at will, it has come against, to be frank, dogshit competition. However, when you factor in UD’s sluggish opener against their dogshit competition, it’s hard to really take away anything suggestive on either end. Bottom line, the Flyers are going to need a lot of offense to win on Saturday — and I’m not sure they have the horses, let’s keep it equine, capable of keeping up with SMU at this point of the season (I fear whether or not Dayton can muster enough buckets to win will clearly be a huge question going into every game this year).
To put it plainly, this game might be a case where the team further along in experience and cohesiveness has the stated advantage. This would, of course, give the edge to the ‘Stangs. SMU is clearly superior as far as depth is concerned, surely has the size to offset any mismatches in the frontcourt and, as should be obvious, can score the ball with any team in the country. While we don’t know enough about UD right now to make an informed judgment, and sure, you can say the same about SMU, on paper it would seem that Jankovich’s side has the decisive edge. Dayton’s hope lies in the hands, and, dare I say CHEST, of Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson. If the two senior guards go off the Flyers have a decent chance to come out of the game with the dub.
Mustangs 82, Dayton 75. #LOWD