Tuesday night’s loss to Duquesne was the most impressive coaching display Anthony Grant has registered since he told Billy Donovan he’d have to find a new errand boy. With just under six minutes to go, and the Flyers down 17, Coach Grant dialed up the intensity. AG broke out a full-court press that completely befuddled the Dukes (for various reasons). Thanks to AG’s in-game wizardry, the Flyers were down just twelve points with a minute and a half to go in the contest. Keith Dambrot simply had no answer, no counter punches, to stave off the mental karate Dayton’s esteemed coach was throwing at him.
Anthony Grant wasn’t through yet, he still had a few surprises in his endless bag of tricks. The coach who decided not to foul up three with a foul to give against Davidson began employing a steady stream of hacks, grabs and slaps at the home team. By the time you could catch your breath, and stop rubbing your eyes in wonder, the Flyers were down a mere ten points with 44 seconds left on the clock. You had to see it to believe it, Grant was calling timeouts, pointing at players and even gesticulating wildly. It was a coaching clinic.
While technically the Dukes walked away with a five-point win, it was clear who the real victor was — Coach Anthony Grant, the deserved reigning National Coach of the Year. He turned what was a complete and utter embarrassment into what looked, on paper, like a fairly competitive ballgame. Most coaches, after a string of embarrassing losses, would have sat back and took the loss like a sensible man knowing the outcome was never in doubt. I implore you to find another coach in the nation who would have fought so hard, so bravely, so intently, for appearance’s sake. Brava, Coach!
Two quick things about tonight, (1) Dayton was supposed to take on Richmond, and (2) there is absolutely no reason to play George Mason in the Spider’s stead. While surely we appreciate the league’s tenacity in ensuring Dayton’s Sock Hop would go off without a hitch facing off with the Patriots doesn’t do anyone any good. Please don’t take that as a slight towards Dave Paulsen’s crew, as Mason has little to gain from playing/winning tonight’s game. With most of the college basketball program’s running of fumes at this point, tonight’s tilt is the ultimate exercise in futility.
The Atlantic Ten, in its infinite wisdom, decided that Mason should trek back to the Gem City to play Dayton again. I don’t understand it, you don’t understand it, life is full of mysteries, it’s best not to question it. If you’ll recall the first time these two squads played you are lying to yourself. The Flyers were up by as much as 18 in the first half, went into the break up 9 and quickly pissed away the lead within the first four minutes of the second half. Tied with 2:41 left on the clock, the Flyers outscored the Patriots 11-2 the rest of the way, taking home their first conference win of the year. Dayton would lose to Fordham three days later.
We find ourselves trying to pick up the pieces of another disappointing Flyers loss. The final score flattered the Flyers, as a late barrage made the loss to Duquesne less embarrassing but for most of the game the result was a foregone conclusion. You have all probably seen the three point shooting numbers and cringed at each miss from UD from the perimeter on Tuesday but there are a few other interesting numbers from both Dayton’s woes from three-point range against Duquesne and their performance from the perimeter for the whole season.
The 22.9% 3-point % from Tuesday certainly is ugly. It is well below Dayton’s average from deep this season, which fell to 35.1% after Tuesday’s loss. Despite struggling from deep, the Flyers didn’t seem put off from trying to shoot their way out of it. 58.3% of all of UD’s field goal attempts at Duquesne came from beyond the perimeter. They already took a lot of threes before this game, with a 42.1% of their field goal attempts this season coming from deep, but Dayton went even more trigger happy against the Dukes. Trying to shoot their way out of the slump they found themselves in had compounding effects for the Flyers. Only 35% of Dayton’s field goal attempts came at the rim in Pittsburgh, where I have emphasized time and time again the most efficient shots come from. Furthermore, UD’s extra emphasis on the three meant they didn’t earn the same number of trips to the free throw line, only earning a free throw rate of 15% in Pittsburgh which falls well below their season average of 33.5%.
It’s been mentioned by many that UD will “live and die” by the three. It’s becoming a bit of a cliché to this point, but the wild variance of Dayton’s perimeter shooting has experienced really is incredible. To illustrate this, I looked at hoop-math.com’s Points Above Median metric. The site defines the metric as “how many additional points [are] scored when compared with what would have been scored with a baseline true shooting percentage of 0.480 and the same number of shots.” We can look at points above median for specifically three-point shots as we see in the graph above. Particularly in Atlantic 10 play, there is no middle ground for Dayton three-point shooting. It’s either feast or famine, where the Flyers are either greatly overachieving or underachieving how many points we would expect them to score from deep. It isn’t a surprise that Dayton scored 10 more than expected from three-point range against Saint Louis and scored 10 points less against Fordham and VCU.
I won’t begrudge anyone who can’t get up for Friday’s game against George Mason. Even the most optimistic Flyer fan has given up the at-large case by this point. The only way UD appears in March Madness is by cutting down the nets in Brooklyn, end of story. With a brutal end of the season stretch that, as of now, entails Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure, and VCU, our boys need to put every win in the bank they can to try and get the best seed for the A10 tournament possible. The George Mason Patriots remain a great candidate to help try and bank one of those wins.
Mason has just kind of been around, technically playing basketball, in the month since these two teams last met. Their shot selection still remains puzzling, taking most of their shots from three point range but only hitting a below average 32.6% of them. They also take 30.4% of their field goal attempts from the mid-range while only averaging 0.63 points per possession on them. Poor shot selection seems to be a constant theme under Dave Paulsen, who seems to be cruising to another near .500 record this season. The Patriots do score it efficiently when they take shots at the rim, averaging 1.28 points per possession on those shots. Perhaps they avoid taking it to the basket more frequently to avoid embarrassment at the free throw stripe, as they are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country only hitting 59.8% of attempts.
The length that George Mason has on their squad means they are an above average shot blocking and rebounding team, blocking over 11% of attempts on defense and pulling down offensive rebounds on 30.5% of opportunities. Their gaudy shot blocking numbers don’t necessarily translate to shutting down baskets at the rim, as their opponents have scored 1.27 points per possession at the rim this season. Opponents have also shot from the perimeter well against the Patriots this season, making 35% of their attempts from deep. Teams have been successful moving the ball against George Mason and finding good shots, as the Patriots opponents score 1.33 PPP between 11-25 seconds in the shot clock at the rim and 1.15 PPP on threes during that same time frame in the shot clock. Dayton won’t be trigger shy trying to continue to reign threes against the Patriots, but will need to move the ball and remain a threat to go inside to keep Mason off-kilter defensively.
Prediction? You want a prediction? Ok, here it goes — we are living in a matrix. Jalen Crutcher will score over twenty points, Sleepy Watson will shoot at least seven three-pointers, and Christian Wilson will refuse to dress for the game (I am still shook by Wilson’s three-point attempt in garbage time getting swatted into the twentieth row of Duquesne’s NEW AND IMPROVED COPPER FIELDHOUSE). I’m not sure I can envision a more lifeless game than this one, and I once watched two guys in wheelchairs play one-on-one. Flyers 66, Mason 65.5. #LOWD