The season to nowhere keeps on rambling down the road. Your Flyers are now 7-4 in the Atlantic Ten, their latest victory in a Sock Hop over George Mason. UD is now left with a six-pack of games left on their schedule. As you know, that amount is tenuous at best — so let’s figure Dayton plays at least four of those contests. While whatever is remaining on UD’s docket is meaningless, it does signal that we are inching ever closer to meaningful games in March.
Until then, we bite the bullet and continue to endure what has been the most perplexing season since this site was birthed all those years ago — seriously, what would the preseason odds be on Dayton losing to Fordham, La Salle, Duquesne and going down by over twenty points against VCU? They would be astronomical, yet we all witnessed it with our collective eyes and souls. The aforementioned speculation begets what has become the BIG question — can the Flyers win the Atlantic Ten tournament?
Hoping this team, coached by that man, can somehow string together three or four consecutive wins seems like a big ask. That being said, the league is fairly deplorable and the Flyers did take down two of the current top four teams in the conference, so anything is possible (oddly enough, this logic would dictate that UD’s first round opponent would pose the biggest risk of any matchup the Flyers would face, but let’s not trifle). Realize what people aren’t looking for is an answer, they are simply looking for hope, a very dangerous thing indeed. They simply want you to look them in the eyes, perhaps caress their apple red cheeks, and tell them things are going to be okay.
Are they going to be okay? Well VCU takes on the Flyers tonight and they ripped Grant an Co. and new asshole last time out, so probably not.
Believe it or not, the VCU debacle was the kiss of death for me. While the Flyers did suffer nauseating losses to both Fordham and La Salle prior to their trip to Richmond, I bandied about with the idea that UD was simply not mentally in either game and got caught unprepared and unwilling. The Cafenasium Catastrophe was a needed wake up call. Suddenly it dawned on me, hopefully all of us, that Dayton wasn’t merely playing down to its inferior competition, they were, in fact, inferior competition themselves.
The first time around the Rams completely flummoxed Jalen Crutcher. VCU sent doubles, triples and quads at Dayton’s senior point guard. They picked him up as soon as he received the ball across the midcourt line, ready to pounce. Within minutes it was clear that Crutcher was not going to dribble the ball to safety and that, gasp, someone else was going to have to step up and beat the Rams on offense. Moose and Sleepy went a combined 2-of-18 shooting that afternoon, it was that kind of game.
To spin it positively, there is no earthly way the Flyers can shoot the ball that poorly again (one would think). UD shot 31% from the field, 15% from three and just 50% from the charity stripe. Now clearly credit has to be given to Mike “Dusty” Rhoades and his coaching staff, they dialed a game plan that completely put Dayton in a box and ensured a feeling of awkwardness would blossom in the city of gems. I wouldn’t expect VCU to change a damn thing coming into tonight, they’ll likely use the same blueprint from January 23rd. The question, the quandary, is whether UD will adapt (insert eye roll emoji here. The readers will total get it and be like….ah, I see what he is inferring there. Total slam-dunk on my part. Make sure to erase this before posting, otherwise you will look like a mentally unfit ward of the state).
Matt, help me out here, I’m dying.
The make it up as you go nature of this season means Dayton will have less time than usual to try and come up with a game plan to combat a VCU. Any Flyer fan that viewed the first matchup between UD and VCU would want UD allowed the most time possible to fix the horror show the Flyers put forth. Unfortunately, Anthony Grant and his staff had to stick the UMass preparation in the garbage and scramble to try and avoid another embarrassment against the Richmond Rams.
After crunching the numbers, running numerous regression models and pouring over the results I have a strategy that might be controversial but will help Dayton emerge victorious over VCU Tuesday. The Dayton Flyers need to make shots and get Jalen Crutcher more involved. Crazy, right? Let me expand a bit. In their first matchup, Dayton put forth a 66.2 offensive rating which was by far the lowest of the season. This was largely down to the Flyers taking 36.4% of their field goal attempts in the Bosco Stick Arena in Richmond from three-point range but only hitting 15% of those attempts. With Dayton being an above average three-point shooting team, some might think it was just a bad shooting luck night for the Flyers and there could be some positive regression to the mean the second time around. There is more to it in my opinion.
It was very apparent both watching the first game a few weeks ago and looking at the metrics that Mike Rhoades game plan was to prevent Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson from taking over and take his chances on the rest of the mostly inexperienced Flyers not being able to score enough to beat VCU. Boy, was he right. If the Flyers were to take 20 three-point attempts during a game, you would expect Jalen and Ibi to take a large chunk of those shots. Against VCU, that was not the case. Big Moose Amzil took the most shots behind the perimeter with 5, hitting none. Freshman Koby Brea took the same number of shots from three as Ibi with 4. Though 4 three-point attempts were the second most of any UD player that day, that was 2.25 less than Ibi averages a game. Jalen is Dayton’s leading scorer and hits 40% of his three-point attempts, but only got off 2 attempts from deep in Richmond.
Not only did VCU prevent Jalen from shooting from deep, they locked him down across the entire court. At the Mecca of Meatloaf Jalen took 7 field goal attempts, nearly 6 less than he typically averages a game. While he’s shown promising flashes and certainly deserves playing time, if Zimi Nwokeji is taking the most field goal attempts of any Flyer as he did in the first game, it is likely a bad sign. Jalen can’t take the fourth most shots on the team as he did in the last VCU matchup. Guys like Moose might not go 0-for as he did in his first experience of “HAVOC!!!”, and he’ll need to contribute something points wise, but everyone knows who needs to lead the Dayton offense. Anything guys outside of Jalen and Ibi contribute Tuesday will be welcome to all Flyer fans, however it will be crucial that Anthony Grant schemes a way to get Jalen Crutcher more shots despite the unrelenting pressure he is certain to face.
Trying to find a way to get more shots against a defense as strong as VCU’s certainly might be easier said than done. If the Rams are successfully denying Jalen and Ibi shots early, the Flyers will need to pivot strategies. Continuing to rely on perimeter shots doesn’t seem like a good idea, with Moose the only other rotation regular shooting above 30% from deep (he is shooting a mouth watering 40% from three to be fair). With that, trying to find some other way to attack this VCU defense was a bit of a daunting task. Looking over their Synergy defensive sheet, it is filled with “excellent” and “very good” descriptions for defending all the different categories tracked was noticeable.
The one weak spot of “HAVOC!!!” continues to be is the number of free throws they allow. The Rams concede a 36.1% free throw to field goal attempt rate this season, 4.3% higher than the average D1 team. So far this season, Dayton is slightly above average when it comes to the free throw line, with a 32.5% free throw rate. It’s no surprise they aren’t particularly proficient earning free throws with their tendency to be a jump shooting team. You might expect that the Flyers will need to rely more on big bodies like Jordy Tshimanga and Moulaye Sissoko to try and get more trips to the free throw line. Not so fast, my friend!
For all Dayton lineup combinations that have at least 15 total minutes, the lineup with Jalen, Ibi, Koby Brea, Moose, and Zimi has the highest free throw rate at 88.9%. The small ball lineup! It is not as if this lineup is solely launching from distance either, as when these five players are on the court together they take 38.9% of their shots at the rim and hit 71.4% of those attempts at the basket. Both of those figures are higher than what they are for the entire team, so we can guess based on these numbers that the smaller lineup gives the Flyers more room and space to attack the basket.
Is it possible to pick against a team that has already enjoyed a 23 point win over its opponent and maintain a semblance of credibility? I say nay, nay I say! Dayton’s only chance would appear to be if Bones Hyland, who seemed to really relish outplaying Crutcher during round one, doesn’t completely mystify the Flyers again. Hyland was the only Ram hitting on all cylinders in VCU’s 66-43 victory, clearly limiting his touches will be the main priority defensively.
While the who, what and what have you might be fluid, here are two things that, from my couch, seem definite: VCU will once again outrebound the Flyers by double-digits and will turn UD over more than fourteen times (fun fact — Dayton actually had less turnovers that the Rams in the first matchup. Maybe not fun, but definitely a fact). Will Dayton try to get Chimichanga more involved? Is Weaver going to handle most of the distribution, forcing Crutcher to find less comfortable ways to score the ball? This is why Anthony Grant wears a gold chain to his job and you don’t. Richmond Rams 63, Gem City Cagerz 59. #LOWD