The A-10 tourney is going to be interesting in a particularly aberrant way. Teams like VCU, St. Bonaventure and Saint Louis can’t afford to lose in their first matchups (Dayton could ruin VCU’s season, pass it on), it is thee tournament of landmines. Dayton, Richmond and Davidson are trying to catch fire and see if they can steal a bid. AND DON’T LET ST. JOE’S GET HOT! Gun to my head, I think Saint Louis ends up cutting down the nets in the City of Gems (note: if anyone ever puts a gun to your head and asks you to pick the winner of the A10 tournament, you aren’t walking away alive).
Fordham has been put out of its misery, La Salle was eliminated by the Hurry Up Hawks yesterday. As Dayton fans it is encouraging to know that two teams we know can beat UD have already been sent home before the Flyers have even tipped it up. Make no mistake, the University of Dayton men’s basketball team has a puncher’s chance in this thing. They clearly have as much talent as any team in the league, and they certainly won’t flinch at the possibility of facing off with one of the “elite” teams in the A10 later in the week.
As you probably know by now, the Flyers have a better record against the upper tier teams in the league and have completely shit the bed against the bottom half of the conference. As I tweeted after the St. Bona win, I have more trepidation going into the Rhode Island game than I would if they Flyers somehow find a path back home for the final. That’s how confident/unconfident I am in this squad. We are just ten consecutive victories away from a UD national championship, it starts this afternoon against the Rhody Rams.
I thought we were done enjoying the play and mystique of Fatts Russell, and I’m very pleased that the planets have aligned and we collectively get one more look at one of the conference’s all-time volume scoring artist. Last time we saw Rhody, an overtime loss in Kingston, Mr. Russell painted a masterpiece — 4/17 shooting from the floor, 0/4 from three, yet finished with a team-high 20 points. His flops, his feigns, his willingness to sacrifice his body to sell contact, was a highlight film showcasing the mastery of inefficient scoring. We may never see another like him in our proud conference.
Rhode Island, one of the nation’s worst three-point shooting teams, knocked down just 19% of their three-pointers in the win over UD. I’m not sure if this is an indication that Rhody is a “gutsy” team that “finds a way to win,” or if the Flyers simply lost the plot the last time around. Regardless, you’d have to think that URI would be hard-pressed to pull out a victory with that kind of repeat shooting performance. Can Fatts go off for 30+? We are about to find out.
While most are disappointed in the Flyers this season, conference tournament time allows for variance to run wild and for Cinderella stories. Sure, Dayton hasn’t won a conference tournament in years, but the top seed in the Atlantic 10 also hasn’t won the conference tournament since 2013. Can the Flyers cash in their lottery ticket this time around? Probably not, given Ken Pom is giving our Gem City Cagers a 3.2% of cutting down the nets in the Sweater Center. But as a Jim Carey movie that came out before Jalen Crutcher was born said, “so you’re saying there’s a chance!”
For any Flyers Cinderella run to take place, a win against Rhode Island will need to start things off. Given we have seen the Fatts Russell Free Throw Winning Instructional Clinic twice already, I figured there’s no need to stick the boot into Fatts again and preview Rhody. Fatts will shoot a lot. Makhel Mitchell is big and strong. You know the deal. After Rhody, a Flyer run through Richmond and a trip back to Edwin C. Mosses Boulevard will likely require beating some of the top teams of the Atlantic 10 this season. Maybe you’ve heard though that the Flyers have had some success against better teams this season! UD is 6-4 in Quad 1 and 2 games in the net this season, buoyed by a 3-1 record in Quad 1 games! With this in mind, I looked at the numbers from those 6 wins to see what the Flyers did well to come out victorious against quality opponents.
Duh. Every fan is well aware of the turnover issues that have plagued the Flyers this season. Going into Thursday, UD is averaging a 21.3% turnover rate and 13.3% non-steal turnover rate, which rank 288th and 341st among D1 sides. Unsurprisingly, in the six wins referenced above Dayton’s turnover rate was downright normal! In those games, Dayton averaged a 19.17% turnover rate which is right at the national average and had a median turnover rate of 17.75% in those games. Not too shabby!
Not turning the ball over equating to wins isn’t earth shattering stuff, but what is interesting is that in these games where Dayton were able to limit their turnovers, we also saw a higher assist to field goal made ratio than the Flyers average on the season. UD has an assist on 62.99 % of their field goals in these six games, well above the 55.8% rate they have for the season. The Flyers were able to move the ball efficiently in these wins and it helped lead them to victory.
Efficient Three-Point Shooting
Again, it probably isn’t breaking news to suggest that if Dayton shoots well from the three-point line, they will likely be successful. Even with that obvious caveat out of the way, it stands out how well the Flyers did in these games from the perimeter. In these 6 games, UD never shot below 36.36% from three-point range and averaged shooting 43.09% from deep. What is also apparent from these games is Dayton took these shots from deep as they came, rather than forcing them. The Flyers averaged taking 40.92% of their field goal attempts from three in these wins, which is slightly below the average ratio of total attempts they take from three. Shooting well from deep is crucial but UD can’t force anything from there.
Defend the Perimeter
On the other side of the floor, UD defended the perimeter even more impressively than they shot from three-point range in these six wins. The Flyers opponents were only able to make 27.79% of their attempts from three-point range in these games. There is a bit of luck when it comes shot making from the perimeter, so even more importantly, the opposition only took 33.51% of their field goal attempts from behind the three-point line, below the 37.8% Dayton has conceded on the season. UD’s opponents didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in these games, but the Flyers were able to successfully run their opponents off the line in these wins and you suspect they would need to do similar on a hypothetical run through the A10 tournament.
Keep Opponents off the Free Throw Line
The most striking number from all these Flyer wins in Quad 1 and 2 situations is just how well Dayton did in not conceding free throws on defense. UD’s opponents in these games only averaged a 22.16% free throw rate, with no team earning higher than a 30.36% free throw rate. This has been one strength for the Flyers all season, averaging a conceded free throw rate of 26.1% this season. But given their average in these 6 wins was even below that, their ability to keep opponents off the line at an even better rate than they normally do will be key to a March Dayton run.
Beyond the obvious issues this Dayton squad has faced this season, the biggest problem has been the lack of consistency they have had game to game. Doing all four of these things will require a consistency we haven’t often see from the Flyers. But if UD are cutting down the nets a week from Sunday, they have most likely done all these things on their way.
It appears that senior guard Jeremy Sheppard will not be available to play against Dayton. That’s a huge mark in the plus column as Shep (I call him Shep) is the Rams’ second-leading scorer and one of its few perimeter threats. This likely means more shot opportunities for freshman guard Ishmael Leggett — who as you recall was the key cog in Rhody’s win over Dayton. Leggett got hot from three, dropped a career-high 18 points, and it was all she wrote for your Flyers.
Rhode Island has been one of the more consistent teams in A10 tourney play, just looks at these recent trends!
Now, I know what you are saying, isn’t URI kinda dogshitty this year? Yes, which is why they will likely fall to the Flyers in a humbling fashion. The loss of Sheppard will be too great, the Rams won’t score enough to keep up with Dayton — no joke — and, for whatever reason, Fatts Russell just can’t seem to get on track against the Flyers. I have no justification for saying this, but I haven’t been this confident in a UD win since the Fordham….wait a second. Flyers 71, Rams 63. #LOWD