Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
The Atlantic-10 has only two teams with legitimate cases for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, both of which have recently suffered losses that have damaged their respective profiles. Well, tonight, #13 Xavier (20-3, 8-1) and #36 Dayton (21-3, 7-2) will each get the chance for a quality win, and a big gain in the A-10 standings, when the Musketeers make the short trip north to face the Flyers.
Each of these teams has a stellar record, but is coming off a disappointing loss. Xavier was 12-2 in the non-conference, including beating Memphis, Virginia Tech, Missouri and Cincinnati. The Musketeers started the A-10 season with 8 straight wins, but lost a close game at Duquesne on Saturday. Dayton’s non-conference record is better than Xavier’s, but not as meaty. A win over Marquette is the only highlight, but it’s an important one, as the Flyers looked very good in beating up on the Golden Eagles. Dayton opened its conference schedule with a loss to an enigmatic UMass team, then reeled off 7 straight wins. This included beating the third contender for the conference title, St. Joe’s, but the streak came to a sudden halt with a surprise, double-digit loss at Charlotte.
In recent years, Sean Miller has established a solid recipe for offensive success at Xavier, and while this Musketeer offense is not one of his best, it’s still one of the conference’s best. Xavier does two things very well that earn it a lot of points: it gets to the free throw line more often than any team in the nation, and it makes a lot of its threes, over 40% from behind the arc. While the Musketeers don’t shoot a very high percentage from the line, the number of chances they get make up for the misses. The one trouble spot for them is turnovers; they consistently commit enough to reduce their efficiency. Dayton will do its best to exploit Xavier’s problems with the ball; forcing turnovers has been an important part of one of the A-10’s best defenses. The Flyers also stop a lot of shots, allowing under 43% from two and just 31.4% from three. Dayton sends opponents to the line a little too often for comfort, and that will be a big issue tonight.
Dayton remind me of a toned-down version of Louisville, in the sense that it has a very good defense, coupled to a weak offense. Only St. Bonaventure and Fordham have been less efficient than the Flyers in the A-10, resulting in a lot of close, low-scoring games, even against lesser teams. I’ll start with the single bright spot in the Flyers’ attack, offensive rebounding: Dayton gets nearly 39% of its own misses, a very solid mark. Unfortunately, this skill gets a lot of practice, as the Flyers shoot quite from everywhere on the floor. A 47.3 eFG% is among the worst in the conference, and Dayton’s less-than-stellar ball control only further dents its offensive hopes. The real trouble for Dayton is that Xavier boasts the conference’s best defense, and will give the Flyers a handful on the interior, where the Musketeers lead the A-10 in defending the two-point shot and grabbing rebounds. It’s hard to see this matchup going well for Dayton, they will have to hope for an off-night from Xavier’s defense.
Xavier are led by a core of top-quality upperclassmen, and has a group of younger depth players that primarily serve as complements. The core is highlighted by joint leading scorers Derek Brown and B.J. Raymond. Brown is a very efficient inside player, but also shoots well over 45% from behind the arc. Raymond‘s percentages aren’t as good as Brown’s, but he’s still a strong shooter, over 40% from three. C.J. Anderson will be key to the Musketeers’ inside game, he takes almost all of his shots inside, and gets to the line an awful lot. If Anderson could get his percentage from the line back up to last season’s 67%, rather than the 59% it is right now, he’d be a huge offensive threat. Dante’ Jackson is a sophomore who leads the team in assists and steals, but has struggled to make shots and had a lot of trouble with turnovers. Jason Love is the fifth starter, but barely plays 20 minutes a game; despite this, the 6-9 junior leads Xavier in rebounding, and he’s a solid offensive option when he gets the ball. The bench hasn’t been too impressive for the Musketeers, but has some notable players. Freshman Terrell Holloway has been quite inconsistent, but as his career-high 16 points against Duquesne shows, he can explode at any moment. Jamel McLean is a good rebounder and inside scorer off the bench who shoots an ugly 41% from the free throw line. The most intriguing bench player may be freshman Kenny Frease, a 7-footer who has shown some offensive bursts and does pretty well on the glass.
Junior guard Marcus Johnson is the only offensive bright spot for the Flyers, he doesn’t take a lot of shots, but does well with the ones he does take. Johnson has done one of those things I love, holding his percentages even while increasing his role, a feat that has eluded Dayton’s top scorer, Chris Wright. Wright’s freshman season ended early with an injury, and a lot was expected from him this year. While he leads Dayton in both rebounding and scoring, he’s lost the efficiency that made him so good last year. Wright’s predominantly an inside scorer, but has dropped below 50% on attempts from the field and below 70% from the line, after being much higher in both areas last year. Charles Little and Kurt Huelsman start alongside Wright in the frontcourt: both are solid rebounders, and Little is a decent scoring option. London Warren starts in the backcourt, and is a bit of an oddity, a 6’0” tall guard that hasn’t hit a three all year. He shoots under 40% from the field, but leads the team in assists. Rob Lowery takes a lot of shots when he comes in off the bench, but he really shouldn’t, he’s another low-percentage player. Chris Johnson is a quality depth player in the backcourt, a good shooter who averages nearly 6 boards in just 18-and-a-half minutes per game.
Dayton looks primed for a poor finish to the season, unless it can start to find some consistency with the ball. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Flyers drop four or five games over the rest of the season, as their defense will be heavily tested over the remainder of the schedule. Xavier may have trouble putting up points, but they won’t need many to get an important road victory.
Winner: Xavier Margin: 4-8
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Overshadowed by Duke at UNC tonight, the top two teams in the Atlantic 10 get together on the Deuce. Dayton doesn't necessarily need the win as they should be a Tourney lock, but you never know, which is why a big effort in front of the television cameras wouldn't hurt.
Early Prediction: Dayton
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