After four rounds of play, it makes sense that the two most prominent basketball programs in the A10 will battle for the right to go to the NCAA tournament as A10 Tournament Champions. The VCU Rams and the Dayton Flyers will battle for the crown on Sunday afternoon. This game has so many story lines to it already, and I’m sure the national media will shove it down your throats until you are choking out the words yourself. Ace Baldwin vs DaRon Holmes, aka the showdown of the player of the year and who some think should have won the player of the year. Anthony Grant fighting to get his team to the tournament for real this time. The top two programs in the A10 in the final. #1 vs #2. Preseason favorite vs preseason third. The list can go on and on until I am blue in the face and unconscious on my keyboard. Someone needs to make a bingo card.
The main story for myself is the magnitude of the game compared to years past. The Atlantic 10 is a one-bid league this season. Everyone who knows anything about college basketball knows this. This would be the first time since the early 2000s that the A10 is going to be a one-bid league. Unless Mike Rhoades paid off the selection committee, VCU’s only shot to make the tournament is by winning this game. The same goes for Dayton, who is looking to make it (for real) for the first time in his 6 year tenure. The winner of this game will be going to the NCAA Tournament as a 11-13 seed, while the loser will be going to the NIT and into irrelevancy, yet again.
For all the marbles, let’s get into the breakdowns for both teams.
Why Will Dayton Win?
Dayton will win because of their size and athleticism that can match VCU’s. Dayton also has a win over VCU at the Siegel Center, where they controlled for most of the game and walked out with a four-point victory. They did lose at home, but they were up 16 at half and got David Shriver’d, which resulted in laying an egg down the stretch to lose in embarrassing fashion. They were one “don’t do something stupid” away from sweeping VCU on the season. The Flyers have experience playing the Rams and have the clientele to beat them again.
Analytically, Dayton has the advantage with defense over VCU’s offense. VCU has the #149 offense in the country, and has looked pedestrian at times (Dayton’s has too but that’s for later). The Flyers also have a clear advantage on the glass. VCU is a below average defensive rebounding team while offensive rebounding is a big part of Dayton’s ability to get second chance opportunities, especially with Holmes and Camara. Dayton’s defense is also elite at the rim, blocking shots left and right. VCU is #246 in getting blocked on offense. Not to mention, the Flyers boast the #6 three point defense in the country, where VCU is pretty average. VCU shot 21.1% from three in their second meeting after they shot 40% at UD Arena, thanks to David Shriver going 6-8 while the rest of the Rams shot 0-7 combined. Dayton was ready for Shriver the second time. They should be ready for him again.
Motivationally, Dayton is riding a disappointing campaign after high expectations in the preseason. The Flyers lost the regular season title by 3 games to the Rams, and there is no team’s that they would rather end than VCU. DaRon Holmes also absolutely feels slighted with the Player of the Year award going to Ace Baldwin, and you would have to think that he wants to prove why he should have won with a big win in the title game. Holmes and Camara have been every bit of the first-team all conference players so far this tournament. With those two being hot, Dayton can absolutely win this game and get to the NCAA Tournament for their last hurrah in a Flyer uniform (we think).
Not to mention, Dayton hasn’t won the A10 tournament in 20 years. It’s time.
Why Will VCU Win? (from Jason Boleman)
VCU will win because they have momentum on their side and an offense that is playing some of its best ball of the season. Through two games in the A-10 tournament, the Rams have won by an average of 15 points, with the semifinal win over Saint Louis marking the most points the Rams have scored in an A-10 game in over three years. Dayton is a formidable opponent, but VCU has already beaten the Flyers once in a road matchup this season and has not lost away from the Siegel Center in more than two months. Unlike the Jan. 13 win over Dayton, VCU will likely have more 3-point threats than just David Shriver on Sunday in Brooklyn (see: Jayden Nunn).
VCU’s defense is its calling card, ranked on KenPom as the #18 defense in the country. With Dayton’s offense coming off a closer-than-expected quarterfinals game against St. Joseph’s, followed by a physical quasi-road semifinal matchup against Fordham, VCU’s defense should be prepared to play and have both the statistical and rest advantages. It is worth noting that VCU already faced the top-ranked offense in the A-10 – Saint Louis – and was on pace for a 20-ish point win before Saint Louis engineered a mini-comeback down the stretch. Notably, look for VCU to win the turnover battle if the Rams have any chance at an A-10 title. VCU’s defense is #6 in turnover percentage at 24.3%, while Dayton’s offense sits at #242 in that metric. On Saturday, VCU forced 15 Saint Louis turnovers, resulting in 24 points for the black and gold. That defense is also experienced with playing the Flyers – for the third time in three games, VCU will be playing a team for the third time this season. Perhaps familiarity has helped the Rams so far in Brooklyn.
A clear storyline entering Sunday is the result of the A-10 Player of the Year voting, which saw Ace Baldwin claim the conference’s top individual honor over Dayton’s DaRon Holmes II. Much as Holmes may want to show why he should have won the award, Baldwin will likely be itching to prove why he earned the award in the first place. Paired with Jalen DeLoach and Brandon Johns Jr., two bigs who earned All A-10 Third Team honors, the Flyers may have their work cut out for them down low.
Head coach Mike Rhoades has said throughout the week that the team learned from last year’s upset to Richmond in the A-10 quarterfinals and has been playing to win instead of not to lose – which is evident by two dominant performances. It will take one more elite game on both ends to earn VCU’s first conference tournament title in eight years and send the Rams back to the big dance.
Both Jason and I will pick our respective teams to win, there’s no doubt about that. It’s probably going to be a close game, as these Dayton/VCU games always end up that way it seems. At this point, lets go with KenPom, who predicted VCU to defeat Dayton, 65-64 and have a 51% chance to defeat the Flyers. How fitting, a one point game. However, at the start of the tournament, Bart Torvik gave Dayton a 35.2% chance to win the title, with VCU at 31.3%. With two teams left, that simulation has flipped to VCU having a 50.5% chance to win the title.
What do any of these mean? Nothing other than this is going to be a battle. Buckle up.