At 6-11 and 268 pounds, Dayton redshirt freshman Steve McElvene cuts the most imposing figure in the Atlantic 10 this season. He may have been a dominant feature for Dayton last year too, but after being ruled as a partial qualifier for the 2014-15 season, the Flyers center could only watch as his teammates made an inspired trip to the 3rd round of the NCAA Tournament.
It was an unlikely run from a team that was as short on depth as they were on height. Sophomore Kendall Pollard logged the bulk of minutes at the center position last year (earning the league’s Most Improved Award along the way), but at just 6-6, the Flyers spent most of the season negotiating front court mismatches.
Dayton’s defense held strong, but the lack of size left Dayton coach Archie Miller without any significant protection around the rim – opponents made 58.8% (201 nationally) of attempts at the cup against the Flyers last year.
This season, however, Miller has the biggest player in the Atlantic 10 (we see you, Rahsaan Holloway) available to anchor the interior of his defense, and last week a10talk.com covered the statistical boon provided by the addition of McElvene to the Flyers rotation. After finishing last season ranked 13th in total blocks in the 14-team Atlantic 10, Dayton is currently second in the league in that category.
In just his first active season with the Flyers, the New Haven, Indiana native has announced his presence as one of the conference’s best rim protectors.
McElvene is currently second in the A-10 in total blocks, and is leading the league in block percentage at 11.0%, a rate that also ranks 20th in the country. His individual abilities have helped a Dayton team that was ranked 278th in that category now hover around 50th, roughly 3.4 percentage points above the national average.
But McElvene’s benefits don’t simply manifest as soul-crushing rejections, he’s also a major deterrent to opponents even attempting shots near the hoop. Dayton opponents are only getting 27.4% of their field goal attempts at the rim, a number that puts them atop the Atlantic 10 and is good for 26th in the nation.
Here, McElvene gets faced up by George Washington senior Kevin Larsen. Larsen, a 6-10, 265 pound Preseason All-Conference Second Teamer, is so dissuaded by the bigger freshman from going 1-on-1 that he pulls the ripcord altogether – throwing the ball away to Dayton’s Kyle Davis for a fast break opportunity. Larsen does have to deal with Darrell Davis showing a token dig-down, but it’s McElvene’s footwork that forces the issue.
Larsen, a great player in this league, didn’t have much interest in going toe-to-toe with the young McElvene. But the first year player isn’t just making life miserable for other front court operators, he’s also closing out to shut down would-be jump shooters too.
Per hoop-math.com, McElvene ranks 5th in the country with 28 blocks on 2-point jump shot attempts. As Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg observed after being recently blown out by the Flyers, “He’s bigger than he looked on tape…”. With his length, the Dayton center is capable of closing down shooting chances anywhere on the floor.
During another defensive possession against George Washington, McElvene gets switched on to the more perimeter oriented, Tyler Cavanaugh. After taking care of his duties in the pick and roll, McElvene is forced to recover and close quickly on Cavanaugh, a 43.3% 3-point shooter. He does it exceedingly well. Not only does he get the block, keeping it in bounds, he’s then able to tap the ball to teammate Dyshawn Pierre to start a transition opportunity.
The Colonials are getting 38.1% of their shots at the rim this season, but facing McElvene and the Flyers last week, they were held to a devastating new season low – getting just 15.8% of their attempts at the bucket.
As if the defensive issues he presents to opposing coaches weren’t enough of a headache, McElvene’s offensive skill set is developing nicely now too. Like most young big men, he is still a little rough around the edges, but the Flyers can throw the ball down low to him with confidence. He’s been adequate passing out of double teams, and is finding ways to finish at the rim with either hand.
With Pierre, Pollard, and point-man Scoochie Smith, Dayton doesn’t need major contributions from the freshman on a nightly basis, but even as just a space eating screen setter, McElvene is a major asset.
The Flyers may have struck pay dirt with a Pierre and McElvene two-man game. Pierre is an All-Conference player that requires special attention from defenses. Switch, and defenders face the torments of decidedly one-sided mismatches, but show too much help in Pierre’s direction and you risk Big Steve slipping away to the promised land…
McElvene is well on his way to some All-Conference recognition come season’s end. He is surely a candidate for the Rookie Team and has to be considered for a nod on the All-Conference Defensive Team. His impact in the league is now undeniable.
The nickname, “Big Steve”, won’t win any awards for wit, but when you’re carrying the biggest, most daunting frame in the conference – it’s no platitude either. McElvene has earned it. He’s already proved he’s not simply the biggest man, but he’s also one of the biggest threats. Very soon, he may also be one of the league’s best.