We’re only 6 days into the new year, but we may have one of 2017’s best Atlantic 10 basketball games on Friday night. The Rhode Island Rams, hot off the return from Hassan Martin, travel to UD Arena to face the always-tough Dayton Flyers in a matchup for the ages. This is the first of two meetings between these programs this season, and we’re expecting both games to be highly competitive and loads of fun to watch.
Dayton is riding a 4 game winning streak into this contest including a 2-0 start to league play. The Flyers have won 6 straight at home this season and were recently able to take down St. Bonaventure on the road thanks to red-hot shooting. UD Arena continues to be one of the toughest places to play, and you can bet that Flyer fans are going to be LOWD when the Rams visit. Dayton’s proving to be a great three point shooting team this year (37.5% ranks 74th overall), and the Flyers knocked down 14 against the Bonnies in Olean. Rhode Island has been limiting teams to just 30.8% from deep, so Dayton’s going to need to crack that three point defense.
Along with good shooting percentages this season, Dayton’s been really good taking care of the basketball which could prove tough for a Rhode Island team that really likes forcing turnovers. Dayton has a barrage of three point shooters and a tough-to-crack backcourt. Kendall Pollard is seemingly finding his stride after coming back from injury, as he’s gone for 41 points in the Flyers’ last two matchups. The real question for the Flyers is whether or not they have Charles Cooke available. Cooke, who did not play last Tuesday or practice on Wednesday due to a back injury, will be a game time decision for tonight. Cooke’s ability to play could have an enormous effect on the outcome of the game; the senior has gone for double digits in scoring in every game he’s played this year.
Rhode Island’s Strengths
Hassan Martin is back for Rhode Island after missing 5 games due to injury, and finally this team is healthy and ready to compete. The Rams stomped on their firs two A-10 opponents: they took down Saint Louis and Saint Joseph’s by a combined 64 points. Don’t expect tonight to be that easy. The Rams definitely have the advantage in the frontcourt against Dayton, as the Flyers lack size and the ability to effectively clean up the glass. Rhode Island’s 35.5% offensive rebounding percentage ranks much higher than Dayton’s 25.1%. In a toss up game like this one, second chance points could be the difference in who comes out on top. If Cooke and his 5.7 boards per contest don’t make it to the party tonight, the Flyers could be in for a long night on the glass.
Rhode Island ranks 35th in adjusted offense while Dayton ranks 19th in defense according to Kenpom. Can the Flyers slow down this dynamic backcourt that has the weapons of E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, and Jarvis Garrett? It could prove difficult for this Dayton team. This may not be a “strength” for the Rams necessarily, but the Flyers have had troubles getting off to good starts against quality opponents this season, for whatever reason. If Dayton falls into a shooting slump early on, the Rams could build an early lead that’s hard to come back from. Rhode Island has already played 4 true road games this season, so the Rams are used to hostile crowds. It’d be an enormous statement if the Rams went into UD Arena and took one away from Dayton.
This game has down-to-the-wire written all over it if you ask me. If Charles Cooke is playing tonight, I think Dayton’s got the advantage at home. If he’s out another game due to his injury, look for the Rams to potentially take advantage. Either way, this one should be close, and this could be the start of a heated rivalry in the Atlantic 10 with the progression of these two programs. And pay attention, because there’s definitely a chance that these two teams face each other in the A-10 Championship game in Pittsburgh come March.