When and Where: Tuesday, January 14th, 8:00 ET at the University of Dayton Arena
TV: CBS Sports Network
Whether UD-VCU has become an actual rivalry or a rivalry that only exists on Twitter, no one can deny the hype and anticipation when these two teams face-off. Since joining the league in 2012, VCU has found itself battling with Dayton for the top spot in the Atlantic 10 nearly every season. This year is no different. With Dayton looking to improve its NCAA tournament seeding and VCU heavily on the bubble, the battle between these two programs promises to be a good one. Let’s take a closer look at both the Flyers and the Rams heading into Tuesday night’s game.
VCU Rams (12-4, 2-1)
Coming off a home loss to Rhode Island, VCU is looking to bounce back in a major way as it heads to Dayton. Predicted to win the conference in the A-10 preseason poll, the Rams entered this season with high expectations. While VCU remains right in the thick of NCAA tournament talk, their performance has been relatively underwhelming thus far. The Rams lone quality win came at home against LSU early in the season. Since then, they missed out on key opportunities against teams like Purdue, Tennessee, and Wichita State. If VCU wants to return to the NCAA tournament this year, it needs to add a couple more notable wins to its resume. A road victory over the 13th ranked Dayton Flyers would certainly go a long way come March.
But how exactly can VCU pull off the upset against Dayton? Well it starts with someone besides Marcus Santos-Silva stepping up on offense. Aside from Santos-Silva, VCU only has two players currently averaging double digits in scoring per game: Marcus Evans and De’Riante Jenkins. Both Evans and Jenkins, however, are shooting less than 40% from the floor this year. Needless to say, their numbers, and VCU’s offense, have been far from efficient. The Rams are averaging just 13.4 assists per game. That’s exactly six less than Dayton, who leads the nation in APG with 19.4. We know VCU will bring the famous havoc defense to Dayton, but if the Rams want to leave UD Arena with a win, they’ll have to move the ball more effectively and knock down shots.
Dayton Flyers (14-2, 3-0)
Tying its highest ranking of the season at No. 13 in the nation, the Dayton Flyers enter this one flying high. Dayton is off to a 3-0 start in conference play and has become the clear favorite to win the A-10. To put it bluntly, there’s not much this UD team doesn’t do really well. As I already mentioned, Dayton has exceptional ball movement, leading the country in assists per game. According to Kenpom, the Flyers, who are averaging 83.4 points per game, have the No. 3 offense in the nation with an adjusted rating of 115.4. While Dayton’s specialty clearly resides in its high powered offense, the Flyers have been impressive on the defensive side as well. Making steady improvements all year, Dayton’s defense now ranks top 50 in the nation by virtually every measure. In total, Kenpom slots the Flyers as the nation’s No. 6 team and the NET rankings have them at No. 8. No matter what rankings system you use, it’s pretty clear that Dayton is one of the top teams in the country this year.
So do the Flyers have any weaknesses? The answer is yes, but not many. From time to time this year Dayton has struggled to rebound. The Flyers gave up 17 offensive boards in their loss to Colorado. Dayton has also struggled to contain elite guards (as most teams do). Devon Dotson of Kansas and McKinley Wright of Colorado were both dominant against the Flyers. In order to beat VCU on Tuesday night, Dayton must keep Marcus Santos-Silva off the offensive glass and contain the streaky VCU guards.
With Obi Toppin battling an ankle injury, it remains unclear how limited Dayton’s star forward will be in this game. For the sake of my prediction, we’re going to assume Toppin plays as usual. In regards to how the game will go, I think VCU throws everything it has at Dayton. Marcus Santos Silva will eat up some rebounds and do his typical work out of the post. I think the Rams also get some three point help from Evans and Jenkins. In the end, however, I see Dayton’s talent and determination being too much to overcome. As Anthony Grant hinted on Saturday, the Flyers are tired of VCU getting the best of them in the A-10; they’ll be as motivated as ever in front of a sold-out UD Arena. I have the No. 13 Dayton Flyers take this one by a final score of 78-68.