It’s finally tournament time for the Dayton Flyers. After a disappointing season that led up with so much hype, the Flyers come into the conference tournament with what appears to be a favorable draw based on whatever metric you want to go with. After two rounds of play, Dayton’s A10 tournament final path is being stood in the way by the likes of Saint Joseph’s, Fordham, or La Salle. These are all teams in which Dayton dismantled in the regular season. What could go wrong?
First up in that road to Sunday is the Saint Joseph’s Hawks, who are the #10 seed and the first ever team from the first round to make it to the A10 quarterfinals (La Salle would follow up later as the second). Led by tactically-questionable coach Billy Lange, the Hawks still play with a run and gun style offense with almost no defense at all to speak of. This proved evident in Wednesday evening’s win over George Washington, 87-76. In said game, the Hawks were led by their star guard Erik Reynolds, who scored a career-high 34 points. The second-team all-conference player is going to have to play a major factor if they want to beat the Flyers. The day before in their win over Loyola-Chicago, it was Lynn Greer III’s day, who scored 20 points for the Hawks. The Philly native and former Flyer was barely noticed in the win over the artists formerly known as the Colonials.
The big thing for the Hawks going into this game is the interior defense. With Saint Joe’s big man Ejike Obinna out for the season, who steps up to defense Dayton’s two big-men and First Team players in DaRon Holmes and Toumani Camara? The Hawks will most likely roll out a front court rotation of Charles Coleman, Rasheer Fleming, and Kacper Klaczek. Even Cameron Brown might get some interior defense time if those three can’t get the job done. If you are in the building on Thursday evening, you will notice right away what Dayton is going to do to Saint Joe’s on offense: pound the paint, and pound the paint some more.
Analytically speaking, Dayton will be favored not only because of their offensive advantage, but more because of their defense. The Flyers boast the nation’s 49th most efficient defense, highlighted by their 5th ranked 3 point defense and 19th ranked 2 point defense. Dayton also has the 5th best defense in effective field goal percentage. Dayton caps off their defensive prowness with their ability to block shots. The Flyers 43rd in the country in blocking shots, where the Hawks are 339th worst at getting blocked on offense. On the offensive side, Dayton is the 96th most efficient offense in the nation while the Hawks are 199th, which is a major step up form previous years under Lange. The Hawks struggle mightily on the defensive glass, which is where Dayton’s star big men eat. The one area where the Hawks can gain a bit of an advantage is forcing turnovers. Dayton is prone to turning the ball over on offense, doing so on 19.1% of their possessions, good for 246th in the country.
Looking back at the game on January 4th between these two teams at UD Arena, Dayton won that contest handedly, 76-56. DaRon Holmes had 20 points and 12 rebounds, Toumani Camara scored 14 points and 7 rebounds. The other star of that game was RJ Blakney, who scored 19 points for the Flyers and shot 4-6 from 3. This was a game where Malachi Smith and Kobe Elvis did not play due to their recent injuries down in the Bahamas. Koby Brea did play 21 minutes but was held to 6 points on 2-5 shooting from three. If you can believe it, four Hawks scored in double figures in that game. Erik Reynolds had 12, Cameron Brown had 13, Kacper Klaczek scored 11, and Christian Winborne scored 10. Obinna was barely even a factor in that game as well, playing 10 minutes and scoring only 2 points. Dayton won the rebounding battle 36-31. However, Saint Joe’s won the turnover battle 7-11. Like I said above, the Hawks can force some turnovers and those have hurt the Flyers at key moments during the season.
So, we have already seen what happened without Obinna earlier, what is going to make a difference this time around? I talked to Saint Joseph’s Anthony Morelli to get the load down on how the Hawks can pull out a stunner in Brooklyn.
Why Will The Hawks Win? (from Anthony Morelli)
It is no secret that the Saint Joseph’s Hawks are underdogs in today’s matchup against Dayton. In addition, this is not the first time these two teams have seen each other. Saint Joe’s traveled to Dayton for their second game of conference play, where they lost 76-56. Tonight, Saint Joe’s is without their starting center Ejike Obinna, who had a season ending injury for the A-10 tournament. In addition, this will be SJU’s third game in a row after playing Loyola Chicago and George Washington. Not the best situation when playing a team who has the best player in the A-10, who is also a center…
However, with that said, there is always a chance. Erik Reynolds II has been playing extremely well, and is closing in on becoming a 1,000 point scorer in his sophomore year. Guarding the paint will be a challenge for the Hawks. I expect them to double Holmes and leave shooters open on the three point line. Coach Lange will likely live with open Dayton shooters, then an open Daron Holmes II feasting in the paint. On offense, it’s all about Guards. Erik Reynolds II, Lynn Greer III and Cameron Brown all need to have extremely efficient games if the Hawks want to win.
I will close with this, against GW yesterday, Rasheer Fleming had his revenge as he made a three to help the Hawks win. This, of course, is in contrast to the three he missed which resulted in SJU losing to GW in OT earlier this year. Talk about character development and story arc. Well, Saint Joe’s get’s the chance for another one today. I would love nothing more than for Lynn Greer to prove his worth, beat Dayton, and add the chef’s kiss to what has been a turnaround A-10 tournament for the Hawks!
Why Will The Flyers Win?
Dayton is going to win because of their big men, plain and simple. Erik Reynolds is a stud, but the Flyers figured out how to neutralize him in the first game, and I would assume they have a game plan for him now with Malachi Smith and Kobe Elvis back in the starting lineup. Plus Koby Brea has taken over for RJ Blakney in the starting lineup as well. Besides the in-game strategy stuff, I would have a feeling that DaRon Holmes feels pretty snubbed for not being voted the Player of the Year in the A10 over Ace Baldwin. We may think it is a cliche to think that as fans, but the players do think about stuff like this. Holmes is a guy that feeds off of energy, and the rest of the team will feed off of him.
Not to mention, the team was picked to finish first in the conference and lost by 3 games. They were picked #24 in the preseason AP Poll, got to as high as #21, and then fell apart. The Flyers fell apart after having such high expectations. Now, they have a path to an A10 final where they must beat teams who they beat soundly one way or another during the regular season. They feel like they are a tournament team and they want to prove it. Time to do just that, and it all starts on Thursday against Saint Joseph’s.
Where am I worried about an upset to the Flyers? Close games. Dayton is one of the most choke teams in the country. They actually had FIVE double digit comeback losses on the season (UNLV, NC State, BYU, VCU, Rhode Island). Dayton is also 2-6 in games decided by 5 points or less this season. Not to mention, they are one of KenPom’s most unlucky teams in the country at 326th. There is a scenario where St. Joe’s can get a win and it involves a combination of Erik Reynolds playing out of his mind and keeping the game close.
However, I do not feel like that happens in this game.
Dayton is going to win this game, just by how much? The spread is going to be somewhere around a 9 point Dayton victory. With Reynolds playing really well right now, I would bet that Dayton does not win by the 20 point margin that the built back on January 4th at UD Arena. I’d say a 12 point Dayton win is right on the money for today’s game. The Flyers will dominate down low with Holmes and Camara, the Hawks will pack the paint, which will open up the three ball for Dayton, where Smith, Elvis, and Brea will take advantage. Reynolds will score over 20 to keep the game respectable, but not too many other Hawks will contribute, which will allow Dayton to close the game down the stretch with barely a sweat. This looks like a clean win on paper for the Flyers.
After this game is in the books, Dayton should be moving on to Saturday (weird schedule, right?) to face either Fordham or La Salle in the semi-finals.