Ah, the conference season, where the loathing of a Xavier fan's heart runs up I-75 from the University of Cincinnati to the University of Dayton. The Crosstown Shootout is the biggest non-conference game on the schedule, but, come A-10 play, nothing disgusts the Muskie faithful quite like the thought of losing to UD. Losing is something that Xavier has been doing too much of recently, dropping tough but winnable road games to Charlotte and St. Joseph's in vexing fashion last week to drop to 4-2 in conference. Xavier's at-large resume has taken a dent, but the road to the 10 or 11 conference wins it will likely take to garner a bye in the A-10 tournament is still open to X as long as they take care of business and get a couple of breaks.
Dayton's at-large hopes are similarly slim, and they are no doubt itching to end a 31-year losing streak at Xavier. Dayton's resume is mostly bland, devoid of bad losses except their one-point home failure against Weber State, but also lacking good wins beyond their road victory over Alabama exactly a week later. Other than that, the Flyers have lost to every decent team they've played (Colorado, Illinois State, @USC, @VCU, Butler, @La Salle) and piled up a dozen reasonable wins against the likes of Florida Atlantic and UAB. Wins at home against Fordham and Duquesne go with the three losses noted above to bring UD in at 2-3 in the conference to this point.
Dayton can flat out put the biscuit in the basket on offense. They shoot 49.6% from inside the arc as a team and are 22nd in the nation with a 38.5% mark from deep. They're not a chucking team, though, taking only 31.5% of their shots from behind the arc (221st in the country). When they do miss, they are elite on the offensive boards, grabbing 36.2% of their own misses. The only thing that keeps UD from being a truly elite offense is their almost complete inability to hold onto the ball. They have turned the ball over on 21.6% of their possessions, 238th in the nation. They've turned things up a notch in A-10 play, landing dead last in the conference with a 24.1% TO rate as a team. Yikes.
On defense, it's all about turnovers for Dayton. They force a TO on 23.3% of opponents' possessions, good for 45th in the country. Their rebounding is even better, ranking 30th in the country with a 72.7% DReb%. It's a good thing (for Dayton fans), though, because their defense is fairly mediocre elsewhere. They put opponents on the line fairly frequently, and their defense from beyond the arc is below average in terms of both percentage and attempts allowed. They are also 257th in the nation in block percentage and 270th in steal percentage.
UD is playing at 68.2 possessions per game in A-10 play, a full 5.5 possessions faster than Xavier's 62.7 rate. They are also one of the few teams in the conference that can match Xavier inch-for-inch in effective height, ranking 71st in the country at +1.8" (Xavier is +2.0", for what that's worth). Dayton is slightly less experienced and slightly less likely to get minutes off the bench than the average team, but neither of those to a level that would be considered statistically significant.
The player: 6'0", 182 pound senior guard Kevin Dillard
The numbers: 14.9/1.9/4.8 on .390/.376/.867 shooting
More numbers: 26.7% usage rate, 30.7% assist rate, 5.4 fouls drawn per 40 minutes
The words: Dillard is the straw that stirs the drink for the Flyers. He gobbles up possessions, takes more than a quarter of the team's shots when he's on the floor, and spends most of the game with the ball in his hands. Though not a particularly good shooter from inside the arc, he's not shy at all about looking for his shot. He can also make setting up the offense difficult for a ball handler on the other end with his persistent defensive efforts. If all that wasn't enough, he also leads UD in three-pointers made.
The player: 6'3", 196 pound junior guard Vee Sanford
The numbers: 12.7/2.8/2.3 on .442/.366/.828 shooting
More numbers: 25.5% shots%, 1.2 steals per game
The words: Like Dillard, Sanford takes more than a quarter of the team's shots when on the court. Basically, his offensive role is to get out there and lift, and he relishes it. The Georgetown transfer has gone for 18 or more points five times already this season and is certainly capable of going off and taking over a game for Dayton. Sanford is a slightly more efficient scorer than Dillard, but he doesn't spend as much time handling the ball.
The player: 6'6", 210 pound freshman wing Dyshawn Pierre
The numbers: 7.8/4.6/1.8 on .536/.486/.643 shooting
More numbers: 62.9% eFG%, 14.4% assist rate, 17% usage rate
The words: In terms of likelihood of making a shot, Pierre is the most efficient scorer on the Dayton roster. An athletic wing, he is quick enough to get into advantageous positions around the rim while being more than effective enough as a shooter to keep defenses from sagging. Basically, he's what Xavier fans are getting tired of waiting for Justin Martin to turn into. His game is fairly limited outside of scoring - he doesn't rebound or distribute at impressive rates - but he's good enough at scoring that he finds his way onto the court anyway.
The player: 6'7", 225 pound junior forward Devin Oliver
The numbers: 9.5/8.6/1.9 on .456/.206/.587 shooting
More numbers: 11.5% OReb%, 23.4% DReb%, 7-34 three-point shooting
The words: Oliver apparently fancies himself a bit of a shooter, but he's really most effective mixing it up in the paint. Along with reserve forward Jalen Robinson (more on him in a moment), he is one of the biggest reasons UD is an elite rebounding team. His 53% shooting from inside the arc isn't exactly lighting the world on fire, but his work on the offensive glass gives him enough stick-back opportunities to keep his name in the score sheet. On the defensive end, there aren't many players in the league better at ending an opponent's possession by securing the board.
The player: 6'9", 228 pound senior forward Josh Benson
The numbers: 10.5/4.9/1.0 on .554/.000/.590 shooting
More numbers: 55.4% eFG%, 8.9% OReb%, 4.5% block%, 4.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes
The words: Benson is the bull in the middle for Coach Archie Miller's team. Despite only playing 24 minutes per game and not being the focus of the offense, he gets 10.5 PPG on the strength of his efficiency in the middle. He's not a great defensive rebounder, but he goes and gets it on the offensive end. Defensively, he is the team's most proficient defender in terms of blocking shots; he has more blocks that any three of his teammates put together.
-Can Semaj match Dillard? Both of these teams count on their star point guards to get the ball rolling, as it were, on the offensive end. It's unlikely that Christon and Dillard will spend large portions of the game matched up on each other, but they will definitely be in direct competition to put their respective teams in the driving seat. Tu Holloway outplayed Dillard when it mattered twice last year; for Xavier to continue their home winning streak against the Flyers, they're going to need a similar effort out of Semaj.
-Can Xavier take the pressure off of Dee Davis? If there's anything we've learned over the past week - and there's likely a lot we've learned - perhaps nothing stood out quite like some of the negatives in Davis' performances. I'm a staunch believer in Davis' game, but if Semaj is going 6-21 and Travis Taylor isn't getting enough touches in the post, Dee is not going to be able to fill the gap and probably won't look that good trying. When Dee is the third or fourth scoring option, he's more than adequate. When he's trying to lead the way, he's just not there yet.
-Who controls the pace? Coach Mack has decided that the best way to compensate for Xavier's thin and cramp-prone backcourt is to grind the game to a borderline halt. If Xavier doesn't have an uncontested strong-hand layup available, they pull it out and runs sets for a bit. Dayton, while by no means the basketball equivalent to Oregon football's blur offense, prefers to get up and down a bit. If Xavier can throw sand in those gears, that bodes better for the Muskies' chances of winning.
-Keep Dillard out of the lane. Dillard is dangerous from beyond the arc, but he is at his most destructive when he gets into the middle of the defense. From there, he excels at getting to and converting from the line or kicking out to open teammates. Dayton's senior point guard can score points from deep, but if he gets his defender in his hip pocket, points for UD and foul trouble for Xavier are sure to follow.
-Break even on the boards. Dayton is a really good rebounding team, but Xavier has answered the bell against some tough competition on the glass at times this year. UD fashions runs by holding teams to one-and-done on the defensive end and scoring second-chance points on offense. If Xavier can go toe-to-toe with the Flyers on the glass, they stand a much better chance of being on the right end of the scoreboard at the end of the game.
-Protect the basketball. It's plain and painfully simple. Dayton is 16th in the league in TO% in A-10 play, but Xavier isn't much better at 13th. The Muskies have frittered away winnable games by being careless with the ball, and this offense simply isn't good enough to waste possessions. It starts with Semaj and Dee, but the entire team has to be more attentive to ball security than they were last week.