The Flyers can't win in Cincinnati, but this game is being played in Dayton. Does Xavier have what it takes to get a big win on the road?
When Xavier last met Dayton it was the only win for the Musketeers in a four game stretch that threatened to derail the conference season. Amongst giant presidential heads and a packed house, Xavier rode an enormous rebounding effort and great defense from Dee Davis to a 66-61 win that, at least temporarily, righted the ship. Xavier is now 7-3 and part of the logjam in third place in the Atlantic 10. Dayton is 3-7 and, once again, an also ran.
Since the first meeting against Dayton, Xavier has gone 2-1 and scored over 70 points in all three games. A complete disaster of a final ten minutes against Richmond is all that stands between the Musketeers and a tie for the conference lead at 8-2. In that span, Justin Martin has reemerged as a third scoring threat to bolster Semaj Christon and Travis Taylor.
Troublingly for Xavier, there have been issues in both wins. Despite playing the two worst teams in the conference (and two of the worst in college basketball), the average margin of victory has only been 10.5 points. Xavier didn't ever really pull away from Duquesne on the road despite having a golden chance early, and then had to rally to win. Against Fordham the Musketeers controlled the game a bit better, but still never buried a clearly inferior opponent. Playing either of those games again will result in a loss, and probably a spectacular one, at Dayton.
Dayton has continued to slide since losing to Xavier, going 1-3. The Flyers went to Saint Louis to start February and got absolutely destroyed 81-52. A bounce back win against St. Joseph's was followed by close losses to Temple and a laughably bad Rhode Island Rams team. The Flyers started the season quickly but have detonated in the conference, falling to 13-11 and going 5-9 after an 8-2 start.
In the three losses since the Jimmy Carter Classic, Dayton has been betrayed by at least one aspect of their game. Against Saint Louis, they couldn't defend at all, allowing the Billikens to knock down 40% of their threes shoot over 50% from the floor. Against Temple, in a one point loss, they went all Xavier from the line, making only 19 of 33 attempts. In the most recent loss, to Rhode Island, they allowed a truly horrid offensive team to score 43 in a half and shoot 50% while only making 43% of their shots.
Since conference play has started Dayton has been even better at putting the ball in the basket. Their effective field goal percentage of 52.3% is tops in the A10 since conference play started and their blistering 42.6% mark from deep is also tops in the conference. Despite that torrid pace from behind the arc (it would be good for third in the nation were it season long) the Flyers only take 30% of their shots from deep. Inside the arc, UD is a less impressive 47.4%, 12th in the conference. Adding to Dayton's struggles inside is the fact only two teams in the conference have more shots blocked than they do. For a team so effective from deep and so ineffective inside, it's somewhat confusing that Dayton doesn't move behind more often.
On defense, Dayton has really hit a wall in conference play. The Flyers rank 14th, 12th, and 11th in three point percentage allowed, two point percentage allowed, and effective field goal percentage allowed, respectively. Once a block percentage of only 7.4% is factored in, it becomes apparent that Dayton relies mostly on grabbing rebounds to end possessions. The Flyers DR% of 29.5% ranks them only fourth in the conference. Despite slowing the pace by nearly two possessions since non-conference play ended, Dayton has been gashed for 70 points five times in ten conference games.
Dayton still counts on point guard Kevin Dillard to carry the load and, in games in which he isn't haunted by Dee Davis, he's done just that. Dyshawn Pierre has notched his first collegiate double-double in the time since the Xavier game and could be more of a threat on the boards than he was in the first meeting. Matt Derenbecker, who missed a wide open three after a defensive miscue at the end of the first game, hasn't recovered from that miss, scoring only three points in the last four games. Josh Benson and Jalen Robinson have both continued plugging along down low but, in all reality, Dayton's offense has come down to their three point shooting. Since Xavier, the Flyers have attempted six fewer treys per game and made seven percent less than their conference averages. That dropoff basically tells the story of their current 1-3 stretch.
- Who wins on the glass? Dayton came into the first matchup as the premier rebounding team in the conference. That's not the case any more, as Xavier now ranks first in OR% and second in DR%. Still, Dayton has the homecourt advantage and ranks fourth in the conference in both measures. Another convincing Xavier win on the glass would go a long way.
- Will the threes drop? Dayton shoots the three well, Xavier guards it relatively poorly. The first game came down to Derenbecker missing on one of the best looks he is ever likely to get. In that game the Flyers made eight out of 16 attempts, they've not taken, or made, that many in a game since.
- Can Xavier get a big road win? The Musketeers are 2-3 on the road in conference, but those wins came over Duquesne and St. Bonaventure, not exactly the cream of the crop. Dayton is struggling this year, but they will be up and ready for a chance to knock Xavier even farther out of the at-large conversation. The atmosphere will be loud, hostile, and as tough as anything the Musketeers have seen since winning at Purdue.
- Make free throws: Mundane, predictable, absolutely vital. If Xavier throws up another clunker at the line or can't convert down the stretch, forget the win.
- Protect Dee Davis: Davis was the difference maker in the first game because he was free to harass Kevin Dillard and initiate the offense. Once Dee settled in, he ran the game. If Xavier can give him some room at the start of the game and keep overactive Dayton defenders off him, the same thing could happen on the road.
- Win ugly: Dayton has slowed their pace in conference play, but they still aren't even comparable to the snail's pace the Musketeers favor. Getting quality looks, ending possessions, and grinding clock aren't always fun to watch, but they are the only way Xavier will win tomorrow. A wide open, running, long range game spells disaster for the Musketeers.