While Rhode Island and Massachusetts aren't exactly the cream of the A-10 crop, Xavier fans should be encouraged by the fact that X rolled them by a combined 56 point this week. Next up for the Muskies is Dayton, who bounced back from a five point road loss against UMass by bouncing St. Joseph's at home. Dayton should be the first real conference test for Xavier, and the Muskies have the luxury of facing it at home.
UD ranks 58th in the RPI updated today by ESPN.com, their 14-4 record offset by a strength of schedule ranking of 151. Xavier has snuck up to 41st in the RPI behind the 30th toughest schedule to this point. Dayton has been inconsistent this year, with wins over good-but-not-great programs such as Mississippi, Seton Hall, George Mason, and New Mexico stacking up next to losses to UMass and East Tennessee State and a 34-point butt-kicking at the hands of UC.
While not as bad as UMass from behind the arc (.329, 214th nationally), Dayton is even worse inside it - posting a nauseating .429 percentage on two-point field goals alone. This is almost .050 below the national average and puts Dayton comfortably in 300th. With such grim shooting numbers, Dayton keeps its offense afloat by going after offensive rebounds (almost 14 per game, grabbing one on 36.2% of their missed shots), protecting the ball (18.6% of their possessions end in turnovers, which is 71st in the nation, and only three teams give up fewer steals), and slowing the game down. Dayton is 2-2 in non-OT games that featured at least 70 possessions; they are 10-2 in non-OT games that come in under that mark.
Dayton is actually close to Xavier in effective height, showing up at 28th in the nation to X's fifth. This metric compares the height of a team's tallest player on the court to the average height of the tallest player on the court, the height of the second tallest player on the court against the average second tallest player on the court, and so on down the line, so it is a pretty effective measure of how "big" a team plays. Dayton gets about a third of their minutes off the bench, a number that is just above national average and well above Xavier.
Chris Wright leads Dayton in points, rebounds, steals, block, and FG%, is second in minutes, and tied for third in assists per game. He posted 17-9-1 when Dayton pounded Xavier 90-65 last February. Wright gets most of his points in the middle, shooting just 3-18 from behind the arc this year. Chris Johnson is right behind Wright in scoring, rebounding, steals, et c., but is a couple of inches shorter and plays a more perimeter oriented game. His .397 FG% provides plenty of offensive rebounding opportunities for teammates, but he is serviceable from behind the arc (.350) and deadly from the line (.889). Paul Williams provides a spark from outside for Dayton, shooting almost four three-pointers a game and connecting at a .486 rate. Juwan Staten has the distribution numbers (6.6 APG, 2.5 A/TO) of the point guard he is but he gets his nine points per game the hard way, attempting nine shots per game while posting a 0.389/0.550/0.118 shooting line. He gets the assist on 51.2% of all Dayton buckets while he's on the floor, the highest such number of any player in the country. Not too shabby for a freshman.
Outside of the Crosstown Shootout, the two (and sometimes three) annual battles with Dayton are
Xavier's most heated rivalry games. Last year the teams split the regular season before X knocked UD out of the A-10 tournament. In those three games, Dayton contrived to drop two of them despite outscoring Xavier by 16 points on the season. These are the kind of anything-can-happen games - two decided by two possessions and the other by 25 points? - where one or two pivotal performances (Dante's 5 threes and Tu's 13-14 from the line in X's first win; Tu, Craw, and Love combining for 59 of X's 78 in the A10 tourney) can change the whole game. With both programs keeping players for three or four years, recruiting over the same general area, and competing for positioning in the A-10, the UD games are almost always some of the best on the schedule.
Keys to the game:
-Ball control: With Dayton being stingy with the ball and trying to slow the game down, each possession is going to be valuable for Xavier. The Muskies have to continue their recent trend of protecting the ball and working to make every trip down the floor worthwhile.
-Second chances: In light of the previously mentioned point about Dayton's style limiting possessions, Xavier has to avoid one-and-done trips down the floor as often as they can. On the flip side, keeping a poor-shooting Dayton team away from the offensive glass will go a long way towards forcing them to open up the game a little bit.
-Feed the post: McLean and Big Kenny are combining for 23 points and 17 rebounds (and 2 assists!) per game. Establishing them inside early will at the very least give them chances to score and keep them in offensive rebounding position. With any luck, they can get Dayton’s bigs into early foul trouble and make controlling the glass a little bit easier.
Despite the generally heated nature of this rivalry, this UD team doesn't scare me. They've laid eggs against teams they should have beaten and struggled past teams they should have beaten handily. Xavier should take care of business at home; I give this one a 2.