Friday, January 9, 2015

Fordham/Dayton Preview

Archie Miller and Dayton return to Fordham for first time since Elite 8 run. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

At 0-2 in Atlantic 10 play following a three-point loss to Rhode Island that revealed Fordham's true potential at various points Wednesday night in Kingston, the Rams return home to Rose Hill Gym for a Saturday night showdown with one of the best teams in the conference.

Despite losing three starters from a team that stunned the nation on the way to a South Regional final appearance as a No. 11 seed last season, Dayton has rebounded to start their encore in rousing fashion. To add to the plot, since Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson were dismissed from the team in December, the Flyers have picked up the tempo with a smaller lineup on their way to a 12-2 start, solidifying Archie Miller as one of the premier talent evaluators in the nation, belying his tender age of 36.

Three Dayton players average 10 or more points per game, with their leading scorer being Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert, whose 16.1 points per contest are nearly four points better than forward Dyshawn Pierre. Sibert, whose 71 field goals include approximately half of them from three-point range, anchors a quick offense whose shorter look; which features no player taller than 6-6, rivals the four-guard offense Tom Pecora was forced to run last season with Ryan Canty injured for half the year, forcing Bryan Smith to play out of position at the power forward spot. The Flyers' defense is as stingy as they come, with a unit yielding just 60 points per game ranking third-best in the Atlantic 10, and sophomores Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis give Dayton a backcourt that may just be one of the better young tandems in the conference.

This is not the same Dayton team that defeated Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford on their way to an Elite Eight run that captured the nation, but to shed further light on the Flyers and what they have done since their Cinderella journey through March, we welcome Tom Blackburn of The Blackburn Review to reacquaint us with a team who has always been one of the more quiet success stories by and large, and also one whose fans routinely show up in droves at Rose Hill Gym, such as their majority of the crowd in 2012:

Jaden Daly: What would you say has been most impressive about the way Dayton has started this season, given that the Flyers were expected by many to take a step back? 

Tom Blackburn: It depends what you mean by “step back.” Certainly the Flyers aren’t in a situation where another Elite Eight appearance is possible, but I suspect most fans assumed the team could contend for another NCAA tournament appearance. With the team currently at 12-2, and riding a hot streak, it is certainly becoming more and more likely. There is obviously a lot left on the plate, but given the road ahead there is plenty to be hopeful about.

JD: Since Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson were dismissed from the team, has playing a smaller lineup had a better effect on the Flyers

TB: To say the very least. The smaller lineup has allowed Dayton to play at a quicker pace, forcing mismatches on the offensive end. Walkon Bobby Wehrli has been forced into action, logging about 15 minutes of playing time, and yet the Flyer offense has been more effective since their two bigs have been kicked out of school. What seemed like a death knell has become a catalyst for this offense. The Flyers are going to live and die by the three the rest of the way, that’s just the way it has to be. So far, so good. As long as Dayton is hitting above 40% of their shots from deep (UD has connected on 48% of their threes since Scott and Robinson were expelled), they have an excellent chance to win ballgames.    

JD: With a defense that yields only 60 points per game on average, how does one penetrate this group and get to the basket, and can Fordham put up enough of a fight? 

TB: Honestly, I can’t put my finger on what UD is doing defensively. Part of the answer lies in the fact that Dayton has played quite a few teams with subpar offenses. If Fordham can consistently attack UD inside, get to the line, I think they absolutely can put up a fight against the Flyers.

JD: Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis give the Flyers a young backcourt that not many schools in the conference can rival. How much more of a jump have the two made from their freshman seasons

TB: I think most UD fans saw glimpses of what Scoochie brought to the table during the tournament run. Smith has the ability to penetrate and create offense for the rest of the team. Offensively, he is coming along slowly but surely. The bigger surprise has been the play of Davis. He has really come into his own, developed some perimeter ability, is deadly in transition and remains UD’s best defender. KD looked like a bit of a project last season, and there were doubts as to how much he could handle when Khari Price transferred out of the program last spring. However, he has exceeded all expectations, a breakout year for the sophomore.

JD: The prevailing feeling among Fordham fans is that Tom Pecora is no longer the answer for the Rams. From a distant perch, how would you evaluate the situation on Rose Hill? 

TB: I don’t know what to make of Fordham anymore. It seems like each season a new underclassmen impresses for the Rams and it seems like there’s a decent core to work with. Then, fast forward to March and Fordham is lucky to win ten games and not finish last in the A10. I’m not saying Pecora should be challenging for the A10 title every year, but the Rams should be more competitive. 

JD: On the other bench, has the Elite Eight run changed anything else about Archie Miller besides his marketability? Honestly, how much longer will it take for a bigger program to make him an offer he won't be able to refuse? 

TB: Unfortunately, I think it’s just a matter of time for Arch. As soon as the right (money) situation (money) comes along, he will be packing his (money) bags for greener (money) pastures. It’s the Catch 22 of being a Dayton fan. You want the program to do well, but you realize that losing the coach is part of that equation. UD fans have accepted the fact that Dayton isn’t a destination job, and that’s okay. The important thing is to get the program in a position where the foundation is strong enough for the next guy to come in and take off running. I think Archie is getting us there. Or at least as close as we’ve been in a long time.

JD: Finally, is Dayton's start smoke and mirrors, to an extent? Ultimately, where do you see them ending up going into March?

TB: This is the million dollar question – can the Flyers keep rolling like they have been the past five games? I’m still skeptical, but also optimistic. They have played lights out since the dismissal of Scott and Robinson, but there will certainly be some games where they struggle from the outside. The key, as always, will be protecting the home floor and winning 4-5 games on the road. Given the condition of the A10 this season, I definitely think that’s a realistic goal. As of today, I’m hedging a bit, I see no reason why the Flyers won’t have their names called on Selection Sunday.

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