Opening Sky Point
A brief melancholy note to start. Rest in peace Craig Sager, Northwestern graduate. The man was a treasure and I think anyone who enjoys basketball, which should include everyone reading this post, will miss his presence on the sideline. Even if those same people may not miss his suits.
On to the basketball.
Reporter on the Scene
For the first time in this blog’s brief history, the Dayton half will be attending a Flyers game in person. Thanks to some weird “Chicago Legends” invitational, Dayton and BYU will be visiting the United Center to play Northwestern and Illinois. If someone wants to tell me why the Chicago Legends Whatever doesn’t mimic the Crossroads Classic (Notre Dame, Indiana, Purdue, Butler) and invite all Illinois teams, I’m all ears. Yeah, you would have to bring in Northern Illinois (probably) in order to make this work, but it’s not like Champaign is anywhere near Chicago. I’m not entirely sure why I’m complaining about this since it brought the Flyers to me. Last time I saw them live was when they thumped Fordham in Madison Square Garden all the way back in January 2010. Elf was less excited to see Santa than I am to see this game.
Let’s start with the “home” team. Northwestern has had a strange season. Early on they actually looked pretty good, beating Texas and playing a tight game against a very good Notre Dame team. You can read brilliant analysis about that game here. Notre Dame only won that game by 4 points, which coincidentally is also the margin by which Northwestern beat Chicago State in their last outing. At home. Woof. It also doesn’t say anything good about the state of DePaul’s program that Northwestern held both them and Chicago State to 64 points (Northwestern hung 80 on DePaul, though). But I digress.
Defensively, Northwestern has been remarkably consistent. Only one team has crossed 71 against them, and that was in an 86-72 win over Eastern Washington. Most opponents have been in the 58-65 range. Offensively, they’re a complete mess. As far as trends go, they have seemed to score against cupcakes and struggle against quality programs (and Chicago State). This might be a problem for them.
Aaaaaaaaaaaand Now, From Chicago……….
Dayton, as you’re bound to hear during the broadcast, has two important players on the team from Chicago: Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis. Josh Cunningham is from Chicago, too, but I’m not even sure if he’s making the trip. Kendall Pollard is healthy (for now) and since he has come back the Flyers have played much better ball. Their best performance of the season, and possibly their best win of the season, came in their last outing against East Tennessee State. You would think they would have an awful lot of confidence and motivation for this one.
Glancing at their game log, you would think that the Flyers have played lockdown defense all year with the exception of that dismal “effort” against Nebraska. You would be wrong. They have been mediocre defensively this season, ranking 104th in the country in field goal percentage defense (41.4%). That’s somewhat surprising, as they have been extremely stingy on that end for the past few years. The theory here is that given their interior deficiencies they are allowing a lot of easy buckets once the ball gets entered into the paint, but I have not been able to watch enough of their games to confirm this theory. Lucky for Dayton, Northwestern doesn’t have a ton of interior scoring.
It appears that one of Archie’s strategies to compensate for an absent frontcourt is to take advantage of Dayton’s depth. Seven players are averaging more than 20 minutes per game. Surprisingly, that does not include Darrell Davis or John Crosby, of whom much was expected this season and little has been delivered. There is still time for that to turn around, but it is not surprising that Dayton is struggling offensively when two of their more explosive scorers are combining for a whopping 8 points per game. Pollard’s return helps (12.7 points / 6.7 rebounds per game), but they’re going to need both of those guys to play better and soon. Although this season has been Xeyrius Williams’s coming out party, he still plays like more of an energy guy than anyone you would want to rely on for offense. Easy offense has been a particular problem for this team, which is a bit of a shock when you see that they’re shooting 48% as a team on the season. Then you glance to the right and find the 66% free throw shooting number. That’s atrocious. If you want a number for that atrocity how’s 251? That’s where they rank nationally in free throw shooting. How can a team be 39th nationally in field goal shooting and 251st in free throw shooting? It boggles the mind.
It’s pretty likely that Dayton’s Charles Cooke and Northwestern’s Vic Law are going to be squaring off an awful lot in this game. The winner of that matchup will be on the winning team. You heard it here first.
I think Dayton is hitting its stride and there is something very alarming about a team that had to come back late against Chicago State. Still, Dayton is a very flawed team and Northwestern has shown up in games against better opponents this year. I’ll go with a tight victory for the Flyers: 73 – 70. Either way, it’ll be fun to watch the Flyers in person again.