Better know an NIT opponent: Dayton

If you haven't heard the good news, Iowa plays Dayton tomorrow in the first round of the NIT. The game starts at 6:30 and tickets go on sale to the general public at 1 p.m. today ($15 for adults and $5 for kids). It's quite a coup for Fran and the team, and hopefully Carver will be raucous as the Hawks attempt to extend the season by one more game. But who, exactly, are the Dayton Flyers, and what can Iowa fans expect from the game? Here is a quick and non-comprehensive guide to the team.

Here's the roster [the table I had up previously seemed to have a few mistakes, so I'll just refer you to the StatSheet.com page for Dayton if you want to poke around]:

1) These guys can play

With wins over Minnesota (#54 in the KenPom rankings), Alabama (#29), Mississippi (#81) St. Louis (#15), Temple (#36), La Salle (#56) and Xavier (#59), Dayton has shown that they are capable of playing with anyone. Iowa's current KenPom ranking, in case you were wondering, is #87, while Dayton's is #64.

2) These guys can play offense

Dayton ranks as the 31st best offensive team in the country per KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency numbers at 111.8 points per 100 possessions. How do they score all those points? For one, they shoot a ton of threes: their three-point rate (the percentage of their field goals which are threes) is the 34th highest in the country at 40.1%. Wisconsin and Northern Iowa are pretty good comps in this regard, as both take about 40% of their shots from deep. Fortunately the Flyers are only so-so at making their threes, ranking 157th in the country at 34.4%. They do have a few sharpshooters, though: Chris Johnson and Luke Fabrizius both average better than 40% on threes.

Dayton as a team is not fantastic in terms of taking care of the ball, turning the ball over on 19.4% of their possessions (#162 in the country), but they compensate for it by assisting on many of their baskets (21.4%, #44 in the country). In this respect they follow the personality of their star point guard, Kevin Dillard, who had 41.6% of the team's assists and 21.7% of the team's turnovers. More on this crucial player later.

Lastly, Dayton is an excellent free throw shooting team, ranking second in the country at 77.8%. Their focus on the three-point shot means they don't get to the line very often, however, and rank 237th in the country in free throw attempts per offensive play.

So why weren't they invited to the big dance with such gaudy offensive numbers? Because...

3) Defense? Not so much

Dayton is not a very good defensive team. Their profile is actually fairly similar to Iowa's in a lot of ways: both teams rank in the top 50 in offensive efficiency and are sub-130 in defensive efficiency. The Flyers rank 136th in the KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency ratings giving up 99.2 points per hundred possessions while Iowa ranks 156th at 100.5. Dayton ranks 235th in two-point percentage defense and 126th in three-point percentage defense and give up a lot of free throws, ranking 211th in opponent's free throw attempts per possession. They also rank poorly in terms of creating steals, blocking shots, and forcing turnovers.

4) They can board

Dayton has no one super-tall player, but they can throw a lot of size at you, with three 6'9" power forwards (#35 Matt Kavanaugh, #25 Alex Gavrilovic, #23 Luke Fabrizius) and two small forwards above 6'6" (#4 Chris Johnson and #5 Devin Oliver) playing regular minutes. As a result, the Flyers are a very good offensive rebounding team, ranking 45th in the country in offensive rebounding rate. This may cause problems for Iowa, which suffers from particularly poor defensive rebounding. Dayton's best rebounder is Kavanaugh, who recorded the 28th highest offensive rebounding percentage in the country this year.

5) Their coach makes Fred Hoiberg look old

Archie Miller just took over the reins at Dayton 11 months ago and is only 33 years old. He played point guard at NC State and has coached under Herb Sendek at NC State and Arizona State, Thad Matta at Ohio State, and his brother Sean at Arizona.

6) It all starts with Dillard

Kevin Dillard is Dayton's speedy 6'0" point guard, and no one will have the ball in his hands as much as him. He leads the team in minutes, assists, steals, turnovers and usage percentage. He may not be the most efficient player on the team (his effective field goal percentage is just 46%), but he makes the offense go. The most important defensive decision Fran McCaffery will have to make is figuring out who to put on Dillard. Judging from the one game I watched of the Flyers, Dillard is probably too fast for Gatens, Marble or Oglesby to stop one-on-one. Bryce Cartwright could probably match him speed for speed, but Bryce has never shown the greatest one-on-one defensive skills. It will likely take a team effort to slow Dillard down, but the Hawks should beware over-helping: Dillard is not a great shooter, but he serves to set up the great shooters around him. It will likely fall to Cartwright and Marble to check him on the perimeter, then to Basabe and White to contest his shot if he gets into the paint.

7) Inside/Outside

While Dillard is arguably the Flyers' most crucial player, he is not their most efficient. That distinction would fall to either their forward-center Kavanaugh or their small forward Johnson. From the little film I saw, the Flyers like to give Kavanaugh the ball down low and let him work one-on-one in the post. At 6'9", 250 lb., Kavanaugh has the size and the skill to do it, and finished the year shooting an excellent 54.7% from the field. Kavanaugh doesn't quite have the monstrous size of a Meyers Leonard or Adreian Payne, but he will outweigh his likely defenders by a good 25 pounds. Basabe, Zach McCabe and Aaron White will have to do a much better job denying the ball in the post than they did against Michigan State. Once Kavanaugh gets position down low, he will score.

But Kavanaugh is still not the most efficient player on the team. That would be Chris Johnson, who has an eFG% of 59.3% (impressive for a perimeter player), shoots above 40% on threes, and makes 84% of his free throws. Johnson can also rebound very well, averaging 6.4 rebounds per game, 2.5 of which come on the offensive end.

8) They don't play particularly fast, but they could

Dayton is a slightly slower team than Iowa, averaging roughly 65 possessions a game to Iowa's 68, but Dillard is lightning quick and has excellent handles, and the team features several athletic wings to run with him. Iowa may regret turning the game into a track meet, especially because ...

9) They play a very deep rotation

Nine players average more than 10 minutes a game for Dayton, and eight average more than 15. This is a very deep team, and Iowa may not have the horses to tire them out.

10) Final word: an athletic, versatile, three-shooting team that can be scored on

In other words, Dayton is the A10 version of Northwestern. That's actually kind of scary, because Iowa didn't do so hot against Northwestern recently, and has struggled to contain three-point shooting teams all year. But the Flyers are not without their weaknesses. They struggle on defense, have their own difficulties stopping threes, and are a much worse team away from the friendly confines of the University of Dayton Arena. Containing Dillard will be the first order of business, but if the Hawks can do that, it will go a long way to slowing down the entire Dayton offense. The next task will be limiting Dayton's three-point looks, because the Flyers, like Northwestern, would like to take threes every time they have the ball. Iowa's best shot may be to guard Dayton straight up and force the Flyers to win inside with Kavanaugh. He's a good player, but not one that is accustomed to carrying a huge load on offense, averaging just over six field goal attempts per game.

Carver should be loud and this should be an exciting, offense-heavy game. The opportunities will be there for Matt Gatens and Iowa's other perimeter players to score a lot of points, but the determining factors for an Iowa victory will be defense (especially three-point shooting defense) and rebounding. You never know which Iowa team will show up in those regards, so here's hoping.

[Note: statistical figures from www.statsheet.com, www.teamrankings.com and Sport-Reference.com]

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