Iowa (3-0) vs. Dayton (3-0)
Date: November 26, 2015
Time: 8:00 p.m. CT
Location: HP Field House, Orlando
Line: Iowa -2
After a week off and a plane trip to Florida, Iowa opens its three-game run at the Advocare Invitational against the dangerous Dayton Flyers on Thanksgiving night. The Hawkeyes and Flyers tip at 8:00 p.m. God's Time on ESPN2. We've already previewed the Invitational bracket.
Iowa hasn't played Dayton since the opening game of the 2012 postseason NIT, a game that marked Iowa's return to the postseason and had a crowd to match. The buzz in Carver Hawkeye Arena that night was palpable (elsewhere, not so much). Iowa won't have that advantage on Thursday night, obviously.
What Iowa does have now that it didn't in 2012 is NCAA Tournament-level talent. Unfortunately, so does Dayton. The Flyers, still led by Archie Miller despite big-school overtures in the past, are a two-time repeat NCAA Tournament team with depth and experience. They hammered Alabama by 32 earlier this year, and have climbed into the Kenpom top 50 fairly quickly.
What Dayton doesn't have is big-school size. Freshman center Steve McElvene (6'11, 270) is the only player in Miller's eight-man rotation standing taller than 6'7. McElvene is a load in the middle; he's blocking more than two shots per game and posting 10 points and 9 rebounds despite playing only 23 minutes per contest. The contest between him and Adam Woodbury should be an old-school, battleship-center battle worth watching.
But Iowa's size could present problems for the rest of the Dayton frontcourt. Junior Kendall Pollard (6'6, 235, 7.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg) started as the other forward against William & Mary last Saturday, but he's averaging less than 20 minutes per game. Freshmen Xeyrius Williams (6'8, 195) and Ryan Mikessel (6'7, 195) have contributed, but lack the size to be significant factors on the inside. Ironically, Mikessel is arguably Dayton's best perimeter threat, having made 7 of 11 attempts from deep so far this season.
And yet, despite that lack of size, Dayton has been ferocious on defense. Opponents are shooting at just a 39.8 percent effective rate against the Flyers and making just 37 percent of two-point shot attempts. One in six opponent shot attempts are blocked. The Flyers are first nationally in one of the weirdest stats available: opponent's free throw percentage. Be it dumb luck or good coaching (or, likely, a combination of the two), Dayton doesn't get killed at the line. Their stats look like something you'd see from a team with Purdue's size, and that's concerning.
The Flyers primarily play three guards, and they are good. Junior Charles Cooke (6'2, 195) leads Dayton in minutes (28.7 mpg) and points (15.3 ppg), and contributes everywhere else (6.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 bpg). Point guard Scoochie Smith (6'2, 180) is the team's assist leader (4.3 apg), scores 10.3 points per game on 52 percent shooting, and has picked up an impressive 3.0 steals per game. Darrell Davis (6'4, 170) rounds out the starting five with a solid stat line of his own (10.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg). Junior Kyle Davis (6'0, 175, 4.7 ppg, 3.0 apg) has been the first player off the bench.
The first problem for Dayton: Davis, Cooke and Smith combine for thirteen three-point attempts per game, but their three-point shooting percentage is just 32 percent. The second problem: They turn the ball over on one of every four possessions, an absurdly high percentage for a team that plays three experienced guards. All five Dayton starters average two or more turnovers per game, and only Indiana and BYU turn the ball over more often among major programs.
What to Watch
A quick look at Marquette's lineup against Iowa showed blatant mismatches in the Hawkeyes' favor, mismatches that showed in the final score. That isn't the case against Dayton. Iowa has counters to most of Dayton's strengths: Woodbury should nullify McElvene, Anthony Clemmons' tenacious defense (and potentially Peter Jok's length) is the antidote to Smith and Cooke on the perimeter, and Iowa has plenty of defenders against a "stretch four" like Mikessel, but those aren't total mismatches.
Where Iowa holds a distinct advantage is in its best player: Dayton has no answer for Jarrod Uthoff in this lineup. He's too tall for their guards, too talented and potent for their freshmen forwards, and too athletic for the center. If Uthoff starts fast, Iowa could cruise. Otherwise, expect a close game and the first true test of the season.