By Paul Gotham
Setting: The Blackburn / McCafferty Trophy is on the line at the Cintas Center Saturday morning when Brian Gregory’s Dayton Flyers (13-3 / 2-0) travel south on I75 for an Atlantic 10 clash with Chris Mack’s Xavier Musketeers (11-5 / 3-0). The Trophy honors former Dayton coach Tom Blackburn (1947-64) and Xavier coach and athletic director, Jim McCafferty (1957-63).
Plot: There will be a plenty of energy on campus and plenty more on the court. Ten Flyers play 12 minutes or more per game. Eight Musketeers log at least 16 minutes per contest. Coaches Mack and Gregory take pride in their benches.
Sub-plot: Xavier is in the middle of the toughest leg on their schedule. The Muskies play at Temple on Wednesday before hosting Rhode Island next Saturday. Dayton hosts George Washington and travels to St. Joe’s over the next week. The Atlantic Conference currently ranks fourth in RPI with three teams (Temple, Rhode Island, and Xavier) in the RPI’s top 25.
Flashback: Dante Jackson and B.J. Raymond led then No. 17 Xavier with 14 points a piece as the X-Men downed the Flyers, 76-59. Derrick Brown had a double-double 11 points and 12 rebounds. Dayton leads the series, 81-62. Xavier has taken seven of the last eight meetings. Dayton has not won in Cincinnati since the 1980-81 season.
Foreshadowing: Sixteen Flyers have gone on to enjoy careers in the NBA including Jim Paxson Jr. and Johnny Davis. Sixteen Musketeers have played in the Association including current stars Derrick Brown, James Posey , and David West.
Conflict: Xavier is 10-1 when scoring 70 or more points with their only loss coming in double overtime to Wake Forest. Dayton limits its opponents to 61.9 points per game. Dayton forces 15 turnovers per game and limits opponents to less than six three pointers.
On offense, Dayton makes it difficult for opponents to focus on one player. With 10 Flyers in the rotation seven chip in six points or more. Pre-season Wooden candidate, Chris Wright leads the way with 14 points and 7 rebounds. The junior small forward gets one block a game and knocks down 72.7 percent from the free throw line.
Chris Johnson has scored in double figures the four times out including a 26-point, 15 rebound outing against Dusquesne. Johnson leads Dayton making 40 percent (30-75) from behind the arc.
Four other Flyers have hit a total of double digit trifectas: Rob Lowery (16), Luke Fabrizius (24), Mickey Perry (16), and Paul Williams (15).
But Dayton’s biggest weapon is there which does not allow anything easy. The Flyers convert their steal into lay ups at the other end. Xavier will need to take care of the ball.
Terrell Hollway will carry the brunt of that responsibility. The sophomore point guard dishes out 3.8 assists per game and his assist to turnover ratio is 2.4:1. Holloway averages 10.6 points per game, but his greatest contribution might come from the free throw line. Holloway knocks down 90.3 percent of his free throws. This makes it difficult for opponents who need to come back against Xavier late in games.
Jordan Crawford leads the way with 19.3 points per game. The sophomore small forward hands out 2.6 assists per game. Dayton’s defense could present Crawford’s biggest challenge yet this year. The Flyers are stingy in their own end and work together well to stop their opponent’s leading scorers. Crawford has struggled from time to time trying to do too much on the offensive end. Xavier can ill afford to have their leading scorer waste possessions against the Flyers.
Jason Love, Jamel McLean, and Kenny Frease could be the difference in the game. Love averages 10.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. His jump hook has become close to indefensible.
McLean had double-doubles against Wake Forest and LSU, and nine rebound performances against Marquette and Miami, OH. The junior power forward is often the difference between Xavier winning and losing. He provides an athletic compliment to Love in the paint.
The 7′ Frease averages 6.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Brad Redford leads the A-10 in threes at 47.1 percent. Open looks will be hard to come by though against the Flyers defense. Holloway will need to find Redford spotting up in transition, and the sophomore shooting guard will need to take advantage of the few opportunities he gets.
Resolution: Xavier rarely loses at home and Saturday’s game will be no different. This game will come down to the final minute of play and should be decided by one possession.
Got any comments about the game? Post them here.