By Paul Gotham
BROOKLYN, NY – Three to four shots, that could be the difference in Thursday’s Atlantic 10 opening round game between the #12 University of Dayton Flyers (17-13/7-9) and the #5 Butler University Bulldogs (24-7/11-5).
Three to four shots less that is.
Can the Dayton Flyers trim the number of shots taken by Butler’s leading scorer, Rotnei Clarke?
Sound too simple? Maybe.
Consider these less-than-groundbreaking statistics:
Clarke has taken 368 shots this season. The next closest Bulldog is Roosevelt Jones with 248 attempts. Clarke has let it fly 235 times from behind the arc (yes, Jones is the only Bulldog who has more shot attempts than Clarke has three-point tries. Side note – Clarke has taken just 77 shots from the free throw line. He has made 98 threes).
Hoop-Math.com clears this up a little more. Sixty-three percent of Clarke’s shot come from long range. Of those, Clarke receives an assist on 62 percent. Again, not earth-shattering stuff. Getting open on the perimeter often requires the work of teammates.
But here’s the thing, Butler, as a team, expends significant time and energy trying to get Clarke the ball where he can score. Screens and drives are carefully planned. Thirty-nine percent of Butler’s shots occur between the 10 and 35 second mark on the shot clock. Doesn’t seem like much until a team can do this over an entire game.
How hard can Dayton work on defense? Can the Flyers defend Clarke before he catches the ball? Can UD keep Clarke away from his sweet spots (of which they are many)? Can the Flyers force Butler to use more shot clock than the Bulldogs are comfortable doing?
If so, they will trim Clarke’s shot attempts, and that is the formula for beating Butler. Two teams, Duquesne and St. Louis, have done it recently. The Dukes limited Clarke to 11 shots and 16 points, both under his average, in a losing effort. Duquesne is too young and doesn’t have enough talent to hang with the rest of the Bulldogs.
The Billikens held Clarke to 11 shots and 13 points (more than four points under his average) in a 65-61 SLU win at Hinkle. Dayton is not St. Louis. They don’t have to be. They just have to be as good as SLU on the defensive end for 40 minutes (and overtime if needed).
Butler won the only meeting between the two teams this year 79-73 at UD Arena. Clarke played just 12 minutes having to leave after a scary fall when he was fouled on an open-floor layup. Important to note that including the win over Dayton, Butler went 3-1 without Clarke in the lineup. That means Clarke was on the floor for six of Butler’s losses.
Dayton has a flicker of hope until one considers that of UD’s seven conference wins, only one has come against a team with a winning record (70-59 over Xavier). On the other hand, seven of Dayton’s losses this season have been by a combined 11 points (Temple by 1, GW by 1, Rhode Island/ 3, La Salle/ 2, USC/ 2, Illinois St./ 1 and Weber St. 1).
Maybe this is a closer game than the records suggest.
If Dayton is to win this game, they will need a committee led by Vee Sanford and freshmen Khari Price to defend Clarke. Price has been slowed of late by a thigh injury, but has averaged almost 20 minutes over the last four games.
At the same time, Butler will need to account for Dayton’s Kevin Dillard. The senior point guard has had a rocky season, but few create in the open floor better than Dillard. His teammates know this and run the floor. Will the Bulldogs forfeit the offensive glass to hold Dillard in check? Dillard has fallen short of expectations this season. Can he have a season in one weekend?
Khyle Marshall and Dayton freshman, Dyshawn Pierre present an interesting matchup. Their play off the ball could have a determining factor in the outcome. Pierre has scored double figures in five of Dayton’s last seven games, and he is doing it in an efficient manner. The 6-6 rookie is averaging less than seven shots in those most recent contests.
Josh Benson, Devin Oliver, Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott will get a workout against the Butler front court of Jones, Andrew Smith, Erik Fromm and Kameron Woods. Butler has a rebound margin of +7.7. Dayton grabs just 3.8 more rebounds than their opponents.
This will be a single-digit game in the final minutes with Butler outlasting Dayton.
The Flyers and Bulldogs are scheduled to tip off at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Barclay’s Center. The game will be covered on the NBC Sports Network.