College Basketball Betting Preview: Dayton Flyers at VCU Rams
With conference play turning down the home stretch, the stakes are being raised in college basketball action across the country. From teams looking to cement a top seed, to those resting precariously on the bubble, the dynamics created make for exciting times for bettors. However, this stage of the season can also be wildly unpredictable. Are teams who feel safe prone to let downs? Does the desperation of riding the bubble lead to more focused play, or more desperate? With that in mind, let’s take a look at a big Atlantic-10 matchup tipping off tonight, as this year’s conference powerhouse Dayton take on VCU.
This is perhaps the biggest game of the Rams season. The team is 17-8 on the season, and currently sit tied for sixth in the A-10, with a record of 7-5. Despite the fact that there is no way a conference of this size will receive six bids to the NCAA tournament, VCU are currently listed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi as the seventh team out of the Big Dance. The Rams have a quality win against LSU and two competitive losses at Purdue and at home to Tennessee. However, there’s no denying that the team still has work to do if it hopes to get in. A home game against fifth-ranked Dayton is as good a chance as VCU is going to get to add to its resume.
The Flyers have been the most surprising team in all of college basketball this season. Dayton came into the season ranked 57th in KenPom’s preseason rankings, and have surged to sixth, on the back of a 23-2 record. The team remains perfect in conference play, and has spent the first few months of the season proving it is no fluke. Dayton’s only two losses came in overtime. The first was a neutral court 90-84 defeat to Kansas, who may be the best team in the land. The other came at home against a Colorado team who sits atop the PAC-12 standings. In conference play, the Flyers have been dominant. Seven of their 12 wins have come by double-digits.
This matchup is a textbook example of the dynamics discussed above. If Dayton runs the table, a two-seed is all but guaranteed, and the team may even have a case for being on the top line. However, the situation remains somewhat precarious, because any loss against any conference foe could quickly move them down. Meanwhile, VCU know how badly it needs this win, so on the one hand we can expect a high degree of energy and urgency. On the other, the pressure can often be too much in these spots for teams feeling a sense of desperation.
The truth is however, that this is a very difficult contest for the Rams. In the teams’ previous meeting Dayton coasted to a 79-65 home victory. Dayton shot better at all levels and out-rebounded the Rams 34-27. The biggest issue facing VCU here is the spectacular play of Dayton’s star player Obi Toppin. In the January 14 matchup, Toppin largely had his way with the Rams’ defense, despite playing on a bad ankle. The likely player-of-the-year in the Atlantic-10 had 24 points, to go along with nine rebounds and three assists, as well as a block and a steal. He took over the game as the Flyers built an unassailable 63-41 lead midway through the second half. Toppin’s size and strength and ability to make plays all over the floor will remain a brutal matchup problem for the Rams. Marcus Santos-Silva is the only player on the team’s roster that provides real size, and he lacks the quickness and versatility on the defensive end to hang with Toppin. The simple fact is that if Toppin performs at a high level, the Rams will find it very hard to stay in this one.
That said, VCU’s defense is still the best the A-10 has to offer. The team ranks 26th in adjust defensive efficiency rating in KenPom. The half-court defense and transition defense rank in the 94th and 87th percentiles, respectively. The Rams rank 11th in the nation in opponents’ assist-to-turnover ratio and sixth in turnovers created per game. Despite the 14-point loss last time out, VCU did give Dayton fits in this area, forcing the Flyers into 20 turnovers. A similar number will be required for the Rams to have a fighting chance here.
The real trouble for VCU is that even if it puts forth a quality defensive effort, it may well not be enough. The Flyers are simply excellent on offense. The team ranks second in adjusted efficiency rating in KenPom, and first in the nation in Effective Field Goal Percentage, Field Goal Percentage, Two-Point Field Goal Percentage, and Shooting Efficiency. In the win against VCU, Dayton’s three top scorers combined for 60 of the teams 79 points, while shooting 20-for-36 from the floor.
VCU will of course lean on its home crowd in hopes to level the playing field. The team is a very good 13-2 SU at home, but is only 6-9 ATS. However, Dayton is only 2-4 ATS as a road team this year and 5-7 ATS with two or three days of rest. From a pure spot perspective, the edge does lean to VCU. The Rams across town at Richmond on Saturday, so there are no travel concerns here. Dayton however, traveled from Ohio to play UMass on Saturday, before having to turnaround and come down to Virginia for this game. Even with this factored in, the Flyers have proven all year they can score consistently and efficiently, and it’s hard to see VCU’s offense being able to match them here. Dayton is listed as a short three-point road favorite, and deserve real consideration tonight.