Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by rtmsf on February 17th, 2010

Joe Dzuback of Villanova By The Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Funky February

Maybe it is the weather, one of the more snow-filled winters in the last decade. Maybe it is the point in the season when teams that are good just exhale for a game or two, and teams that were supposed to be good take a hard look in the mirror and realize that something has to happen right now if their season is going to head somewhere other than the waste pile. If the conference is separating the top from the bottom, the top is getting crazy…

Dayton delivered their second consecutive take-down of a conference leader when they hammered the Charlotte 49ers 75-47, on Wednesday (2/10) night. Richmond spared the conference the conundrum of a five-way tie with barely a month left to the conference season when they dispatched Rhode Island (on the Rams’ home court no less), 69-67, earlier in the evening. Thursday dawned with four teams sporting (only) two conference losses, although technically Temple, with only seven wins, was not in a true tie with their three conference mates, Charlotte, Richmond and Xavier. Three more teams, Dayton, Rhode Island and St. Louis are just one loss behind the four leaders. Fully one-half of the conference is within striking distance of the conference title, and St. Louis excepted (maybe…), six appear regularly in postseason bracketology discussions. While it is remote — at best — to think all six will go to the NCAAs, I have begun to believe my projection of three teams was too light. The next two weeks will separate one or two teams from the top of the conference going into the A10’s postseason tournament.

Standings (as of 02/16/10)

  1. Richmond (9-2, 20-6 #25 AP)
  2. Temple (8-2, 2-05, #21 AP)
  3. Xavier (8-2, 17-7)
  4. Charlotte (8-2, 18-6)
  5. St. Louis (7-3, 16-8)
  6. Rhode Island (7-4, 19-5)
  7. Dayton (6-4, 17-7)
  8. Duquesne (4-7, 13-12)
  9. Massachusetts (4-7, 10-15)
  10. George Washington (3-7, 13-10)
  11. La Salle (3-7, 11-13)
  12. St. Bonaventure (3-7, 10-13)
  13. Saint Joseph’s (3-8, 9-16)
  14. Fordham (0-11, 2-21)

Team Rundowns

Charlotte

The 49ers have had their problems on the road this season, starting with the 101-59 drubbing they took in Cameron Indoor Stadium in their second game. After a nice seven-game winning streak through Christmas, Old Dominion rung their bell with a 30+ point beating. The Tennessee Volunteers booted them out of Knoxville with a 17 point loss and XU showed them the door with a 12-point loss in mid January. The 75-47 drubbing they took at the hands of Dayton on Wednesday (2/10), coming so close to the end of the season, might be the most damaging. The game was played at Dayton’s preferred pace (about 65 possessions), and Charlotte shot an abysmal 27% eFG% as Coach Lutz emptied his bench, running 14 players through the game to find someone who could hit a bucket.

The 49ers have had a week to think about that disaster, and will swing back into action Wednesday (2/17) as they host struggling Duquesne, followed by a Saturday (1/20) visit from Xavier.

Dayton

Dayton took care of Charlotte in resounding fashion, 75-47, on Wednesday (2/10). Having beaten both Xavier and Charlotte during their home stand, the Flyers seemed to have their season back on track. Against Charlotte, Chris Wright and Marcus Johnson stepped up to provide very efficient scoring, logging eFGs of 80% and 69% respectively while taking at least 30% of the shots when they were on the floor. Chris Johnson also had an efficient (if less prolific) night, logging an eFG% of 79% while taking about 18% of the available shots when he was on the floor. Their offense back on track, the Flyers took to the road and dropped their Saturday (2/13) game to St. Louis, 68-65. Small consolation that it took the Billikens two overtime periods to subdue the Flyers. And it is back into the middle of the pack for Dayton. The Flyers continue to lead the conference in efficiency differential (see table above), but that efficiency is not consistently translating into wins. Coach Gregory’s squad may be the unluckiest in the conference, but that will not win them any awards (or get them a postseason NCAA bid). They need victories, the kind that show up in the win column. They are one of the strongest teams in the country in rebounding, but they turn the ball over too much (ranked according to Ken Pomeroy at #219 in D1) and foul too much (ranked #268). Both of those deficiencies will kill a team in a close game.

The Flyers host La Salle Thursday (2/18) then travel to Pittsburgh to play Duquesne on Sunday (2/21). Both are should-wins for Dayton, as are their two remaining home games after this week. If Dayton is to make a run at the top of the conference (and back into the NCAA conversation), they need to take one (or both) of their road games the following week, at Temple (2/24) and Richmond (3/04). Their four good (RPI) wins will carry weight with the Selection Committee, but finishing #7 in the conference (where they currently stand) will only guarantee them a poor drawing in the A10’s Atlantic City tournament.

Duquesne

The Dukes are down to a run in Atlantic City to pull out their season. More realistically, Coach Everhart might want to look to next season and where he will find a replacement for senior Damian Saunders. Duquesne dropped an overtime game, 84-80, to Massachusetts last Thursday (2/11), then trounced a crippled La Salle team, 103-82, on Sunday (2/14). Duquesne’s defense is (according to Ken Pomeroy) comparable to a number of tournament-bound teams. Duquesne’s offense, however, will keep the Dukes out of postseason play. And the most glaring part of their offense is scoring from beyond the arc, where their accuracy (3FG% 26%…no that’s not a typo) has them ranked #347 (dead last) in Division 1. Three of the Dukes’ four most prolific three-point shooters have accuracies of less than 26%. And the fourth (senior Jason Duty) hits at a 33% rate. It might be time to give sophomore BJ Montiero more playing time and exposure to big game situations.

Duquesne ventures into Halton Arena Wednesday (2/17) for a game with Charlotte, then returns home to host Dayton on Sunday (2/21).

Fordham

The Rams dropped a road game, 72-61, to St. Bonaventure last Wednesday (2/10) followed by a 25-point home loss to Massachusetts (78-53) on Saturday (2/13). Ken Pomeroy now pegs the probability for a winless conference season at 76%. While there is a very small probability that Fordham will break their run next week — road games with Richmond Wednesday (2/17) and Rhode Island Saturday (2/20) — an upset would definitely, given Fordham’s #299 RPI, damage either Richmond’s or Rhode Island’s postseason prospects. Better opportunities lie ahead, with games against St. Bonaventure on the 24th and Duquesne on March 6.

George Washington

In a season with more than a few disappointments, getting some recognition for your players, like having Dwayne Smith named Rookie of the Week (cited for scoring a season-high 15 points in 15 minutes of play against Fordham), is one of those pleasures left in the season. They may have a good run in the conference tournament, but short of running the table, a postseason beyond Atlantic City is off the table. Coach Hobbs will lose Damian Hollis, a senior, but should have Lasan Kromah (another freshman who earned Rookie of the Week honors this season) and the next five scorers back next season, and hopefully they will be a year better. The Colonials maintained a better than average defense in conference play. Lack of a consistent offense has been their downfall.

George Washington will host Massachusetts on Wednesday (2/17), and travel to Richmond to close out their mirror series with the Spiders on Saturday (2/20).

La Salle

Another week, another bite out of the rotation. The 2010 season, projected as the season that would see the Explorers return to postseason play (NCAA or NIT) has become instead a Trail of Tears, as senior Yves Mekongo Mbala broke a finger in his shooting hand during practice on 2/8, and had surgery to repair it on 2/12. While the doctors predict a two-to-four week convalescence, anyone with a calendar handy can see that, at best, Mbala might be back for the A10 Tournament, and at worst has effectively ended his career at La Salle. Mekongo Mbala joins fellow seniors Kimmani Barrett and Ruben Guillandeaux on La Salle’s bench. At 3-7 and 11-13 overall, without a huge and unexpected turnaround, La Salle is going home after Atlantic City. The loss of the seniors has been devastating for the Explorers’ prospects this season, but those injuries have forced a few underclassmen to play more active roles this season. That should pay dividends in the seasons to come.

Next up for the Explorers is a trip to Ohio and a game with Dayton on Thursday (2/18) and home to host St. Bonaventure on Sunday (2/21).

Massachusetts

Ricky Harris shared Player of the Week honors for his 29 points in the Minutemen’s 84-80 overtime win over Duquesne. He also had a season-high six assists. UMass took two games last week, the aforementioned overtime win at Duquesne on Wednesday (2/10) and their home win over Saint Joseph’s 70-62, on Sunday (2/14). The Duquesne game broke a three-game losing streak, a recurring pattern for the Minutemen this season — two-to-five losses interrupted by one or two wins. Massachusetts has been able to beat every conference team ranked below them this season. What they do not have is a win against an opponent ranked above them in the conference standings. Their games this week, on Wednesday (2/17) at George Washington and Sunday (2/21) when they host St. Louis should settle the question of whether Coach Kellogg’s squad is turning their season around, or having a Funky February moment.

Rhode Island

The Rams had a terrible week. They went into last Wednesday’s (2/10) game with Richmond (a 69-67 loss) as a third of a cluster of teams just out of first place. They finished the week in sixth place, having dropped a 78-56 road game to Temple, one-half game ahead of seventh place Dayton. The Ram woes come on the defensive side of the basketball, the culprits a combination of shot defense (they are an equal opportunity provider, ranked #279th for two point defense and #296th for three point defense (out of 347 D1 teams) and defensive rebounding (ranked per Ken Pomeroy #303).

Their Wednesday (2/17) game at St. Louis should be interesting test of weakness versus weakness. The Billikens are offensive-challenged (ranked at #232 by Pomeroy) and rely on defense to prevail. St. Louis is an “average” shooting team that does not rebound their misses. The Billikens are 7-3 in the conference standings, so this Rhode Island can help itself immediately with a win. Their weekend game is Sunday (2/21) at Massachusetts.

Richmond

The Spiders leapfrogged Xavier and Charlotte to land in the AP Top 25 in the last slot this past Monday. This marks the first time since 1986 a Spider squad has been recognized by the polls. Coach Mooney’s squad extended their winning streak to six with a tough road win over Rhode Island, 69-67, on Wednesday (2/10) and a 68-49 win over St. Bonaventure on Saturday (2/13). Richmond is clustered with Temple, Xavier and Charlotte with two conference losses, but holds the half-game advantage by virtue of an additional win. Richmond is doing it on both sides of the ball. The Spiders are ranked #4 in conference games for offense, and #3 in confernce games for defense. Bracketologists from Joe Lunardi to RTC’s own Zach Hayes put Richmond in the field of 65 as a #7 seed.

Richmond hits one last breather in their schedule this week, a two-game home stand that includes Fordham on Wednesday (2/17) and George Washington on Saturday (2/20), before they play three fellow contenders (Xavier, Dayton and Charlotte) for an end of the season Trial by Fire.

St. Joseph’s

Coach Martelli’s young squad found no love in Amherst, Massachusetts, on Valentine’s Day. The Hawks dropped a 70-62 decision to the Minutemen. At 3-8 in conference and out of any postseason discussions beyond Atlantic City, the Hawks can still fight for some Big 5 respect. With two City Series games left (versus Temple and La Salle), the Hawks can knot those standings with two wins. After a road trip to Xavier Wednesday (2/17), they play Temple Saturday (2/20).

St. Bonaventure

The Bonnies beat Fordham 72-61, last Wednesday (2/10), but dropped a home game to Richmond 68-49, on Saturday (2/13). The season is not going as many Bonnies fans anticipated. At this point, improving their standings over 2009 (they finished #11) is a practical, if less ambitious goal. They will not get to 8-8 in conference play, but they might find three, possibly four more wins among the six games remaining. The home stretch starts this week as they host Temple Wednesday (2/17), and then travel to Philadelphia to play La Salle squad on Sunday (2/21). Temple is a stretch, but the Explorers are a wounded team right now, lacking three senior leaders.

St. Louis

Coach Majerus’ team personafies Funky February. Their January 30 game with Richmond was a hint of crazy stuff to come. As noted by Ken Pomeroy in his 2/01 blog entry, not only did the Billikens score less than 40 points in the game (no more than 20 in either period), but all of their points came from twos, probably the only D1 game of this type played this season. St. Louis scored no points from either beyond the arc or from the charity stripe. The offensively-challenged Billikens have quietly worked themselves into conference contention with a four-game winning streak that started with the game after their loss to Richmond. February has been perfect so far for St. Louis. They host Rhode Island on Wednesday (2/17) in a game that is significant for both, followed by a Sunday (2/21) road game with Massachusetts. St. Louis is 3-5 in road games this season, their wins coming over Duquesne, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s. They have taken conference road losses against Charlotte, George Washington and Richmond. Where does Massachusetts fit? And more importantly, where does St. Louis fit?

Temple

The Owls won their only game last week against Rhode Island, 78-56. Temple has two road games coming. On Wednesday (2/17) they go to Olean, NY, to play St. Bonaventure, and then across town on Saturday (2/20) to play their Big 5 designated game against Saint Joseph’s.

Xavier

Jason Love shared Player of the Week honors for his 20/10 performance in 22 minutes in Xavier’s 76-64 win over Florida. Florida may not be a tournament team this postseason (Coach Donovan has had a rough three years since winning two consecutive National Championships), but the win, coming on the road, should be, as ESPN’s Bubble Watcher Mark Shlabach noted, “catch the attention of the NCAA selection committee. It also gives them a nice nonconference win to go with four home victories over RPI top-50 opponents.” The Musketeers return to conference play on Wednesday (2/17) by hosting Saint Joseph’s, then travel to Charlotte for an important game with the 49ers on Saturday (2/20).

Games to Catch

  • Rhode Island at St. Louis Wednesday 2/17 — A matchup between the #5 and #6 ranked teams. Rhode Island is ranked #3 in conference games for offense, while St. Louis is ranked #2 in conference games for defense. St. Louis has three losses, while Rhode Island has four. The standings will either stratify a bit more, or there will be two clusters at the top of the conference — one with two losses, the other with four.
  • Xavier at Charlotte Saturday 2/20 — Another opportunity to sort out the top of the conference as the Musketeers enter Halton Arena to play the 49ers. Both teams are well stocked with guards — DiJuan Harris and Derrio Green will take the measure of Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway, but the game may come down to how well slightly undersized but athletic wing/forwards Shamari Spears and (freshman) Chris Braswell handle Jason Love and Jamel McLean. 
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