Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 9th, 2010

Joe Dzuback of Villanova by the Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.  He will be at the A10 Tournament reporting throughout the weekend. 

Conference Offensive and Defensive Efficiencies – One Last Look

All is right in the numbers world. Almost. Temple, Xavier and Richmond sit at the top of the conference pecking order and their differentials confirm their standing. Dayton, St. Louis and Rhode Island are still tangled a bit, which could develop into an interesting story as the conference tournament plays out later this week. The won-loss records, confirmed by the gap in the efficiency differentials, suggest that the bottom four of Massachusetts, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and especially Fordham, were simply not competitive with the rest of the conference this season (of course with respect to Massachusetts, Rhode Island disagrees).

Final Conference Standings for 2009-10

  1. Temple (14-2, 26-5, #16 AP)
  2. Xavier (14-2, 23-7, #25 AP)
  3. Richmond (13-3, 22-7)
  4. St. Louis (11-5, 20-10)
  5. Charlotte (9-7, 19-11)
  6. Rhode Island (9-7, 21-8)
  7. Dayton (8-8 19-11)
  8. St. Bonaventure (7-9, 14-15)
  9. Duquesne (7-9, 16-14)
  10. George Washington (6-10, 16-13)
  11. Massachusetts (5-11, 11-19)
  12. Saint Joseph’s (5-11, 11-19)
  13. La Salle (4-12, 12-18)
  14. Fordham (0-16, 2-26)

Predictable?

Quirky early season schedules allowed George Washington and Massachusetts to sit atop the conference briefly, but as the season wore on, Xavier, Temple, Charlotte and Richmond took turns, either alone or in company of another, as the top ranked team of the conference. Temple and Xavier were supposed to take this season to rebuild. The Owls lost Dionte Christmas and the Musketeers lost their Coach, Sean Miller. Temple landed on the national radar when they beat Big 5 rival (and #3 at the time) Villanova in December. Xavier stumbled in the Old Spice, but recovered to join with Temple to cohabit with or shadow the two other teams that took long turns at the #1 spot through the 8.5 weeks of conference play. Temple’s 77-72 win over Xavier on January 20 settled the pecking order between those two (Temple would rank higher), but it was not clear until February 28 when Xavier defeated Richmond 78-76 in two overtimes, that those two would stand alone at the top at the end.

Good Surprises

St. Louis, according to the A10 coaches (and preseason consensus), was supposed to finish at #12 in the conference. With one of the youngest teams (according to Pomeroy) in Division 1, they were (or so the “experts” said, myself included) assumed they needed at least another season of play with Coach Majerus before they would challenge for the conference’s upper division. The future arrived in the Billikens’ lineup a year early in the form of Cody Ellis and improved play from Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed. The young ones had difficulty winning outside of Chaifetz Arena through much of their out of conference schedule, but once conference play began (and Cody Ellis became eligible) the Billikens made significant progress on the road, garnering an important 5-3 record away from home. Not considered NCAA “material” as late as Valentine’s Day, the Billikens will probably not receive a bid short of a conference title, an intersting dilemna for the Selection Committee should the Billikens make it to the conference championship game on Sunday. If the Billikens play in the semifinals and win, the Selection Committee would have to extend a bid should St. Louis win on Sunday, but the Billikens’ opponents would most likely be either Richmond or Xavier (if it was Dayton, the problem resolves itself), both of whom will receive bids anyway. The Committee, therefore, would either have to build an alternate S-Curve and bracket to accommodate the Billikens, or pray very hard that they lose on Sunday (and face the untenable prospect of handing Richmond’s or Xavier’s bid to St. Louis).

St. Bonaventure was predicted to finish among the last four in conference play. Winners of six conference games in 2009, the Bonnies were expected to tread water this season and wait for Andrew Nicholson to get another year of experience. While they did not match 2009’s overall win total, the Bonnies did improve their conference wins — by one — and take #8 place in confernce standings. That entitles them to a home court date with Duquesne (#9) on Tuesday for a game to decide which team goes to Atlantic City to play in the conferenc quarterfinals. The future is looking brighter for the Bonnies and their fans.

Bad Surprises

For Duquesne, La Salle and Dayton (especially), the season did not go according to predictions. Duquesne and La Salle can point to very inconvenient injuries to key personnel, but in Dayton’s case the problems are a bit more complex. The Flyers started well, but dropped an early season game to Villanova in the Puerto Rico Tip Off and seemed to stumble at critical times. From a combination of quirky scheduling and odd play, their last game in Puerto Rico pitted them against Kansas State, not the opponent expected in the second round loser’s bracket. They scheduled a New Year’s road game against New Mexico which was probably also a mistake (of the RPI and morale kind). The Flyers were never able to string more than three consecutive wins together in conference play, very inconvenient when trying to build some momentum. Seven of their eight conference losses were by five or fewer points, four losses by three or less. Which explains in part that efficiency differential that does not match their record. Should they survive Tuesday night’s preliminary round game against George Washington (GWU is traveling), they will have one last opportunity to rush the NCAA field through the A10 conference tournament.

Fordham decided to dismiss Coach Dereck Whittenburg less than one month into the season. The decision was anticipated, but the timing was both disappointing and surprising. Conference observers expected this move during the 2009 offseason, as Jio Fontan’s unhappiness with Fordham and more specifically Coach Whittenburg were part of the public domain for months, and the Rams’ poor showing in conference play in 2009 put the coach squarely in the hot seat going into last summer. The AD-mediated reconciliation between coach and star was short lived, as Fontan left the team in late November, and Whittenburg was sent packing less than a week later. The team followed with another poor conference performance, and Fordham finds itself this year still uncertain about the next coach, rather than working a year into their rebuilding project.

Sitting This One Out

Twelve of the conference’s members will compete in a preliminary round on Tuesday for the opportunity to go to Atlantic City, NJ, where the conference will host the last three (quarter, semi and final) rounds at Boardwalk Hall. Fordham, as the #14 team and La Salle, which lost to Saint Joseph’s on Saturday in what became an elimination round to the preliminary round, have finished their seasons. Tuesday’s four losing teams will join La Salle and Fordham on the sidelines, and most likely begin their offseasons early.

First Team All A10

The conference announced their first team members on Sunday. The conference coaches selections included:

  • Kevin Anderson, guard, Richmond — named POY by the A10 coaches, and an absolutely understandable choice (in my opinion it was between he and Crawford). Anderson averaged 17.6 points , 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists versus 2.4 turnovers per game this season.
  • Jordan Crawford, guard, Xavier — averaged 19.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. I am reluctant to tab a newcomer/transfer in his first season in conference as the Conference Player of the Year, but there is a first time for everything, and Jordan has done it all season. As Jordan goes, so go the Musketeers. And Jordan went very well most nights in January, February and (so far) in March. As much as I have appreciated Anderson’s efforts all season, Crawford had the better run, and would have gotten my vote (if I had a vote).
  • Lavoy Allen, forward/center, Temple — averaged a double-double — 11.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game throughout the season.
  • Damian Saunders, forward, Duquesne — cited in consecutive weeks as conference Player of the Week, Saunders averaged a double-double throughout the season, 14.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
  • Chris Wright, forward, Dayton — named the preseason POY, Wright had a good, but in some respects, disappointing season. While he averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds during the season, aside from their eight-game winning streak in December (the longest all season), the Flyers were unable to string together more than three consecutive wins (twice) once conference play started.

The conference announcement noted that the first-team All-Conference consisted of only sophomores and juniors, the first time in history that no seniors made the first team. The selections are reasonable, but if it were my decision to make I would probably drop Chris Wright and add…

  • Andrew Nicholson, forward/center, St. Bonaventure — provided an inside game for the Bonnies, Nicholson had a 57.3% completion rate as of 2/28, ranked 11th in Division 1. Nicholson was named to the All-Conference Second Team.

Rookie All A10 Team

  • Aaric Murray, center, La Salle — in a season derailed by senior injuries, Murray was one bright spot for the Explorers. He earned three Rookie of the Week citations, and would get my vote for Rookie of the Year. Murray appeared in all 30 Explorer games and averaged 12.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
  • Chris Gaston, forward, Fordham — someone had to provide scoring for the Rams, and Gason did, leading all Division 1 freshmen with an 18.0 per game average. The A10 coaches thought enough of Gaston’s work this season to name him the Rookie of the Year. And while I liked Murray better, I cannot dislike that choice.
  • Chris Braswell, forward, Charlotte — averaged 9.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game and provided the 49ers with a solid 3rd option on offense.
  • Akeem Richmond, guard, Rhode Island — was cited as Rookie of the Week twice by the conference. Richmond appeared in all 29 of the Rams’ games this season, as he averaged 9.0 points, 0.6 assists and 0.4 turnovers in just under (on average) 18 minutes of play per game.
  • Lasan Kromah, guard, George Washington — was cited three times by the conference as Rookie of the Week. Kromah averaged more minutes per game (24.7) than senior forward Damian Hollis. Kromah led the Colonials in steals (58) and averaged 11.8 points per game.
  • Cody Ellis, forward, St. Louis — though he became eligible right at the beginning of the A10 season, Ellis managed to become the fifth highest scorer on the team as he averaged 28.4 minutes per game. Ellis had the second highest completion percentage for three point attempts (37.4%), as he averaged 11.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

Tournament Games to Catch

  • Duquesne at St. Bonaventure, Tuesday 3/9 — the rubber game for these two teams this season. Seeded #8 (St. Bonaventure) will host #9 seed Duquesne a second time. Each has beaten the other, holding serve, so favor the Bonnies. Maybe.

Three of Friday’s quarterfinal games should be very interesting…

  • Rhode Island vs St. Louis – should Rhode Island (#5 seed) survive the campus round, they will play St. Louis (#4 seed) Friday. The Billikens were 5-3 in conference road games, after a rocky 0-4 non-conference record when away from Chaifetz Arena. They beat the Rams by five in St. Louis. St. Louis prefers the halfcourt sets and deliberate pace dictated by Coach Majerus’ offense while the Rams like to run, so who dictates the tempo may well decide who advances to the semifinal round. The efficiency differentials rank Rhode Island above St. Louis, making this game a good prospect for an upset.
  • Dayton vs Xavier – this will be the first game of the night set should Dayton advance in their preliminary round game against George Washington. These two played each other regularly before there was an A10 Conference, and Dayton would like very much to even their season record and stay alive in the hunt for another NCAA bid. This is Coach Mack’s first conference tournament where he is responsible for prepping the team and making the in-game decisions. The game will feature two members of the All-Conference First Team, Jordan Crawford and Chris Wright, in a matchup of contrasting styles.
  • Charlotte vs Richmond – this will be the rubber game for these two mirror-game opponents from the regular season. Each won on the other’s home court, so who takes the neutral site clash? Richmond is hot at the right time, while Charlotte seems tired. The Spiders are 9-1 in their last 10 games and the 49ers have stumbled to a  4-6 record. Charlotte, showing an “average” offense in conference play, has had problems on defense. They are passive (forcing few turnovers and getting few steals) and defend the three better than the two. Richmond is ranked #4 in the conference in offensive efficiency (and they are ranked #4 in the conference for defense in conference play). The Spiders should have little trouble scoring from the inside.

Fans will most likely see semifinals that match St. Louis with Temple and Dayton with Richmond. Coach Majerus versus Coach Dunphy should be a chess match. Dunphy ran a higher-tempo offense when he coached at Penn, but appears to have channeled John Chaney (his predecessor at Temple) since moving to North Broad. Their previous game, played in St. Louis, was a 57-51, low-possession defense-oriented affair won by Temple. Neither team shot especially well, but Temple was able to use a rebounding advantage to severely limit St. Louis’ second chance opportunities.

Coach Gregory has to know that a .500 record may work for the ACC or Big Ten, but it will not get the Flyers’ ticket punched out of the A10. The Flyers will need to get to the Championship game (if not win it all) to get back into the NCAA discussion. If Dayton does get by Xavier, the atmosphere of the second semifinal game should be heavy with desperation. Both teams like to take their time and play the entire shot clock when they have the ball. A Richmond-Dayton game would match the conference’s best defense (Dayton) against one of the conference’s better offenses. The Spiders won their regular season game, a 60-56 defensive struggle played on March 4. But the efficiency differential favors Dayton. Richmond first caught attention with wins over Missouri and Mississippi at the South Padre Island Invitational. The Spiders know how to win neutral court games against bigger opponents.

Temple should win the A10 Championship game on Sunday, thereby earning a #4 seed in the NCAAs. The Owls should be joined by Xavier and Richmond, both strong representatives for the conference who should garner seeds in the #6-#7 range. St. Louis, Rhode Island, Dayton and Charlotte ought to earn NIT invitations.

rtmsf (3774 Posts)


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