Atlantic 10 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2011

Joe Dzuback of Villanova By The Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. With the A-10 Championship tipping off Tuesday, get up to speed with RTC’s preview and regular season wrap-up.

Postseason Preview

Among the first round games, all played at the campus of the higher seed, the strongest upset candidate is the #8/#9 (of course!) game between #8 host Massachusetts and #9 Dayton. The Flyers have not traveled well this season, accumulating a -0.049 net efficiency in games not played at the UD Arena, but a log5 calculation projects a Dayton win (67%-32% probability). Using overall (unadjusted) offensive and defensive efficiencies, this looks like a close game, +/- 3 points in favor of Dayton. For the other three first round games, the order of probability of an upset is:

  • #6 Rhode Island/#11 St. Louis (50.2-49.7)
  • #7 St. Bonaventure/#10 La Salle (58-42)
  • #5 George Washington/#12 Saint Joseph’s (66-33)

The Xavier/Duquesne side of the bracket looks vulnerable to either a Dayton run or a Duquesne run, though the Dukes, new to the dynamics of a bye seed, may fumble their quarter-final game against (most likely) George Washington. Dayton, a squad that plays inconsistently away from the UD Arena, has nevertheless lost twice to rival Xavier, by margins of five and four points. It is very difficult to beat a closely played rival a third time in the same season. Lacking length in the front court has proven to be a problem lately for the Dukes, but over a short duration tournament like the A-10, it is possible that a series of opponents will become caught up in a pace set by the Dukes and fail to properly exploit Duquesne’s vulnerability. I do not, however, see that as a problem for Xavier, an extremely well managed and prepared team and program.

On the Temple/Richmond side of the bracket, two teams, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, have a dominant player with a solid (but not great) supporting cast which can run a short duration tournament, making those two the best Cinderella candidates in the bracket not named Temple or Richmond. Could an Andrew Nicholson-led St. Bonaventure or a Delroy James-led Rhode Island team run the table in Atlantic City? Neither has put together a winning streak longer than three games this season, which leads me to believe this bracket will behave (play to seed) until Saturday. Richmond upset Xavier in a similar semi-final matchup in last year’s tournament. Lacking Eric in the low post these two teams suddenly match up fairly closely. If Lavoy Allen plays like an all-star and Juan Fernandez finds his 2010 game, Temple should prevail, but Richmond needs this tournament for their NCAA resume. A win on Saturday may not be too late for the Selection Committee.

The very good news about the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament is that fans nationwide get to see an outstanding brand of basketball as the conference championship game takes center stage late on Selection Sunday afternoon. The bad news (and largely unspoken reality of seeding a 65/68 team field) is that the conference championship game finishes too late to influence seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Those unhappy with Temple’s #5 seed in 2010 should understand that the Selection Committee, tasked with responsibility of unveiling a 65-team field two hours after the end of the A-10 Championship game, had most likely completed the seeds for the A-10 Conference contingent Friday or Saturday. This required the arrangement of a “compromised” set of seeds that did not accurately reflect the state of the conference finalists, Temple and Richmond, but were “reasonable” enough to cover either contingency – if Temple won and if Richmond won. In this cycle the committee will more likely repeat that procedure. Should the conference play to seed, Temple will meet Xavier in the championship game on Sunday afternoon, and Richmond will be seeded #11 or #12 (and playing in on the following Tuesday), with two seeds, a #4/#5 available for the winner and a #6/#7 available for the loser. Things get tricky if there one or more interlopers survive the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. The Selection Committee will be forced to account for additional scenarios or alternately, roll the dice and hope seeds win out. If the semi-finalist include a “broken bracket” – either on the Temple/Richmond side or (more likely) the Xavier/Duquesne side, the Selection Committee may decide to allocate three spots in the tournament for the conference, but leave Richmond out if the Xavier/Duquesne representative (most likely Dayton or Duquesne from that side of the field) goes on to win the conference championship. And that is too bad, as the Spiders have had a good season and deserve a spot in the field of 68.

A Look Back

Fall practice was barely underway when the casualties, academic and medical, threw preseason storylines into the trash heap. Orion Outbridge from Rhode Island was benched in the fall for academics, a loss which threw the Runnin’ Rams’ develop back several months. Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed were suspended from Saint Louis University for the fall semester. Though both were re-admitted in the spring semester, neither has played a minute this spring, and Reed’s status with the program is remains unclear. Losing those two experienced players, leaders in 2010, forced coach Rick Majerus to field another freshmen-heavy team and post another lower division finish for the Billikens. Though over half of the A-10 member schools suffered season-ending injuries to at least one member of their squads, probably the hardest hit was Xavier. Coach Chris Mack’s squad lost junior Brad Redford, its principal long range scoring threat, to an ACL just before the season started, and both of their most promising freshmen forwards, Jay Canty (injury) and Justin Martin (academics) were sidelined before the season got underway. Yet despite those personnel losses, an injury that sidelined Jamel McClain for three weeks and a rocky November and December, Xavier demonstrated the depth and resiliency of its basketball program by running off with the A-10 regular season championship. The Musketeers faced and beat each of their closest four competitors, Temple, Richmond, Rhode Island and Duquesne. The Muskies’ lone loss was to lowly Charlotte. With the their 15-1, run the X-men have locked down at least a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, making this the sixth postseason running the X-men have danced.

For the first half of the conference season, it looked like the slipper fit, as Duquesne, picked to finish eighth in the preseason A-10 coach’s poll, ran off eight straight wins to open their conference schedule. Though the Dukes struggled to a 2-6 finish, they nevertheless secured the #4 spot, and last bye seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Fordham broke its two-year drought in conference play with a win over Massachusetts, in the last game of the regular season. The Rams’ season ends on this winning note, something for coach Tom Pecora to build on for next season…

All Conference Team:

  • Tu Holloway of Xavier ran off with the Player of the Year award. The point guard is one of the reasons for the Musketeer’s second consecutive regular season conference championship. Holloway averaged 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game over the course of Xavier’s 32 game season. Holloway handled 28.6% of Xavier’s possession when he was on the floor. He was a central focus of Xavier’s offense and he delivered efficiently, recording a 115.2 offensive rating per Ken Pomeroy (he scored approximately 1.15 points per possession).
  • Ramone Moore, Temple, 14.7 points, 3.4 assists per game
  • Delroy James, Rhode Island, 17.6 points, 7.8 rebounds per game
  • Justin Harper, Richmond, 18.0 points, 6.8 rebounds per game
  • Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure, 20.5 points, 7.2 rebounds per game

All Conference Rookie/Freshman Team:

  • T.J. McConnell of Duquesne is the Rookie of the Year. With the preseason focus elsewhere, the central Pennsylvania guard and his team flew under the radar through most of the early season. McConnell logged 75% of the playing time at the point for Duquesne while averaging 10.6 points and 4.0 assists per game.
  • Langston Galloway, guard, Saint Joseph’s, 12.8 points, 5.4 rebounds per game.
  • Juwan Staten, guard, Dayton, 8.6 points, 5.6 assists per game.
  • Dwayne Evans, forward, Saint Louis, 8.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
  • Namanja Mikic, forward, George Washington, 8.1 points, 2.7 rebounds per game.

Coach of the Year: Chris Mack, Xavier – Many, this correspondent included, discounted Chris Mack’s rookie season as head coach of Xavier. With a veteran squad and All-Everything Jordan Crawford in the wings, it appeared as if Sean Miller had handed a turnkey system over to his long-time assistant before jetting off to the Arizona desert. This season, Mack earned his pay, as he stitched together a squad decimated by injury and academic problems and with Kenny Frease, his only player taller than 6’9 available, he ran them to the conference regular season title and (at this writing) a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The guy can coach.

Newcomer/Transfer of the Year: Jamar Briscoe, Charlotte; in a season of adjustment the North Carolina Central transfer stepped into the point guard role for coach Alan Major, logged 81% of the available playing time while averaging 12.5 points and 3.0 assists per game.

Power Rankings

The final net efficiencies from conference play align rather more closely to the final conference standings than at any time in conference play. Though still not completely in sync, the outliers are few and markedly less obvious (swap St. Louis and Massachusetts) than the Dayton team of 2010.

1. Xavier (24-6, 15-1) #5 Seed NCAA

With a bye seed (#1) in Atlantic City, Xavier can concentrate on getting/staying healthy and rested. Friday they will meet either Massachusetts or Dayton. Dayton, a traditional rival they have beaten twice this season, may be the bigger challenge.

2. Temple (24-6, 14-2) #8 seed NCAA

Michael Eric is out, and that spells trouble for the Owls going into the NCAA Tournament where a low post player who can score and rebound is a premium. The team can adjust for the A-10 Tournament, where Coach Dunphy’s squad has a #2 seed and a date on Friday with the winner of the St. Bonaventure-La Salle Round 1 game. The Owls have handled the Explorers before, twice actually, this season. St. Bonaventure, with traditional back-to-the-basket player Andrew Nicholson, might be a problem.

3. Richmond (24-7, 13-3) #12 seed

With the #3 bye seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, the Spiders can focus on their Friday quarterfinal game with either Rhode Island or Saint Louis. Neither will be an easy out, but Coach Chris Mooney’s squad has the best net efficiency (+0.090) in road and neutral court games of any member of the A-10. The Spiders should advance to Saturday.

4. Duquesne (18-11, 10-6) NIT

The Dukes slump in the last three weeks opens a few questions about the conference tournament. A conference run will earn coach Ron Everhart’s squad an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, but if they do not run the table in Atlantic City, then they will need to buy a ticket like everyone else. The NIT is a realistic outcome for their season.

5. George Washington (17-13, 10-6) NIT/CBI

If Xavier were not such a remarkable story, the Colonials might get a bit more press. Coach Hobbs had to retool his squad after All-Conference Rookie Teamer Lasan Kromah was knocked out for the season in November. It took all season, and some of the stops on the way were not too pleasant, but this team earned a #5 seed to the conference tournament, which translates into a home court game for Round 1 (versus Saint Joseph’s), and has a nucleus that should see life after Atlantic City, and be on the radar going into next season.

6. Rhode Island (18-12, 9-7) NIT/CBI/CIT

We were all set for another Fabulous February Story, much like Saint Louis in 2010, and coach Jim Baron delivered a 5-2 record that looked promising. March however has been an 0-2 month so far, and that downturn cost the Runnin’ Rams a bye seed, though as a #6 seed they gain the home court for their first round game versus Saint Louis. Rhodi needs a win over the Billikens and maybe another in Atlantic City (that would be Richmond on Friday) to put themselves back onto the NIT bubble.

7. St. Bonaventure (16-13, 8-8)

The Bonnies gained the home court advantage for Round 1 of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and drew La Salle as their first round opponent. Coach Mark Schmidt’s squad beat the Explorers by 21 in their first meeting, but that was a less motivated La Salle club. A good showing with a post season invitation to the CBI or CIT might help with morale and recruiting. Schmidt will need a point guard next season, as Ogo Adegboye is due to move on. Is there someone in the JUCO ranks who can come in and make Andrew Nicholson’s senior special?

8. Dayton (19-12, 7-9) NIT/CBI/CIT

As the #8 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Flyers will travel to Massachusetts for a first round game with the Minutemen. The Flyers are a mystery team. For the past two seasons they have been the sexy pick for the conference title and/or an NCAA bid, and each season they come a cropper. No NIT crown in the forecast for this class, maybe a decent run through Atlantic City (to Sunday perhaps?), but more likely a win over Massachusetts Tuesday in Round 1 of the tournament, and a tough out on Friday versus Xavier. The Flyers are an #8 seed team in the NIT field right now, beat Massachusetts and that should be pretty secure pending other conference tournament results.

9. Saint Louis (12-18, 6-10)

The Billikens’ season ends quickly this week. As the #11 seed in the A-10 Tournament, they travel to Rhode Island for a Tuesday game with Rhode Island. That should be it for coach Rick Majerus’ squad, but should they survive, they would have a Friday date with Richmond in Atlantic City. And that should definitely be the end of this season. This has to be a very frustrating season for the Billiken faithful. The growing pains were supposed to be last season, with this season’s nucleus, made up of upperclassmen supplemented by freshmen, ready to make their move on the conference elites. The Great Leap Forward has been rescheduled for next season, but Majerus, used to a certain number of players coming and going each off season, must decide what to do about Mitchell and Reed, and who he really wants to keep for next season. Choose wisely as juniors Brian Conklin, Paul Eckerle and Kyle Cassidy, the trio that has stayed with Majerus through his tenure at Saint Louis, will be seniors next season, and it would be a shame if the coach had to waste them while bringing yet another freshman class up to speed.

10.  Massachusetts (15-14, 7-9)

Coach Derek Kellogg’s squad earned the #8 seed to the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and must travel to Dayton for a game with the #7 seeded Flyers Tuesday evening. The winner will advance to Atlantic City to face #1 seed Xavier in Friday’s first quarter final game. Anthony Gurley is gone after this season, and Kellogg has a brace of ‘tweener forwards, in the 6’6/6’7 range with modest handles and outside shots. His dribble drive offense needs a scoring point guard who can distribute when the defense collapses. What he has had to make due with to date is modestly efficient volume scorers who do not look for their teammates after they penetrate. He should have time after Tuesday to resume his search.

11.  La Salle (14-17, 6-10)

The Explorers earned the #10 seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They will travel to Olean, NY to play St. Bonaventure, the winner advancing to Atlantic City for a date with the Temple Owls Friday. Like Dayton, Dr. Giannini’s squad was the sexy pick for conference dark horse, but injuries and chemistry issues have disrupted the team’s momentum both seasons. Likely to lose Aaric Murray this off season, Dr. Giannini must hit the recruiting trail to line up replacements for several other key players as well.

12.  Saint Joseph’s (9-21, 4-12)

Coach Phil Martelli had the power class this season. They need to get stronger and stay at Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks won the last ticket to the first round of conference tournament play. As the #12 seed they will travel to Washington DC to face #5 George Washington. This is Martelli’s 17th season on City Line Avenue, but the first time he has posted back-to-back 20 loss seasons. The fans are getting restless, they want to see their coach turn it around…like next season.

13.  Charlotte (10-20, 2-14)

The 49ers’ season is over. Coach Alan Major has time to look to next season’s roster and build the kind of team he believes can win for Charlotte. Given the step back the program took this season, the rebuilding job will be at least three to four years.

14.  Fordham (7-21, 1-15)

Like Charlotte, the Rams’ off season started Saturday. Coach Tom Pecora will now have time to take in the area high school boys season-ending tournaments and make early contact with prospects for 2013 and 2014. Then he will hit the recruiting trail and get busy on the roster for next season, as he loses several key players from this season’s roster. Hopefully he has demonstrated to Chris Gaston that he can, with the resources, build a good program and bring in the players that can help Gaston and freshman guard Branden Frazier build a winner in the Bronx.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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