Conference Report Card: Atlantic 10Posted by Brian Goodman on April 8th, 2011
Joe Dzuback of Villanova by the Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.
2011 was business as usual it seems as two teams, Temple and Xavier, combined to represent the conference in the AP Poll for 11 of the poll’s 19 weeks. Three teams (Richmond, Temple and Xavier) were invited to the NCAA for the fourth consecutive year with two advancing to the second round and one advancing to the Sweet 16 before bowing out. The steady progress, if not the deeper advancement, into the NCAA Tournament field should give the conference cause for celebration. If the A-10 has not gained ground, it certainly hasn’t lost any ground either. The conference beat its Performance Against Seed Expectation (PASE – the number of wins earned in the NCAA versus the historic record for the assigned seed), 2.57, by winning a total of three games in tournament play. This year also marked the sixth consecutive postseason where the conference received at least one at-large bid. And for the second consecutive postseason, seven conference members in all (50% of the conference membership) played on after the final buzzer sounded in Atlantic City. The conference placed two teams (Dayton and Rhode Island) in the NIT and two others (Saint Louis and George Washington) in the CBI in 2010, with Dayton winning the NIT and Saint Louis losing in the CBI Finals to VCU. This postseason, only Dayton made the NIT, while Duquesne, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure were invited to the CBI. Unfortunately none of them advanced beyond the second round.
So why are conference observers edgy? Despite the “all steady” in the NCAA Tournament, teams from two other non-BCS conferences, Virginia Commonwealth of CAA and the Horizon League’s Butler were represented in the Final Four, with Butler advancing to Monday night for the second consecutive year. The Atlantic 10 has not sent a team to the Final Four since the Massachusetts squad of 1996, whose Final Four appearance was later vacated by the NCAA, and has had only one representative (Xavier in 2008) [ed. note: corrected] in the Elite Eight since the 2004 Tournament when Saint Joseph’s lost to Oklahoma by two points, 64-62, in East Rutherford, New Jersey on the same weekend that Xavier was eliminated by Duke, 66-63, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Final Ranking, Team-by-Team
- Richmond (28-8, 13-3) #12 seed: Coach Chris Mooney’s Spiders had several outstanding performances out of conference including their 65-54 win over Purdue (#3 seed NCAA), but those were negated by head-scratching losses to Iona aand Bucknell. The same held true in conference play, where wins over Dayton and Duquesnewere undermined by a home loss to Rhode Island early in conference play. The Spidersearned a #3 seed in the conference tournament where they knocked off #2 seed Temple that was dealing withinjuries and earned the conference’s automatic bid witha 67-54 win over Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament finals. The Spiders beat #5 seed Vanderbilt (69-66) and #13 seed Morehead State (65-48) to advance to the Sweet Sixteen and a date with#1 seed Kansas. The ride ended witha 77-57 loss, but Mooney signed a contract extension which should keep him at Richmond for the foreseeable future. Mooney loses four key members of the squad this season, but returns 11 players, including two who started multiple games this season, for 2011-12. GRADE: A
- Temple (26-8, 14-2) #7 seed NCAA: The consensus favorite to win the conference regular season, the Owls stumbled in the Old Spice Classic, dropping two of their three games in Orlando. Coach Fran Dunphy’s squad dropped a third out of conference game to Villanova on the eve of conference play, but ran off three wins to start conference play. Back-to-back losses to Duquesne and Xavier put the Owls in second place in the conference, which is where they finished the regular season. Injuries sidelined sophomore Michael Eric, reducing an already short frontcourt rotation, for the last two weeks of the season. Scootie Randall also battled injuries as the season wound down, leaving Dunphy with a seven-man rotation for the Atlantic 10 tournament. A semifinal loss to Richmond ended Temple’s bid to earn the conference’s automatic bid for a third consecutive year, but the Owls secured a #7 seed to the NCAA Tournament and an in-state match-up with Penn State in the first round game, which they won 66-64 on a last second shot by Juan Fernandez. In the second round, they pushed #2 seed San Diego State to the limit before falling in double overtime. GRADE: B+
- Xavier (24-8, 15-1) #6 seed NCAA: Coach Chris Mackwas scrambling at the before the season as he lost three players–two well-regarded freshmen and a veteran coming off of a redshirt season–even before the season started. Then Jamal McLean, a frontcourt starter suffered an orbital injury and was sidelined when the season was less than two weeks old. The Musketeers were scrambling to put together a competitive team, which was reflected in their five out-of-conference losses. Entering conference play, most outside of the Cincinnati area believed that Xavier’s string of NCAA Tournament bids was going to end in 2011, which made their turnaround even more amazing. Not only did Xavier win the Atlantic 10 regular season title with an astounding 15-1 record, but they played themselves back into the NCAA Tournament field securing a #6 seed. Their season ended with a pair of disappointing losses–a quarterfinal loss to Dayton in Atlantic City followed by a 66-55 loss to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament–but compared to their status on January 1st the last half of the season was nothing short of amazing. Mack may lose junior Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Tu Holloway in addition to his two senior starters, but he will have two starters back along with the three lost players from the preseason and a well-regarded recruiting class. The program is deep and on the right track. GRADE: B+
- Dayton (22-14, 7-9): Coming into the season as a consensus #4/#5 team in the preseason with a few observers anticipating a return to the NCAA Tournament, the Flyers took their fans on another roller coaster ride this season, losing three games before conference play started before struggling to a 7-9 record in the Atlantic-10. Dayton earned their trip to Atlantic City by virtue of a 78-50 road win over #8 seed Massachusetts. Coach Brian Gregory’s charges then proceeded to eliminate #1 seed Xavier 68-67 followed by a 64-61 win over #12 seed Saint Joseph’s before their run ended at the hands of Richmond on Sunday. The loss sent the Flyersback to the NIT, which they had won the previous year, but their title defense was short-lived as they bowed out in the first round to the College of Charleston. Hints that there were problems with team chemistry were confirmed when highly touted freshmen guards Juwan Staten and Brandon Spearman announced their intent to transfer within a week after their season ended. The concluding act for this Season of Confusion came on March 28th when Georgia Tech introduced Gregory as their new head coach, thus ending the Gregory Era at Dayton. Dayton’s administration wasted little time, announcing Arizona assistant Archie Miller, the younger brother to Arizona head coach (and former Xavier coach) Sean Miller, as their new head coach. Miller’s first job may be to persuade Staten and/or Spearman to stay at Dayton. GRADE: C-
- Duquesne (19-13, 10-6): Coach Ron Everhart’s team appeared in utter disarray at the end of the 2010 season. Multiple players transferred out of the program leaving virtually no one taller than 6’8″ on the roster going into this season. Everhart reverted to the up-tempo offense he installed in his first season with the Dukes, and the Pittsburgh-based program managed to mask their deficiencies for much of the season. The Dukes sustained five losses in their out-of-conference schedule–four against teams that eventually received NCAA Tournament bids–raising concerns about their ability to receive an at-large bid. Once they entered conference play, they ran off eight straight wins to hold the top spot in conference standings through early February. Consecutive losses to St. Bonaventure and Xavier opened the second half of the season, and the Dukes stumbled to a 2-6 finish, just holding onto the last bye bid to the Atlantic 10 Tournament. A quarterfinal loss to Saint Joseph’s, 93-90 in overtime, sent the Dukes back to Pittsburgh. They won their opening round CBI Tournament game, on the road over Montana 87-76, but were eliminated in the second round with a 77-75 loss to to eventual CBI champion Oregon. The loss of senior All-Conference second teamers Bill Clark and Damian Saunders is partially offset by the anticipated return of TJ McConnell. GRADE: B
- Rhode Island (20-14, 9-7): Although they did not return to the more prestigious NIT, the Runnin’ Rams under coach Jim Baron returned to the postseason by qualifying for the CBI Tournament. Consistent with a pattern on the recruiting trail recently, Baron lost two verbal commitments early in the 2010 off-season and was forced to scramble through much of the summer of 2010 to fill out his roster. Academic problems sidelined Orion Outerbridge for the fall semester, which combined with a season-ending injury to freshman Levan Shengelia, severely depleting Rhode Island’s frontcourt depth. The loss to Quinnipiac on December 11thlargely ended URI’s NCAA at-large prospects and Baron’s squad did not fit the glass slipper as they had done in 2010 early (that role, along with the requisite late season slump, fell to Duquesne). Earning the #6 seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Rhode Island’s run ended in the quarter-finals with a 55-45 loss to #3 seed Richmond. Baron’s charges beat Miami of Ohio 76-59 in the opening round of the CBI to record their 20thwin of 2011, but lost on the road to Central Florida 66-54 to close out their season with a 20-14 record. Baron loses five seniors including forward Delroy James, second team All-Conference, and guard Marquis Jones, a fixture in the starting five over the past two seasons. Baron has brought the program into the middle of the conference, but Rhode Island has been unable to secure a coveted position as a team that receives a bye in the conference tournament. It will be crucial for Baron to hold onto his recruits this off-season as in the recent years their late summer recruiting has not yielded a stable group of players that can contribute to the team. GRADE: C
- St. Bonaventure (16-15, 8-8): The Bonnies have made progress in each of Coach Mark Schmidt’s four seasons in Olean, moving from a 14th-place conference finish (8-22 overall) in 2008 to a 7th-place conference finish (16-15) and an invitation to the CBI postseason tournament this season. Though theirended the season on a two game losing streak (a 73-75 two overtime loss to La Salle in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament followed by a 54-69 road loss to Central Florida of CUSA in the first round of the CBI), the Bonnies posted their first 0.500 conference record in nine seasons. Schmidt will have to find a new point guard to replace the departing Ogo Adegeboye (graduation) to set the offense and get the ball to All-Conference first teamer Andrew Nicholson next season. GRADE: C+
- George Washington (17-14, 10-6): Losing sophomore Lasan Kromah before the season even started sent coach Karl Hobbsback to the drawing board, as Kromah had proved to be a versatile force, scoring from a variety of spots on the court. Over the course of the season junior guard Tony Taylor and freshman forward Nemanja Mikic stepped into Kromah’svoid. Those two will combine with Kromah next season to provide the Colonials with a decent offense. Though the Colonials did not make it to the Atlantic-10 quarterfinals in Atlantic City as they were upset at home by Saint Joseph’s in the first round they managed to put together two winning streaks of three games, which along with a five game winning streak provided 11 of their 17 wins in 2011. Given the state of their offense at the beginning of the season, that was no small feat. GRADE: C
- Massachusetts (15-15, 7-9): Coach Derek Kellogg’s Dribble Drive was severely tested again this season as shoot-first senior guard Anthony Gurley took 31% of the team’s shots and nearly 35% of the shots when he was on the court (both ridiculously high numbers). Coupled with discipline problems (Daryl Traynhamwas dismissed at mid-season), the Minutemen were inconsistent throughout the season. The good news–beating Dayton and St. Bonaventure on the road, sweeping Rhode Island, and taking Temple to overtime before losing–was negated by a series of head-scratching losses to Saint Joseph’s (the Hawks’ first conference win), Saint Louis, and Fordham (also the Rams’ first and only conference win). If rumors of an upgrade to FBS football come to fruition, how much longer will the administration stay with the “start stop” progress of the basketball program before making a change? GRADE: C-
- La Salle (15-18, 6-10): After an injury-riddled 2010 season, Explorer fans expected to see a healthy 2011 squad get their program back on track and into the thick of the conference race. Tabbed by more than a few conference observers as the “2011 Sleeper Team”, the Explorers, despite staying in good health for much of the season, could not put together a sustained winning streak. All-Conference forward/center Aaric Murray who returned for his sophomore year could not seem to put aside his NBA aspirations long enough to help his team win more than three games in a row. Defensive lapses and off script offensive plays devolved into a season-long tug of war between the star and his coach, and ultimately distracted the team from the business at hand. Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills, and Cole Stefanproved to be an effective backcourt rotation that will only get better with experience, and transfer Earl Pettis was effective at times on the wing, but good stretches like the three game winning streak against Prairie View, Morgan State and Providence (or during conference play against Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, and Charlotte) gave way to prolonged bad ones like the four game skid against Villanova, Bucknell, Rider and shockingly Towson. Though Murray has two years of eligibility remaining, it seems certain that Dr. John Gianniniwill have a frontcourt makeover as he will have to replace Murray along with seniors Jerrell Williams and Steve Weingarten. Senior Ruben Guillandeaux, who redshirted in 2010, also exhausted his eligibility this season. Holding onto his guards while he recruits replacements to develop along with returning Devon White in the frontcourt will be key for La Salle going forward. GRADE: D
- Saint Louis (12-19, 6-10): The Billikens were rocked by the fall expulsion of guard Kwamain Mitchell and center Willie Reed, disciplinary action taken as a consequence for a serious breach of the student code of conduct stemming from an incident the previous spring. Though both were readmitted for the spring semester, Reed was never reinstated to the team while Mitchell was reinstated but never logged playing time and will therefore take a redshirt for the season. The Bills never recovered as coach Rick Majerus undertook yet another rebuilding year, coaching the #339th“most experienced” squad in Division I ball (out of 345 teams). Next season’s team promises to be more experienced, but Majerus-led teams tend to have a number of outbound transfers every off-season, and this one is no exception as junior Christian Salecich has already requested his release. How many more will follow? The priority for Majerus will be to hold on to freshmen Rob Loe, Dwayne Evans, Mike McCall and Jordair Jett, each of whom received praise from opponents within the conference. On the staff, Majerus will have to replace associate head coach Porter Moser, who is likely to be tabbed as Loyola of Chicago’s next head coach. GRADE: D
- Saint Joseph’s (11-22, 4-12): Coach Phil Martelli welcomed a heralded, but very inexperienced class to Hawk Hill in 2011, and the squad managed to show their fans glimpses of their potential while reminding them of their inexperience. A nine-game losing streak to open conference play brought out the boo birds and doubters. The late-season run that saw the Hawks snatch the 12th (and last) seed to the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament from a fading Charlotte team and put together back-to-back wins that took Saint Joseph’s to the semifinals where they lost to Dayton 64-61 letting them close out the season on a positive note. While Martelli and his staff have been able to get many of the players they have recruited, they have found holding onto the player and developing them for Martelli’ offense far more difficult. Stemming the out flow this off season will prove critical to the team’s start in 2012. GRADE: C-
- Charlotte (10-20, 2-14): Coach Alan Major took a program that was seven games above 0.500 overall and a win or two away from postseason play in 2010 and managed to move it to ten games under 0.500 failing to even qualify for the Atlantic 10 Tournament on the last day of the regular season. The excuses run the gamut from “period of adjustment” to “bad players/bad habits”, but the fact remains this squad may well be the most talented Major will see for two to three years. Observers sensed there may be problems when the 49ers dropped their home opener to Gardner Webb of the Atlantic Sun Conference, 78-70. The high point of their season came when they defeated Bruce Pearl’s Tennessee Volunteers, 49-48, in downtown Charlotte on December 17th to start a four-game winning streak that culminated with a double overtime 86-83 win over Georgia Tech just before conference play began. The 49ers finished the season on a 1-12 skid with an eight game losing streak to conclude the season. Major was never able to develop a replacement for Shamari Spears, the senior forward he suspended indefinitely in the third week of the season. The rookie coach now will also have to replace three seniors who started 34 games between them last season. GRADE: D-
- Fordham (7-21, 1-15): Coach Tom Pecorasurvived his first season at the Rams’ helm. Fordham broke a 41-game conference losing streak in its last conference game of the season, a 77-73 win over Massachusetts. The losing streak stretched back to January 31, 2009. Forward Chris Gaston, along with promising freshman Brandon Frazierreturn for another season on Rose Hill. That, along with a few incoming recruits should insure that Fordham will not have to wait until 2014 for its next conference win. GRADE: D
- If the storylinesof the last three seasons have included the smooth coaching transition at Xavier, Temple’s return to the conference elites, and the mysterious inconsistency plaguing the Dayton program, this season had to include the maturation of the Richmond squad and the growthof coach Chris Mooney. Though the Spidersleaned heavily on their seniors in 2011 Mooney has a group of underclassmen who have practiced and throughout the season. Next season will be their time. The recently concluded contract extension between Richmond and Mooney should keep him in the conference and at the head of the Spider program for at least five more seasons. Two seasons of consistent play have established Richmond, Temple, and Xavier as the class of the Atlantic-10 although not necessarily in that order. Are any of the 11 other conference members poised to crash the Big Three’s party? Rick Majerus has the recruiting pipeline open at Saint Louis, but can he keep a Billiken team together for more than two seasons and reap the benefits? Can Phil Martelli regain the touch that took the program to the Elite Eight and a #1 ranking in 2004? Like Majerus, Martelli can attract talent to Hawk Hill, but can he hold onto and develop it? Coach Carl Hobbs’ George Washington squad could have folded in December, but did not. He countered the loss of Lasan Kromah(in addition to the anticipated loss of his senior contingent) with the development of junior Tony Taylor and freshman Namanja Mikic. Next season he will have Taylor, Mikic,and Kromah as the nucleus of his squad.
- Three years ago, talk around the Atlantic 10 focused on the wings and ‘tweeners (#3/#4 and #4/#5 players) who beefed up conference rosters and garnered the lion’s share of the Player of the Week honors and fan discussions of newer players. T.J. McConnell, Cole Stefan, Tyreek Duren, Cedric Lindsay, Langston Galloway, Mike McCall, Juwan Staten, Brandon Spearman and Brandon Frazier attest to the influx of guards this season alone. Virtually every program roster has a freshman or sophomore guard or two who has drawn favorable attention this season. The guards are back!
- Conference realignment may have radically reshaped the Mountain West and the Big 12 Conferences last summer, along with a throwing in a wrinkle for the Pac-10, but the East Coast basketball conferences (the A-10, the CAA and Big East) were largely unaffected from the shifting memberships. Last season the big news of May and June was preceded by months of whispers and obscure inferences drawn from print announcements of personnel shifts in the Big 12 and Pac-10 conference offices. Stewart Mandel’s musings on a Mid-Major Super Conferencenotwithstanding, the likelihood of significant conference realignment, BCS or non-BCS conferences, this off-season is remote. That does not, however mean the Atlantic-10 is inoculated from shifting conference membership caused by BCS football. The A-10 does have a single Division 1A football member, Temple. To date the Owls have satisfied their football Jones through an affiliation withthe Mid America Conference (MAC), even as they have watched events unfold in the Big East and Big Ten. Their MAC affiliation has come witha price, an annual promise to schedule five basketball games withMAC members. With the increasing possibility that Big 5 rival Villanovawill accept a Big East invitation to upgrade to BCS status, Temple knows its door to the Big East will be closed. Will their athletic administration be more open to a one conference solution for their sports programs? WithMassachusetts also developing plans to upgrade their football program, those two may find the current conference configuration inconvenient at best, and may well explore options such as Conference USA. Another possibility comes from the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), the dominant FCS Division conference for the past three seasons. Persistent talk among CAA football fans hint that the entire conference may seek to upgrade to the BCS Division, posing a significant challenge as an all-sports alternative to the Atlantic 10’s basketball-first approach. Massachusetts, Richmond and Rhode Island are currently CAA football members. In short, we could be seeing some significant changes in the not too distant future even if it doesn’t occur in the next year or two.