Checking In On… the Atlantic 10Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2011
The Week That Was:
Early Season Tournaments – The Conference Crossroads: Though the invitational tournaments come in three different formats, they provide A-10 members with the opportunity to face-off against competition from other conferences. If the tournament is a “destination”, all the better, as those often offer one or two games versus power conference opponents on a neutral court. Mixed format tournaments can provide the A-10 member with the chance to play a power conference opponent and then host a sub-regional mini-tournament afterward, as George Washington did for the Preseason NIT last season and Rhode Island did for the Legends Classic this season. Despite the road game incentive built into the RPI, the NCAA does little to discourage the power conference practice of guarantee games beyond officially “frowning” on it. Unless you are Xavier or Temple, your best chance to see a power conference team in a venue besides their home court (on the front end of a home-and-home agreement) is to join one of the early-season invitational tournaments. Though Xavier will spend Christmas in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, virtually all early-season invitational tournaments concluded on or before Thanksgiving Weekend. How did the Atlantic-10 do?
The 21-13 record reveals both hope (Dayton, Richmond and Saint Louis) and fear (La Salle, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) as the season progresses, but overall, the 61.8% winning percentage will help the conference come Selection Sunday. Flyer fans can look to a surprise first-place finish in the Old Spice Classic that included wins over Wake Forest out of the ACC and Minnesota from the Big Ten, as signs that the Dayton program revival is ahead of schedule under rookie coach Archie Miller. Saint Louis rolled through the 76 Classic field, cutting through three power conference opponents in four days like a hot knife through butter. No one, not Boston College (ACC), Villanova (Big East) nor Oklahoma (Big 12) could get closer than 11 points to the Billikens in their final scores.
Notable Early Season Performances: Division I has the kind of wide-open feel that was promised, but not delivered by 2009’s “Year of the Mid-Major”. The upsets and closer-than-expected results are occurring earlier and with greater frequency this season. Applaud the early-season invitational tournaments perhaps, or one-and-done freshmen phenom NBA defections, but power conference teams and non-power conference mainstays have had difficulties in the early going. A few of the notable performances by A-10 teams so far:
The six power conferences can exhale now, Saint Louis who finished off Oklahoma in convincing fashion to close out the 76 Classic and take the trophy home to Saint Louis, will draw their next eight out of conference opponents from the non-power conference pool. Rick Majerus has gotten his squad to run off four consecutive wins over the likes of Washington (Pac-12), Boston College (ACC), Villanova (Big East) and Oklahoma (Big 12) is only the headline; the Bills took each game by double-digits with the wins becoming more impressive as the run continued. Saint Louis clobbered Washington at the Chaifetz, 77-64, on Sunday. That game, covered by RTC Live, was never as close as the 13-point margin suggested. After their tune-up, the Billikens flew to Anaheim, where they beat Boston College by 11 (62-51) before exposing a young Villanova squad, 80-68, in the semifinals. They saved the best performance for last, demolishing Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma team by a margin of 20 points (83-63) in a game also carried on RTC Live. Kwamain Mitchell was named to the All-Tournament Team, along with Brian Conklin, who was also named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
- Xavier hosted Georgia of the SEC in the Cintas Center last Friday, and beat the Bulldogs by 14, 70-56. Seniors Kenny Fraese and Tu Holloway shared the scoring honors with 12 apiece. They followed that up with an even bigger win last night at Vanderbilt where Holloway and Mark Lyons took over late in the game.
- Dayton won the Old Spice Classic in convincing fashion, handling an improving Wake Forest squad by four, 80-76, in first round action, beating upstart Fairfield from the NEC, 56-49, in the semifinal and finally beating Big Ten up and comer Minnesota by 16, 86-70 to take the trophy. A testament to the offensive weapons available to Archie Miller, a different Flyer, Paul Williams (against Wake Forest), Josh Parker (against Fairfield) and Kevin Dillard (against Minnesota), paced the team in scoring in each game.
A-10 Versus the Power Conferences: Through the third week of the season, the A-10 has leveled the conference’s record versus the six power conferences at 12-12. A-10 teams hold an advantage over the ACC (4-2) and SEC (1-0), while playing even with the Big XII (1-1) and Pac-12 (2-2). Wins in early season invitational tournaments has eaten into the deficits the A-10 has with the Big East and the Big Ten.
The Power Rankings are shuffled this week to reflect some of the results of the invitational tournaments. Wins over some brand-name power conference teams are hard to ignore or minimize.
1. Xavier (5-0) #11 AP – Xavier keeps rolling – wait I wrote that last week. And I will probably write it next week, because the Musketeers are indeed rolling through their out of conference schedule with unusual ease (even for Xavier). Chris Mack’s squad beat Georgia out of the SEC, 70-56, in the Cintas Center, for the week’s only game. The game completes a home-and-home contract from last season with Xavier winning both contests. Fifth-year transfer Andre Walker earned his first start at the forward spot, as starters Mark Lyons and Kenny Fraese, along with Travis Taylor, who came off the bench to play 19 minutes, powered the offense. Frease was especially efficient, scoring 12 points on 6-10 shooting from the field. Point guard Tu Holloway matched Fraese’s 12 points, but the junior earned most of his at the line, going 2-4 from the field and 8-8 from the charity stripe. Holloway also parceled out four assists against two turnovers in his 26-minute run. Walker and freshman Dezmine Wells (the other forward starter), were very efficient though limited contributors in the Musketeer offense, chipping in six points apiece as each gathered three rebounds. Walker, along with two other starters, dished three dimes to complement Holloway’s four and facilitate an offense that involved all players on the court. The Musketeers required an overtime period to beat SEC member Vanderbilt 82-70 Monday night, a game that should boost the team’s resume. Xavier will host Big Ten member Purdue on Saturday. Should the Musketeers beat the Boilermakers, Xavier stands a great chance of entering conference play undefeated.
2. Saint Louis (6-0) #23 AP – St. Louis handled their three game Thanksgiving Week in championship fashion, dominating their power conference opponents, Boston College, Villanova, and Oklahoma thereby taking home the 76 Classic Trophy. Those looking for the key to the Billikens’ performance so far may linger over the trio of Brian Conklin, Kwaimain Mitchell and Cody Ellis for a bit.
The two juniors and the senior (highlighted in orange) combine high utilization (Poss% and Shot%) with high efficiency (eFG% and PPWS) to produce an offense that makes everyone on the court much more dangerous. Though Mitchell’s efficiency numbers are a bit low (49.3% and 1.02), his very low turnover rate and high assist rate translate into points per possession for the Billikens when he is on the court. The trio takes over 75% of the possessions and shots when they share the court, drawing most of the defensive attention away from Kyle Cassidy and Rob Loe (note their eFG%s, for Cassidy an off-the-charts 81%), allowing those two – rotation players like Jordair Jett and Mike McCall — very high efficiency numbers. Note that among the starters (the bolded players) none has a PPWS below 1.00 – they convert when they get off a shot – and all but Conklin have high assist rates (Ast%). Is St. Louis enjoying a very productive six-game run, or is this a predictor for the rest of the season? The competition suggests this is a predictor, but the next three weeks will hardly test that theory as the Billikens take in the softer part of their schedule through the end of the fall semester. The next test comes New Year’s Eve when St. Louis meets New Mexico in the Pit, one of the more intimidating arenas in DI basketball.
3. Dayton (5-1) – Though many have complained that the early season invitational tournament fields were starving for brand-name teams and underwhelming for competition, Dayton established some parameters when they sliced through the Old Spice Classic field. Unlike Saint Louis, the Flyers were denied a third power conference win in three games because Fairfield upset Arizona State in their first round match-up. The Flyers had to be content to dispatch the Stags by a seven point margin, 56-49, in the semifinal round. But the Flyers demonstrated scoring distribution as three different players led the team through each of their three challenges in Thanksgiving Week. Senior Paul Williams scored 18 points on 5-15 (5-9 from beyond the arc, 0-6 inside) shooting from the field and 3-4 from the line, for a shooting efficiency (eFG%) that converts to 50% with a 1.07 points per weighted shot (PPWS). All five starters, (Williams plus) Kevin Dillard, Josh Benson, Matt Kavenaugh, and Chris Johnson posted double-digit scoring that night. Kavanaugh made it a double-double night by grabbing 13 rebounds to go with his 15 points. Against Fairfield, it was Josh Parker’s turn, as the sub came off the bench to pace the Flyers with 15 points on 5-10 (3-8 on three pointers, 2-2 two pointers) and 2-2 from the charity stripe. Parker’s shooting eFG% was a eye-opening 65%, while he posted a very strong PPWS of 1.37. Though the Golden Gophers lost forward Trevor Mbakwe late in the game, the Flyers were up nine 45-36 and had already staved off one Minnesota rally. The Flyers stretched the lead to 15 and Minnesota never closed beyond 13 through the end of the game. Kevin Dillard and Chris Johnson paced the Flyers with 19 and 18 points respectively. Dillard’s shooting, 6-12 (2-3 for threes, 4-9 for twos) and 5-6 from the line, yielded an eFG% of 58.3% with a points per weighted shots of 1.28. Coach Miller’s squad will host Buffalo out of the MAC on Wednesday, then travel to Kentucky to play Murray State of the OVC on Sunday.
4. Temple (3-2) – An injury to forward/center Michael Eric on Friday prevented the senior from making the trip to Bowling Green for Sunday’s game against the Falcons. The short-handed Owls, down to a seven-man rotation, dropped a 64-67 decision to Bowling Green. The game, one of five necessitated by a contractual obligation with the Mid-America Conference (MAC) in exchange for allowing the Owls to park their football program in the league, could not have come at a worse time. Lacking Eric, who missed part of last season with a fractured knee cap in the same knee injured Friday, allowed the Falcons to exploit the Owls’ defense (rather porous Sunday) and post a shot efficiency (eFG%) of 58.7% with a 1.18 points per weighted shot on 29-52 shooting from the field and 6-10 from the line. Temple saw double-digit scoring from four of the five starters, but virtually no help from the bench. Though Temple converted at an efficient clip (51.9% and 1.09 PPWS), this game was the basketball equivalent of a horse race, and the Owls were not fast enough. While taking the loss on the road removes some of the sting, BGSU is currently ranked 167th by Ken Pomeroy. Eric will have the knee examined this week and will hopefully be ready to go when Temple hosts Central Michigan on Saturday. A longer absence could spell real trouble for the undermanned Temple squad.
5. Saint Joseph’s (4-2) – The Hawks followed a promising first week and a half with a 1-1 week. Saint Joseph’s dropped a five-point double overtime game at Iona 104-99, but followed with an 18-point win at home over Big Ten member Penn State. Continuing the trend established in the first four games, the heart of the Saint Joseph’s offense continues to be junior point guard Carl Jones, backed by sophomore off guard Langston Galloway and sophomore forward C. J. Aiken. Coach Phil Martelli continues to start Hofstra transfer Halil Kanacevic at the second forward spot and bring in sophomore Ron Roberts, a consistent offensive contributor off the bench, when Kanacevic runs through his allotment of fouls. Kanasevic averages 4.5 rebounds and 4.2 fouls per game so far this season. Look for Saint Joseph’s to continue the A-10’s cross conference rivalry with the CAA this week with games against cross-town (and CAA) rival Drexel on Wednesday, followed by a trip to Washington DC and a game with CAA member American.
6. George Washington (4-1) – The Colonials ran off three wins in three days at the Progressive CBE Classic’s Bowling Green Sub-regional as senior guard Tony Taylor was named the Most Valuable Player at the sub-regional. George Washington beat Detroit of the Horizon League 86-73 last Monday, Austin Peay of the OVC 54-52 on Tuesday, then closed out the run by blowing out host Bowling Green 77-56 on the night before Thanksgiving. Video from the local TV station gives a BGSU-centric rundown of the game, but does show a good Lasan Kromah jumper at the end.
The Colonials go to Manhattan, Kansas, for a game with Kansas State on Thursday, then return home to play Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday at the Verizon Center as the opening game of the BB&T doubleheader.
7. St. Bonaventure (2-2) – The Bonnies dropped their road game versus Virginia Tech, 64-73, on Sunday. Andrew Nicholson was held to nine points and seven rebounds, only the second time in his last 43 games that the senior has been held to less than 10 points. Junior forward Demetrius Conger paced St. Bonaventure with a career-high 23 points on 8-10 (1-3 from beyond the arc, 7-7 inside the arc) shooting from the field and a perfect 6-6 showing from the line. Coach Mark Schmidt’s club will host Arkansas State Thursday before travelling to Buffalo for a game with Little Four rival Buffalo on Saturday. St. Bonaventure needs to log these two games in the “W” column.
8. Massachusetts (5-2) – Coach Derek Kellogg stayed with his starting five, but the Minutemen went 1-2 in the Battle 4 Atlantis Invitational. UMass dropped their first game to Florida State 53-73, in a game where the two teams were whistled for a combined 52 personal fouls. They bounced back with an 89-74 win over Utah, but dropped the fifth place game 61-85, under a 12-24 three point barrage, to Charleston. Chaz Williams and Freddie Riley in particular had very off shooting nights against Florida State and Charleston, a troubling development given that both take a large number of shots in the Massachusetts offense. In the two losses, the guards combined for 6-37 shooting (16.2%) The Minutemen will host Towson on Wednesday then travel to Coral Gables, Florida for a game with Miami on Saturday.
9. Richmond (4-2) – The Spiders traveled to Cancun to play the last two games in the invitational early last week. They logged a 1-1 record, dropping the first game to Illinois, 61-70, before recouping against Rutgers, 58-53. Darien Brothers paced Richmond with 22 points in their game versus Illinois. Brothers’ back court mates, Cedrick Lindsay and freshman Kendall Anthony chipped in 11 points apiece. Junior guard Greg Robbins came off the bench to pace the Spider squad in the Rutgers game, scoring 15 points on 5-6 (3-4 three pointers, 2-2 two pointers) from the field and 2-4 from the line. Brothers logged his second double digit scoring night with 11 points. Senior forward/center Darrius Garrett recorded an NBA-like six fouls, drawing a technical when he was whistled for his fifth foul at the 0:38 mark of the second half. Garrett picked up his fourth foul about 32 minutes into the game, and sat for nearly five minutes before being reinserted into Chris Mooney’s rotation. The 6’9” senior drew his fifth (and sixth) fouls with Richmond ahead by eight points, 55-47, with just over a half minute left to play, thereby putting Rutgers on the line for four free throw attempts. Richmond dodged the bullet when Rutgers freshman guard Jerome Seagears missed both of his attempts. The Spiders regrouped to preserve the win. The Spiders will continue their extended road trip, going to Williamsburg, Virginia to play William & Mary on Wednesday, then to Winston-Salem, North Carolina for a game with Wake Forest on Saturday.
10. Duquesne (4-2) – The Dukes drubbed Louisiana-Lafayette 84-65 with junior guard Sean Johnson and senior wing B. J. Monteiro sharing the scoring honors with 16 points apiece. Four other Duquesne players, Eric Evans (12 points), T. J. McConnell (12 points), Mike Talley (12 points) and Jerry Jones (10 points), logged double digit points in the rout. Through six games Johnson, a rotation player behind Bill Clark for his first two years, has stepped into a lead scorer role, averaging 16.5 points per game. Coach Ron Everhart’s squad will play cross-town rival Pittsburgh, #17 in the AP poll, Wednesday, followed by Tennessee Tech on Saturday.
11. La Salle (3-3) – Suffering from a severe shooting drought, the Explorers dropped their second game in the Hoops Group Classic to Robert Morris, 44-51 on Friday. La Salle converted a paltry 15-47 (31.9%) from the field, including 3-22 (13.6%) from beyond the arc. The front court contingent, primarily senior forward Earl Pettis and freshman forward Jerrell Wright, were largely out of the offensive flow, shooting 2-14 from the field. La Salle’s low post contingent, freshmen Steve Zack (21 minutes) and Matt Lopez (four minutes), along with senior forward Devon White (seven minutes) combined for 32 minutes, all off the bench. Only Zack put points on the board, all three earned at the free throw line. The Explorers did better against Rider on Sunday, bringing their record back to 0.500 with an 82-70 win, also in the Hoops Group Classic. Four Explorers, led by Ramon Galloway’s 21 points, registered double digits in the scoring column. La Salle has a two game home stand, hosting Northeastern Wednesday, followed by Bucknell on Saturday, before taking to the road.
12. Charlotte (3-2) – The 49ers logged a 1-1 mark last week, dropping a heartbreaking one-point decision to East Tennessee State (video of the highlights and winning ETSU shot below), but rebounded with a 70-65 road win over Wright State Saturday. Junior guard Jamar Briscoe paced Charlotte with 15 points in the East Tennessee State game on 5-10 (1-6 three pointers, 4-4 two pointers) shooting from the field and 4-4 from the line. He followed with a second double digit night at Wright State, logging 13 points on 4-7 (1-4 three pointers, 3-3 two pointers) shooting from the field and 4-4 from the line. Junior forward Chris Braswell paced the 49ers at Wright State with 22 points on 7-12 (0-1 three pointers, 7-11 two pointers) field goal conversions and 8-11 from the line.
Charlotte will play two road games, at East Carolina on Saturday and at Radford next Tuesday, before returning to Halton Arena for a three-game homestand.
13. Rhode Island (1-5) – The Runnin’ Rams were unable to parlay their sub-regional hosting responsibilities for the Legends Classic into wins this past weekend as they went 1-2 in the three game run. Coach Jim Baron’s club opened the basketball-loaded weekend with a decisive 85-73 win over Hofstra of the CAA. Freshman Jon Holton scored 20 points in 28 minutes of play, shooting 8-13 (2-6 three pointers, 6-7 two pointers) from the field and 2-2 from the line. Three other starters, Orion Outerbridge (11 points), Jamal Wilson (15 points), and Nikola Malesevic (18 points) also logged double-digit point contributions. Outerbridge and Malesevic paced the team with 16 and 15 points respectively in the Saturday’s 64-70 loss to Boston University. 22 turnovers combined with an ice cold 0-8 on three point attempts doomed the Runnin’ Rams on Sunday, as Cleveland State built an 18-6 advantage early in the first period and rode it to a 67-45 win. Outerbridge again paced Rhode Island with 12 points on an inefficient 6-14 (0-2 three pointers, 6-12 two pointers) night from the field. In-state rival Brown on the road is up next (Wednesday), followed by Maine on Saturday.
14. Fordham (1-2) – The Rams lost their only scheduled game last week, 50-64, to Loyola of Chicago (Horizon League) in Chicago. Though junior Chris Gaston paced the Rams while logging his second double-double of the season (19 points and 10 rebounds), lack of consistent scoring continues as an unhealthy trend. In three games the Rams have converted only 60 of 167 field goal attempts, a paltry 35.9% conversion rate. Going 12-57 from beyond the arc (21.1%) poses no serious offensive threat to Fordham’s three opponents. Gaston as a single scoring threat will be easy to double (and if necessary triple) team. The two senior starters, Alberto Estwick and Kervin Bristol in particular have combined to go 3-11 from the field, a terrible conversion rate on a very small offensive contribution. Coach Tom Pecora is looking to sophomore Branden Frazier and freshmen Devon McMillan and Bryan Smith, guards all, for points, and so far they have collectively taken 105 field goal attempts, converting only 38 times. Not enough to draw serious defensive attention away from Gaston. Fordham will play four games over the next eight days, hosting Colgate on Tuesday, followed by Lehigh on Thursday and Hampton next Monday before taking the downtown train to Manhattan for a “road” game the following Wednesday.