Checking In On… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2011

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the A-10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vbtnBlog.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

Early Season Performances – The Oooh Aaaah Variety (Teams & Individuals)

The A-10 evened the record versus the six power conferences again last week, largely on the strength of performances by Xavier and Richmond. Xavier needed overtime to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. Down by two with just under four minutes in regulation, Xavier held Vanderbilt scoreless and managed to tie on a Mark Lyons jumper with six seconds remaining in regulation. In overtime the Musketeers took the lead for good 68-66 on two Dezmine Wells free throws and Tu Holloway put a large enough margin between the teams (about eight points) when he hit two threes in successive possessions to absorb a Commodore mini-run. Vanderbilt chipped the Musketeers’ lead down to four, but could get no closer. Forced to foul, Holloway and Travis Taylor went a perfect 6 for 6 from the line to stretch the lead to 10 and suck the life out of the Commodore comeback.

Hosting Purdue five days later, Xavier again went down early, allowing Purdue to take the lead at the 18:49 mark of the first half and hold it for the next 37 minutes of play. The Boilermakers took an 11-point lead into the intermission and stretched it to 15 in the first 6:30 of the second half. Over the next 12:24 Xavier outscored Purdue 29-13 to take the lead for only the second time in the game. Once in control, the Musketeers did not let the Boilermakers back in, pushing their lead out to three in the last minute of the game.

As for Tu Holloway’s (and Xavier’s) week, we can’t say it any better than Rob Dauster over at Ballin’ is a Habit. Ok we could, but cut and paste required fewer key strokes and brain cells:

Those numbers are more interesting, however, when you break up the game. For example, with 3:30 left in overtime against Vanderbilt, Holloway had just 14 points on 4-17 shooting. That stat line looks much more impressive after he hit back-to-back threes on the next two possessions and four straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Likewise, against Purdue, Holloway had just 10 points and six turnovers in the first 38 minutes of the game, but in the final two minutes he hit a three on three consecutive possessions (video of the last two below) and followed that up with two free throws, completing the most impressive comeback of the young season…in the final three minutes against Vanderbilt and the last two minutes against Purdue, Holloway had 21 points, went 5-6 from beyond the arc and knocked down all six of his free throws attempts.

The Richmond squad had to replace 59% of their minutes and 68.6% of their scoring from the squad that won the A-10 conference tournament and ran to the Sweet Sixteen last March. Freshman point guard Kendall Anthony, three times designated Rookie of the Week by the conference, has picked up a load of time and scoring responsibilities for the Spiders so far. Richmond leaned heavily on Anthony along with sophomores Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams for offense. Both chipped in double digit points to complement Anthony’s production. Lindsay was a serviceable back-up to senior point guard Kevin Anderson last season, but Williams, who has started all eight games for the Spiders, saw very little action as a freshman.

Overlooked Temple off guard Aaron Brown turned heads the summer before coming to North Broad, but had few opportunities to show Temple fans and the A-10 what he could do. Brown scored 21 points in 22 minutes in a display during Temple’s 86-74 win over Central Michigan. Ken Pomeroy would find hard to ignore his performance, as he hit 7-11 (4-7 from three point land, 3-4 from inside the arc) shots from the floor while getting to the line for five free throws, of which he hit three. That computes to an 81.8% eFG% with a 1.57 points per weighted shot, an outstanding outing for the sophomore, who was pressed into action due to the injury-depleted squad.

Early Season Performances – The What the !@#!@@!# Variety (Teams & Individuals)

After winning their early season invitational tournaments, beating four power conference opponents (two each) during the tournament, both Dayton and Saint Louis stumbled in post tournament games. The losses are puzzling because for both teams, the games were winnable. Saint Louis took an “and-one” game with Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference, losing by seven with a performance that had team observers scratching their heads. Dayton compounded the first post tournament loss (by 29 to Buffalo of the MAC) with a second loss, this one by 17, to Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference. The opponents were beatable, making the scoring margins downright consternating. Dayton was pegged to finish in the middle of the conference, but the two unexpected losses (albeit the Racers will most likely contend for the OVC title this season) could damage the Flyers chances for a post season NIT bid. Other inexplicable losses go to Saint Bonaventure’s home loss to Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference, a 3-4 team no one expects to make noise this season. The Bonnies were not helped by a lackluster six-point, nine-rebound effort from Andrew Nicholson.

Power Rankings

The Power Rankings are shuffled again this week in response to the Ooohs, Aaaahs and What the heck games listed above. For the Atlantic-10 the post season margin for error is exceedingly slim. Three losses going into the first or second week of December can take a school off the RPI short list pretty quickly.

1. Xavier (6-0) #8 AP – Xavier took down two more power conference programs last week in fashion impressive enough to climb three more spots in the AP poll. I listed many of the impressive details in the impressive performances section above, but  in addition to the video link below that shows two of Tu Holloway’s three “last two minute” three point field goals below (h/t to Dana & Victory Blog for the link). I should also mention that in Nashville Mark Lyons (19 points) and Travis Taylor (11 points) chipped in more than 10 apiece to go with Holloway’s 24 point performance, while Antoine Walker collected 14 rebounds in his return to Vanderbilt where he played for three years. Versus Purdue three Musketeers, Lyons (14 points), Walker (10 points) and Kenny Fraese (10 points) chipped in double digit points to complement Holloway’s 21 point outburst.

 

 

Xavier will travel to Indianapolis Wednesday for a game with Butler, then return home to host this season’s Crosstown Shootout versus Cincinnati on Saturday. Win these next two and Chris Mack’s squad deserves something special, like Christmas in Hawaii…wait.

2. Saint Louis (7-1) –Their top 25 ranking proved surprisingly short, the penalty for stumbling against the Lions last Tuesday. St. Louis recovered to beat another WCC team, Portland  by 20, 73-53 at the Chaifetz. The Billikens’ defense limited Portland to 0.90 points per possession, much as they had Boston College and Oklahoma. Scoring centered on Brian Conklin and Cody Ellis, with Kyle Cassidy and Mike McCall providing efficient long-range scoring. They will host Vermont on Wednesday and Division II Illinois-Springfield on Saturday.

3. Temple (4-2) – Fran Dunphy’s squad had a light week, hosting Central Michigan in the week’s only game. That was fortunate given the injuries to Michael Eric and Scottie Randall and the slate coming up next week. Against Central Michigan the Owls used eight players, giving redshirt freshman Jimmy McDonnell a two minute run against the Chippawas. Sophomore guard Aaron Brown, well regarded when he came to campus in 2010 had few opportunities playing behind Juan Fernandez, Khalif Wyatt, Ramone Moore, Scootie Randall and T.J. DiLeo to showcase his skills until Saturday. The 6’5” off guard logged 21 points in a 22 minute run versus the Chippawas. The seven-to-eight man rotation is all that will be available next week against Toledo on Wednesday (on the road) and Villanova, at home, on Saturday. Latest estimates have Randall returning around the end of the month. He may be available to Delaware on December 30, or Duke on January 4. Michael is expected back by the middle of January, in time for the Richmond game perhaps?

4. Saint Joseph’s (5-3) – The Hawks posted a 1-1 week versus the CAA, beating city rival Drexel at home, 62-49, then traveling to Washington DC to lose a six point game, 66-60, to American. Junior guard Carl Jones and sophomore Ron Roberts continue to combine high utilization with high efficiency, but transfer Halil Kanacevic struggles with foul trouble and turnovers, undermining efficient possession-to-points conversion. When he begins to pick up Phil Martelli’s system, the Hawks will resume where they left off last March. Saint Joseph’s opens their pre-conference six game homestand Wednesday with Boston University then continues with Creighton on Saturday.

5. Dayton (5-3) – The losses were discussed above though not the causes. Both Buffalo and Murray State were able to score when they wanted, as Dayton’s shot defense, a problem area this season, broke down and allowed the Buffs a 59.3% eFG% completion rate, and an even worse 63.7% eFG% to the Racers. Limiting rebounds or forcing a 20% turnover rate will not compensate for poor shot defense, especially when the Flyers posted eFG%s of 33.3% and 52.0% respectively, neither within 10% of their opponents’ completion rate. In the Murray State game junior forward Josh Benson and senior guard Paul Williams both paced the Flyers with 17 and 12 points respectively, but they could not overcome Kevin Dillard and Chris Johnson’s combined 4-15 shooting night, which included going 0-9 from beyond the arc. Against Buffalo the two combined to go 8-25 from the floor, including a 5-13 night on the three-point line. The shot efficiency numbers for those two is not good, and Archie Miller has hung a good deal of his offense on those two. The Flyers host Alabama on Wednesday, then follow with South Carolina Upstate on Sunday.

6. Richmond (6-2) – The Spiders traveled to Williamsburg and beat William & Mary by 31, 92-61 before moving on to Winston-Salem to beat the Demon Deacons 70-62. For those wondering how Richmond would fare without Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper and Dan Gariot, last week’s results were heartening. Freshman guard Kendall Anthony has been mentioned before, but note that sophomore forward Derrick Williams average 10.5 points between the two games, posting double digit points in both games and sophomore guard Cedrick Lindsay  was just behind Anthony in both of last week’s games, posting 13 points against Wm & Mary, and 15 against Wake Forest. Chris Mooney’s squad has a tough Friday night game against cross-town rival Virginia Commonwealth University, followed by another rest and health weekend before hosting surprisingly good Iona a week from Wednesday.

7. George Washington (4-3) – Despite a 4-3 record, the Colonials’ offense under Mike Lonergan have scored more than 1.00 points per possession only twice in seven games. The other two wins came through the defense, versus Maryland Eastern Shore (0.85 points per possession on offense, 0.64 on defense) and Austin Peay Shore (0.87 points per possession on offense, 0.83 on defense). The defense is vulnerable to teams that do not turn the ball over and who rebound their own misses well, as those teams, even if they are not shooting well, can acquire second chance opportunities. If the vulnerability is not addressed, expect GWU to struggle in conference play against the likes of Dayton, Saint Bonaventure and Richmond, not to mention conference elites Xavier, Saint Louis and Temple. George Washington will host Loyola of Maryland on Wednesday, and travel to Syracuse for a game with the Orange on Saturday.

8. St. Bonaventure (3-3) – The Bonnies limped through a 1-1 week, dropping a surprising game to Arkansas State, then recovering with a six point 66-60 win over fellow Big 4 rival Buffalo. Andrew Nicholson drew his third honorable mention in four weeks from the conference. The unexpected loss hurts the Bonnies who dropped what could have been – had they won – gold star for the resume against Virginia Tech the week before. Any further at-large talk for the NCAA will depend heavily on running the balance of the out of conference slate and tearing through the conference, both of which depend on the point guard spot gelling under either Eric Mosley or Charlon Kloof. The spot is there for the taking. Seniors Da’Quan Cook and Michael Davenport need to score more efficiently…or let someone else (not named Mosley) take the shots. Coach Schmidt’s squad will head out to Urbana-Champaign to face Illinois on Wednesday then return home to host Canisius, another Big 4 rival, Saturday. Unlike last week, 1-1 this week would be an acceptable result.

9. Massachusetts (6-3) – The Minutemen logged a win 86-56 over Towson, then dropped an 83-75 road game to Miami (FL). Unhappy with their production in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, Derek Kellogg benched his back court for the Towson game. Mentioned in the Daily Collegian recap of the Towson game was the fact that neither started, along with an explanation for why the two were withheld from the first minutes of the game. It goes without saying however, that no line-up is “written in stone”, so that point could have been made another way. The second explanation, that Kellogg was unhappy with certain aspects of the pairs performance while in the Bahamas. Junior off guard, Freddy Riley however, was already struggling. He actually played better in Massachusetts’ first game than he had in the game before. While Chaz Williams’ assist rate has dropped, even as his shot rate has fluctuated game-to-game, what is true is that the efficiency rates for both players has dropped dramatically as teams recognize who on the UMass squad will most likely take shots or attempt to penetrate before dishing. Such it is with the Dribble Drive Motion if/when the opponent can defense the lead guard. Massachusetts plays East Carolina on Tuesday night on the road then Siena on Friday night at home.

10. Duquesne (4-2) – Ron Everhart’s squad lost an 11-point decision to crosstown rival Pittsburgh 80-69, but bounced back against Tennessee Tech 77-67 over the weekend. Junior Sean Johnson has emerged as an offensive mainstay for the Dukes this season. The 6’2” off guard played in Bill Clark’s shadow, but with Clark’s graduation, Johnson has used his opportunity to catch the conference and his coach’s attention, doubling his playing time over the season’s first six games. Johnson has done a good job of limiting turnovers while still drawing fouls and getting to the line. Seniors B.J. Monteiro and Eric Evans continue to expand their roles from the 2010-11 season, while point guard T.J. McConnell has stepped back from an aggressive scoring role, and directs the offense and in the process earning a 31.8% assist rate and a 5.6 steal rate. Though there are several 6’8” players available, Everhart continues to favor the smaller, quicker lineups for most of the available minutes. The Dukes will conclude their Pittsburgh-centric rivalry games when they play Robert Morris Tuesday night. They will host Penn State Saturday. While Penn State is very early in the rebuilding stages under Pat Chambers, the game will nevertheless be a good test for Duquesne.

11. La Salle (5-3) – Dr. Giannini’s squad posted a 2-0 record last week, beating Northeastern by 17 points, 68-51, then Bucknell, 78-52. Ramone Galloway earned his first honorable mention as he averaged 17.0 points for the two games. Jerrell Wright drew his third conference mention for his rebounding and double digit point contribution (11 points) in the Northeastern game. Though he receives little recognition, senior wing Earl Pettis has become a consistent contributor on offense. He, along with sophomore guard Tyreek Duren log a large portion of the minutes for their positions but contribute consistent efficient point production for La Salle. La Salle takes a game with Towson in Maryland Wednesday, then returns to Philadelphia for a game with Army Saturday.

12. Charlotte (3-2) – The 49ers beat East Carolina Saturday, 76-64 in their only game this past week. With exams approaching, Charlotte will travel to Radford for a game Tuesday, then return to Halton Arena to host Davidson Saturday.

13. Rhode Island (1-7) – The hits keep coming for the Runnin’ Rams. They lost to Brown by nine, 65-56, then lost a second game to Maine, 76-74, on Sunday. Freshman point guard Mike Powell is getting his baptism of fire as Billy Baron and Andre Malone wait to become eligible at semester’s end. Powell owns a ghastly 37.9% turnover rate, which suggests Powell turns over nearly 40% of every possession he gets credit for. Powell is hardly alone however, as fellow freshman Jon Holton and senior guard Jamal Wilson both own turnover rates north of nearly 22% or worse which has, coupled with offensive rebounding (the Runnin’ Rams are light there too) diminished significantly their efficiency when turning possessions into points. Rhode Island hosts Virginia Tech Wednesday, then travels to Atlanta, Georgia to play Georgia State Saturday.

14. Fordham (2-3) – The Rams went 1-1 last week, dropping a 17-point decision, 78-60, to Lehigh before notching a one-point win, 54-53, over Hampton. Chris Gaston earned his third nod of the season from the conference, which has also acknowledged each of the freshmen guards, Devin McMillan and Bryan Smith in the previous three weeks. Tom Pecora in a typical “future is now” move has directed a good deal of the offense through the two, along with Gaston and sophomore guard Branden Frazier. The squad’s two seniors, guard Alberto Estwick and Kervin Bristol, continue to start, but have a smaller role in the offense as Pecora gives the younger players real game experience. The diminished offensive role did not stop Bristol from gathering 16 rebounds, half gathered under the Fordham bucket, in the Hampton game. Bristol did his best work when Gaston was sidelined with four fouls during the stretch run in the second half.  John Templon over at Big Apple Buckets took an in-depth, possession-based look at the quartet that will lead the Rams for the next few seasons. Fordham will take the downtown train to Manhattan for a “road” game Wednesday, then down to the Jersey shore for a game with Monmouth on Saturday. Given the state of the Monmouth program, Saturday’s tilt is winnable.

Looking Ahead

There are several games that I will be following this week:

  • Alabama at Dayton, Wednesday at 7 PM – The Flyers will not be favored but Miller’s squad will be measured and compared in this game, a good way to determine how they will stand up in conference play.
  • Xavier at Butler, Wednesday at 7 PM – Though Butler will not have the pieces that Brad Stevens used so effectively to get to back-to-back national title game appearances, this is still a dangerous team, but it should draw national coverage and with a win by Xavier, bring more attention to the very good season unfolding for the Musketeers.
  • Cincinnati at Xavier, Saturday at 12:30 PM – Preseason favorites to challenge for their conference titles, Xavier appears to be ready for this latest edition of the Crosstown Shootout, even if Cincinnati still has work to do.
  • Villanova at Temple, Saturday at 5 PM  – Both teams have struggled this season, but even at less than 100% strength, this is the most competitive (based on record) rivalry in the Big 5, and the last two games have been tightly played affairs that went to the last minute of play before being decided.
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