Checking In On… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by rtmsf on December 29th, 2011
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter (@vbtnBlog)
Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Wednesday night’s action.
The Week That Was
- No A-10 Teams in the Top 25: The release of the AP and Coaches polls on Mon., December 26 showed no Atlantic 10 conference member for the first time in 12 weeks (going back to January 31, 2011 – week #13). A Xavier three-game losing streak, coming on the heels of the bench clearing brawl in the “Crosstown Shootout” dropped the Musketeers from #15 in the December 19 poll right out of the Top 25. Saint Louis’ own five-game winning streak includes a win over Division II Illinois-Springfield, Alabama State and Arkansas State — not a slate of opponents that will wow the voters.
- Early Season Invitational Tournaments – Final Tally: The only good news out of the Diamond Head Classic was that the Musketeers finally broke their three-game losing streak with a win over Southern Illinois in the invitational tournament’s seventh place game. Invitational tournament formats frequently match A-10 teams with power conference opponents on neutral courts, giving the conference their best opportunity for quality wins. Results for the 2011-12 season:
At the end of the first cycle, the conference held a promising 21-13 (0.600) margin with six first and third place finishes, suggesting the team either swept the field or won the first two games (before dropping the final). The brightest lights were Dayton (winner of the Old Spice Classic) and Saint Louis (who beat three power conference schools on their way to the championship in the 76 Classic). Temple may have disappointed slightly, but the Owls, along with Richmond, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s, posted very respectable results in their tournaments.
- Free Todd O’Brien? Attention to the resurgence of the Saint Joseph’s program was diverted two days after the Hawks’ best win of the season, a 16-point drubbing of Big 5 rival Villanova, when Sports Illustrated released fifth year senior Todd O’Brien’s side of his attempt to take his post season eligibility at Alabama-Birmingham instead of Saint Joseph’s. Buzz about Phil Martelli’s squad notching 10 wins before the start of conference play (virtually certain given their last two out of conference opponents) was pushed aside with the details of the Todd O’Brien imbroglio. The fifth year senior, a transfer from Bucknell who started 28 games in the 2009-10 season and was a serviceable rotation player last season, completed his undergraduate course work over the summer and enrolled in one of Alabama-Birmingham’s MBA programs and play for Mike Davis in his last season of eligibility. Saint Joseph’s, however, denied O’Brien’s application for a Graduate Student Transfer Exception (a release from his athletic scholarship) with no explanation given. O’Brien went public with his version of events, and so far, Saint Joseph’s, and specifically Martelli, has cited student confidentiality as the reason for not responding.
Fordham (Dereck Whittenburg and Jio Fontan), Providence (Keno Davis and Joseph Young) and Siena (Fran McCaffery and Kojo Mensah) were warning signs that Saint Joseph’s ignored. Though Martelli, as did McCaffrey, Davis and Whittenberg before him, may feel justified in denying O’Brien his release (fans and “program insiders” floated three variations of “Todd O’Brien is a bad boy” in the first 24-48 hours after the story was released), the veteran coach has to understand that the notion of a coach and program were gamed by a scholarship athlete never gets much traction with the public, and the university’s strategy of not talking about it gives O’Brien all of the air time on this issue.
Xavier’s losing streak opens the door for Saint Louis, Temple and a relative dark horse, Saint Joseph’s.
- Saint Louis (11-1) – The Billikens added two more wins, over Alabama State (65-35) and Arkansas State (70-46), in the week before Christmas. Dwayne Evans’ points versus Arkansas State earned the sophomore forward a nod from the conference front office. Though the wins, by 30 and 24 respectively, are impressive statistically, they did not swing many poll votes. The Billikens will have their best chance (since the 76 Classic) to do that on Saturday (after disposing of Texas Southern on Tuesday, December 27) when they play New Mexico in the Lobos’ home court, the Pit. A road win there will be a good momentum builder for their A-10 opening game on January 4 versus at Dayton.
- Xavier (9-3) – The Muskies have gone 1-3 since their win over Cincinnati on December 10. A spate of suspensions for Tu Holloway (one game), Dez Wells (four games), Mark Lyons (two games) and walk-on Landon Amos (four games) accounted for the especially poor showing–a 22-point home court loss to Oral Roberts on December 18. Though Holloway was back for the first game in Hawaii, Andre Walker and Jeff Robinson could not offset the point production provided by Lyons and Wells, both of whom were still on suspension as the Musketeers dropped their first round game, 68-58, to Long Beach State. Hawaii’s Warriors handed Xavier their third consecutive loss with a two-point, 84-82, overtime defeat. The Diamond Head Classic’s seventh place game finally put the Musketeers back on track with a 10-point, 87-77 win. Chris Mack’s squad has a chance to get back on track as they host Gonzaga of the West Coast Conference on Saturday, December 31 before they open conference play in Philadelphia versus La Salle on January 4.
- Temple (7-3) – The Owls’ returned from their southwest tour with a 1-1 record. They dropped a 12-point decision (65-77) to Texas on December 17 and bounced back with a seven-point win over Rice (77-70) two days later. Juan Fernandez drew a mention from the conference for his performance in the Rice game (23 points, five rebounds, three assists), but Ramone Moore has proven to be a consistent option on offense, averaging 17.5 points per game despite an eFG% of 44.9%, with sophomore Aaron Brown a reliable contributor off the bench. Brown averaged 9.5 points per game playing an average of 21 minutes in the two game swing. An inside presence would help immensely, but with Michael Eric out another two-to-three weeks, the Owls will have to make due with redshirt freshman Anthony Lee and junior Rahir Hollis-Jefferson in the front court. Temple will play three more out-of-conference opponents (Buffalo on 12/28, Delaware on 12/30 and Duke on 1/4) before facing Dayton on January 7 to start conference play.
- Saint Joseph’s (9-3) – The Hawks posted another 2-0 week and virtually insured the Big 5 championship will belong to an Atlantic 10 team this season as they beat Villanova by a healthy 16 points, 74-58, in the Hagan Arena on City Line Avenue on December 17. Saint Joseph then followed with a nine-point win (81-72) over Coppin State on December 21. C.J. Aiken was cited by the conference for his 20-point performance against Coppin State. Saint Joseph’s hosts Morgan State December 28 (Wednesday – win #10?), then travels to Boston for a game with #23 Harvard on December 31 (Saturday), before their January 4 conference opening game in Pittsburgh, against Duquesne .
- Dayton (9-4) – The Flyers went 2-1 in their last three games before Christmas, sandwiching wins over Florida International and Illinois-Chicago around a loss to Seton Hall – all three games at home. The Josh’s, Benson and Parker, were cited for their outstanding play. Archie Miller’s squad closes out their six-game out-of-conference homestand when they host Mississippi on December 30 (Friday) and then host their A-10 opener (versus Saint Louis) at home on January 4. For those not keeping track, Dayton is 9-2 at home this season, and 0-2 on the road.
- Massachusetts (10-3) – Since their loss to Miami (FL) on December 3, the Minutemen have run off four straight wins, bringing their win total to 10, the earliest 10-win mark since John Calipari’s 1995-96 squad. While Chaz Williams’ early season scoring run has cooled, the junior guard’s assist rate (34.4%, #46 nationally per Ken Pomeroy) has translated into very efficient scoring for sophomore Raphiael Putney and junior Sampson Carter, both of whom have stepped into the second/third scoring option in the offense. Junior Freddie Riley continues to be a high-volume scorer, but his conversion rate, 47.0% (eFG%) is not a significant drag on the offense. Massachusetts will close out their out-of-conference slate with a game versus Central Connecticut on Friday (December 30), then open against Fordham on January 5 (the following Thursday).
- Richmond (7-6) – The Spiders logged a 1-2 record before taking their Christmas break–an overtime win over Old Dominion (90-82) sandwiched between road losses to Bucknell (65-79) and UCLA (63-71). Chris Mooney’s squad built first half leads in both losses, but the host was able to overcome the deficit and take the game. Though senior Darien Brothers and freshman Kendall Anthony have garnered most of the attention, the good news is sophomore Derrick Williams, who posted 14 points in both losses to go with his 18-point contribution versus Old Dominion. Consistent scoring from the front court would be a positive development for the Spiders, who have relied on their backcourt to supply nearly 60% of the scoring. In those three games, Williams has logged a 72.5 % eFG% with a 1.46 points per weighted shot (PPWS), both strong indications of very efficient scoring. The Spiders finish their out-of-conference schedule with games against Liberty (12/28) and UNC-Greensboro (12/30) before opening conference play on January 4 versus Charlotte.
- St. Bonaventure (6-5) – Mike Schmidt is sticking with his choice for the starting point guard (Charlon Kloof), except when the game is especially tight. That’s whene goes back to score-first Eric Mosley. St. Bonaventure posted a 2-1 fortnight to stay (just) above 0.500 for the season. Kloof and Mosley split the time fairly closely with each getting around 20 minutes of playing time (with Kloof drawing the starts) when the Bonnies usual first three options on offense, seniors Andrew Nicholson and Da’Quan Cook, along with junior Demitrius Congers are productive. When they are not, Schmidt looks to Mosley and/or junior wing Chris Johnson to pick up the slack. Against North Carolina State (played in Rochester, NY on December 20) Nicholson and Congers were held to 16 points apiece (unusual for one gets within a point of 20 almost every game) while Cook scored seven points (on 3-6 shooting from the field and 1-2 from the line). Mosley scored 15 points on a high-volume shooting night, hitting 5-14 (1-8 from beyond the arc and 4-6 inside) from the field and 4-4 from the line. The Bonnies finish out their Little Four series with Niagara on December 30, then open versus George Washington on January 4.
- Duquesne (7-5) – Ron Everhart’s squad, stuck in a “lose-win” pattern for the past month, perpetuated it for another week when they dropped a 14-point decision (71-85) to Western Michigan on December 17, and then bounced back with an 11-point win (75-64) over George Mason four days later. The correct answer to who will replace Damian Saunders appears to be Sean Johnson, a junior wing who has put together some impressive numbers so far this season. The pattern should break this week as the Dukes host two out-of-conference opponents (Bowling Green on December 28 and Houston Baptist on December 31), both of which should be wins. They host Saint Joseph’s on January 4.
- La Salle (8-4) – Dr. Giannini’s squad took their own two-game road swing this past week, posting a 1-1 record for their efforts. The Explorers dropped a four-point decision to Delaware (66-70) but bounced back with a strong 85-59 win over Central Connecticut State on December 22. Though La Salle gets consistent scoring from four of its five starters, freshman forward Jerrell Wright continues to surprise with his contributions. The schedule maker gave La Salle a four-game homestand before the next two games on the road. First up is Delaware, when the Explorers take on the Blue Hens on Monday (12/19).
- Charlotte (7-3) – Alan Major’s crew snapped a five-game winning streak with a 15-point loss (62-76) to Miami (FL) on December 22. They have a good chance to show the conference their 7-3 record is not a fluke (or the product of a benevolent schedule maker) when they take on Arkansas, followed by Memphis – both on the road.
- George Washington (4-7) – The losing streak and the lineup shuffle continued last week, when the Colonials dropped two more games, a one-point, 67-66, defeat to Bradley, then a five-point, 62-57, decision to James Madison on December 22. Tony Taylor is back in (and Bryan Byrnes is on the bench) , while Andre Ware and Jabari Edwards take their turns coming off of the bench during game. Mike Lonergran’s squad will play Alabama-Birmingham on December 28, then Delaware State on December 31 before opening against Saint Bonaventure on January 4.
- Fordham (5-6) – The Rams went 1-1 with a six-point loss to St. John’s (56-50) at the Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden, then a win, 81-70, over Texas State on December 22, as Tom Pecora continues to look for a second scoring option to relieve some of the pressure on junior forward Chris Gastson (16.1 PPG). Fordham will close out the season with Georgia Tech on December 28, then meet Harvard as their first opponent of 2012 on January 3.
- Rhode Island (1-11) – The hits keep coming for the Runnin’ Rams as they dropped two more games last week. The first, a 68-65 loss to Yale, was tough, but winnable. Those looking for immediate offense when Andre Malone and Billy Barron joined the squad had to be disappointed in their performance versus Providence on December 23. Malone started and logged 15 minutes while Baron came off the bench and played for 26 minutes. The two combined for seven points on 1-14 shooting from the field and 5-6 from the line. Other changes included moving Jamal Wilson, an early Player of the Week pick by the A-10, back to the bench. There is no question Malone and Baron will improve as they get game time, but for the rest of the squad it may be too late already. Rhode Island has a two-game trip to Florida to close out December as they play James Madison in the first round of the UCF Holiday Classic, with the second game (December 30), winners vs. winners, losers vs. losers to be based on the results of the first game. The Runnin’ Rams return to New England to play at Boston College.
Several games I will watch for this week:
- Mississippi at Dayton, Friday 12/30, 7:00 pm – Another good test for the Flyers as Ole Miss is projected to finish somewhere in the middle of the SEC. Which team will show up, the one that swept the Old Spice Classic field or the team that played Seton Hall?
- Saint Joseph’s at Harvard, Saturday 12/31, 4:00 pm – The Crimson is ranked and the odds on favorite to win the Ivy League this season. Tommy Amaker’s squad might be good enough to snag an at-large bid if they were in another conference. A road win would do a lot to bolster the Hawks’ confidence.
- Gonzaga at Xavier, Saturday 12/31, 8:00 pm – In the raft of suspensions handed out after the Cross Town Shootout, Xavier stumbled against some not very challenging competition. Gonzaga most likely won’t dominate the WCC as thoroughly as they have in previous seasons, but Xavier needs a “name win”.
- Saint Louis at New Mexico, Saturday 12/31, 5:00 pm – The Lobos offer the best competition the Billikens have faced since the 76 Classic in the most challenging environment they will probably play in this season. This is a resume win if the Bills can handle the pressure.