Checking In On… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by rtmsf on January 18th, 2012
The Week That Was
- No A-10 Teams in the Top 25… Again: The latest round of the AP and Coaches polls (January 16) show no Atlantic 10 team gathered enough support nationally to be ranked… for the fourth consecutive week. Saint Louis missed a good opportunity to impress when the Billikens dropped a four-point decision to New Mexico on New Year’s Eve, picking up their second loss in the process. With the next six teams showing three or four losses, the conference is out of the Top 25 conversation for the next three or so weeks. The other name brands, Xavier and Temple, did not help their causes this past week. Xavier dropped their third game in the last four, this time to Gonzaga in what might have been a good “comparison” game for the Selection Committee. Temple beat #3 Duke but dropped two of their first three conference games. Lacking another marquee out-of-conference game (Temple versus Maryland is a pale imitation), the conference may have to wait until early February and hope that one or two teams will dominate conference play while their power conference counterparts beat each other up.
- Bernadette McGlade’s Recipe for Basketball Masala: Masalas are a variety of spicey soups or stews favored throughout India, Pakistan and most parts of south Asia. A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade and her schedule maker served up their own brand of basketball masala in this opening week of conference play. Strong preseason favorites Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple did not survive the week undefeated (Temple has yet to win with a tough game coming up this week) while recently downtrodden Charlotte and La Salle started strong, each has sustained at least one loss. Rookie Coach Archie Miller of Dayton (whose squad was depleted with graduations and transfers) is riding high, while veteran Mike Lonergan of George Washington (whose squad is well stocked with experienced players) is struggling. Far too early to throw the power rankings (see below) up in the air perhaps, but a few of the results from the past two weeks (Dayton at Temple, Saint Louis at Dayton, Charlotte at Saint Joseph’s for example) maybe critical tiebreakers come March.
Results from the first quarter of conference play (and a few of the last few out of conference games) hold a strong hint that the conference may be more competitive through the first 12 spots than preseason projections indicated. First week losses to the favorites force me to take a long second (and third…) look at Dayton. With only a few games scheduled, and those yielding mixed results for the teams at the top of last week’s power rankings, the conference appears to be sliding sideways. Massachusetts disposes of their last out of conference opponents fairly easily to move up a spot, while Temple finishes the month 6-1 and Fordham upsets a ranked team.
- Saint Louis (14-4, 2-2) – The Billikens are .500 through the first four games of conference play. They opened conference play with a 79-72 overtime loss at Dayton, the first time Rick Majerus’ squad has lost back-to-back games this season (St. Louis lost their last out of conference game to New Mexico on New Year’s). Their bounce back 78-56 win over George Washington on January 7 was the largest margin win in conference play, with the three other games decided by five or fewer points. Against Dayton, the Billikens held Dayton to a respectable 1.04 point per possession (about 75 total possessions in the overtime game), but failed to break the 1.0 (PPP) mark themselves, a persistent problem last season that Brian Conklin, Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis had resolved this season. None of the three had a good outing however, as they combined for a horrific 12-33 from the field, yielding a 40.9% eFG% and 0.96 points per weighted shot. One can have an off night (there are enough secondary options on the bench and the floor at anytime), but count those game where all three have problems scoring efficiently as an “L”. Saint Louis committed the double sin of allowing the Flyers to score efficiently (over 50% eFG% overall), and rebound for second chances when they did not convert. The Billikens posted similar efficiencies in their loss to Temple last Wednesday. Saint Louis hosts Duquesne on Saturday (1/21) in their only game this week.
- Dayton (13-5, 3-1) – The Flyers started conference play with wins over Saint Louis and Temple, and as folks marveled at the ease with which they disposed of the conference powerhouses, Archie Miller’s squad dropped an eight-point decision to Saint Bonaventure. Josh Benson’s ACL tear was not a factor as Dayton beat Saint Louis 79-72 in overtime, then handily disposed of Temple – by 10 – on the Owls’ home court, but his absence was a factor when the Flyers lost to the Bonnies in Olean, NY. Miller’s offensive schemes have distributed shot responsibilities among eight players, a rhythm that returned with Dayton’s win over La Salle (79-75). Is Miller the new sheriff in town? Fans will find out when Xavier travels to Dayton for a game on Saturday, the only game on the slate for Dayton this week.
- Xavier (12-5, 3-1) – The Musketeers stumbled into conference play with an opening loss to La Salle, but rebounded with three straight wins. Order restored? Time will tell as beating Fordham and Duquesne are hardly definitive. Their 13-point win over Saint Bonaventure is the only impressive offensive outing in the bunch, as the X-Men posted 1.10 points per possession on a Bonaventure squad that has allowed only 0.96 points per possession to opponents so far this season. Chris Mack’s squad hosts Saint Joseph’s Wednesday (1/18) and then travels to Dayton Saturday (1/21) to decide who will lead the conference on Monday.
- Temple (11-5, 1-2) – Temple squandered their high profile win over Duke with a series of inconsistent performances through their first three conference games. After dropping their conference home opening game to Dayton (77-87), the Owls went 1-1 last week with an impressive road win at Saint Louis (72-67), followed by an 11-point road loss to Richmond (65-76). The Duke win should be one of those bullet points on their postseason tournament resume, but with multiple double-digit losses to conference opponents will (unless Coach Fran Dunphy’s squad takes a nice run over the next two weeks) on the bubble through the end of February. As Michael Eric and Scootie Randall continue to recuperate, the Owls lean heavily on seven players (five guards and two forwards) for playing time and point production. Juan Fernandez must do better than his 2-18 performance over the last two games. Temple hosts La Salle on Wednesday (1/18) and Maryland on Saturday (1/21).
- Massachusetts (14-4, 3-1) – Since their loss to Miami (FL) on December 3 the Minutemen have taken a 7-1 run. Derek Kellogg’s squad closed out December with a 5-1 record. Though the won/loss record is impressive, a statistical break down via Ken Pomeroy suggests the Minutemen may struggle in conference play. Eight of UMass’ opponents are ranked #200 or lower in Division I (345 teams total in Division I), with three ranked #300 or lower. The Minutemen are 3-4 away from the Mullins Center, nevertheless the team showed an uncharacteristically strong offense in their win 97-65 over Central Connecticut State on December 30 (their only game of the week). Kellogg’s squad posted 1.15 points per possession – fourth best offensive display the CCSU Blue Devils saw so far this season in the game, and earned a bulked-up sophomore forward Raphiael Putney a conference Honorable Mention and some local press. Of the three conference wins, their nine-point, 71-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s last Saturday is the most impressive. UMass held a Hawks’ offense that usually posts 1.08 points per possession to 0.94 points per possession. They did it with defense, unusual for Kellogg-coached teams. While freshman Cady Lalanne has made a solid, though unrecognized, contribution to the offense, sophomore Freddie Riley has proven to (again) be something of a sink hole, posting a 92.6 offensive rating per Ken Pomeroy (100 is “ok”, higher is better). That will have to be addressed for Massachusetts to sustain their momentum. Massachusetts’ next three games are on the road, which should tell fans something about how this team will fare through the balance of the season. The road show begins with a stop Wednesday (1/18) in Pittsburgh for a game with Duquesne, then swings South for a game with Richmond Saturday (1/21).
- Saint Joseph’s (12-6, 2-2) – The Hawks posted a sideways, 2-2 start to their conference slate with wins over Duquesne (84-82 in overtime 1/4) and Fordham (80-62 on 1/11) balanced with losses to Charlotte (52-57 on 1/7) and Massachusetts (62-71 on 1/14). The Charlotte loss, at home, is most troubling as the Joes generated an underwhelming 0.76 points per possession on offense. This season they have posted about 1.08 points per possession (adjusted for the Division I average), which ranks Phil Martelli’s offense #61 nationally. The Hawks were expected to improve this season, but losses to Charlotte and Massachusetts hint this may be steps from their 20-loss 2010-11 performance, not leaps and bounds. Saint Joseph’s travels to Cincinnati for a game with Xavier on Wednesday (1/18), then across town for a game with Big 5 rival Penn on Saturday (1/21).
- Richmond (11-7, 2-1) – The Spiders’ youth speaks volumes with respect to their record. After dropping their conference opening game to Charlotte (70-75 on 1/4), Chris Mooney’s squad ran off two wins, the most impressive against preseason favorite Temple (76-65 on 1/14). Richmond’s back court has garnered a good deal of the press so far this season, but their front court beat Temple. Richmond’s three front court starters (Francis Martel, Derrick Williams and Darrius Garrett) shot a collective 9-18 from the field (0-1 from beyond the arc) to go with a 6-7 collective performance from the line versus a performance that included 10-23 (1-4 from three) and 7-8 from the line from their Temple counterparts (Anthony Lee, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Ramone Moore). Even more telling, however, was the rebounding. Two of Richmond’s front court players posted double digit rebounds. Richmond will take a road game with George Washington on Wednesday (1/18) and then return home to host Massachusetts on Saturday (1/21).
- St. Bonaventure (9-7, 2-2) – Mike Schmidt’s squad posted a .500 record through the quarter of their conference slate, as he continued to shuffle Eric Mosley and Charlon Kloof through the point guard slot. Mosley has posted the more impressive stats, but his tendency to take ill advised three point attempts (he is 21-63 for a 33% conversion rate, taking 67% of his shots from beyond the arc) has undermined his claim to a spot in the starting line up. The Bonnies host Fordham on Saturday (1/21), their only game this week.
- Duquesne (11-7, 2-2) – Ron Everhart’s squad broke out of their “lose-win” pattern at the end of out of conference play only to revert once conference play commenced. Losses to Saint Joseph’s (82-84 in overtime on 1/4) and Xavier (50-78 on 1/11) sandwiched a win over Saint Bonaventure (66-52 on 1/7). A win over Rhode Island, 78-71, last Saturday (1/14) leveled the Dukes’ record at two apiece. They will need efficient scoring if they want to make progress against Massachusetts Wednesday (1/18) and on the road versus Saint Louis next Saturday (1/21).
- La Salle (13-5, 2-1) – Conference opening wins over Xavier (80-70 on 1/4) and UMass (82-75 on 1/8) has been blunted by a loss to Dayton (75-79 on 1/14), thus accounting for La Salle’s 2-1 conference record. Dr. Giannini’s front court contingent, freshman Jerrell Wright and senior Devon White, have drawn enough defensive attention to allow the back court — Sam Mills, Tyreek Duren, Earl Pettis and Ramone Galloway — to become very efficient scorers. Can the Explorers keep it up? Fans will find out when they play Temple Wednesday (1/18) and Rhode Island on Saturday (1/21). A 2-0 week would be very good news.
- Charlotte (9-7, 2-2) – Alan Major’s squad balanced a 2-0 start (75-70 over Richmond, 57-52 over Saint Joseph’s) with an 0-2 run (a 75-85 loss to Massachusetts and a 67-68 loss to Saint Louis) last week. The prospects for another 2-0 week are pretty good as the 49ers host Kennesaw State Wednesday (1/18) in an out of conference game, then travel to Washington to play struggling George Washington on Saturday (1/21).
- George Washington (6-11, 1-2) – Mike Lonergan’s inaugural season at Foggy Bottom may be better than those posted by fellow conference coaches Alan Major (Charlotte) and Tom Pecora (Fordham), but those who saw the job former coach Karl Hobbs did with an undermanned squad last season have to wonder how different this one could have been. Losses to Saint Bonaventure (56-66 on 1/4) and Saint Louis (56-78 on 1/7) were interrupted by a win over Rhode Island (69-61 on 1/11). The Colonials were blitzed by Harvard (48-69) last weekend and resume conference play with a two game home stand that includes Richmond (Wednesday 1/18) and Charlotte (Saturday 1/21).
- Fordham (7-9, 0-3) – The Rams went 0-3 to open their conference slate, dimming memories of their 60-54 win over #21 ranked Harvard at the end of December. Losses to Massachusetts (76-80 on 1/5), Xavier (59-67 on 1/7) and Saint Joseph’s (62-80 on 1/11) may be put to rest should the Rams beat Rhode Island on Wednesday (1/18). The prospects are good given they will host Rhode Island. Tom Pecora’s squad will then play Saint Bonaventure on Saturday (1/21).
- Rhode Island (3-15, 0-3) – The Runnin’ Rams started their conference slate with an 0-3 record, dropping games to Richmond (53-70 on 1/7), George Washington (61-69 on 1/11) and Duquesne (71-78 on 1/14). Pomeroy projects the chances Jim Baron’s squad will post at least one win at 94%, but consider Rhode Island has posted a 185-217 scoring margin on three teams expected to finish somewhere in the #7 to #11 spots in the conference. Offensive production (about 0.99 points per possession per Ken Pomeroy) is a bit below the Division I average, but the defense allows a whopping 1.08 points per possession, ranking Rhode Island as one of the worst (bottom 16%) in Division I. Rhode Island has a chance to beat Fordham to the first win prize as the two meet on Wednesday (11/8) in New York. Prospects through the weekend dim, however, as they travel to Philadelphia for a Saturday (1/21) game versus La Salle.
A few of the games I will be following this week:
- La Salle at Temple, Wednesday 1/18 at 7:00 pm– This one was not on my Watch List two weeks ago and La Salle’s loss to Villanova largely eliminates the Explorers from Big 5 contention this season, but Dr. Giannini’s squad is much improved since early December and the Owls have been maddeningly inconsistent since their Christmas Tour of Texas. This could be the tie breaker for a bye seed to the Conference Tournament. Temple needs more than two points from Juan Fernandez, and La Salle could use another solid game from Tyreek Dureen. Each squad offers a promising freshman in the front court, with Anthony Lee representing the Owls and Jerrell Wright the Explorers. Wright will win this matchup, but Temple has other weapons.
- Saint Joseph’s at Xavier, Wednesday 1/18 at 7:00 p.m. – Has Chris Mack righted the Musketeers’ ship? The Hawks could use a win to get back to the plus side of .500, but this could be a tall order if Xavier has indeed found it’s groove.
- Maryland at Temple, Saturday 1/21 at 11:00 a.m. (ESPNU)– The Terps are a middling team in the ACC, but Temple needs this one as a complement for the Selection Committee. Alex Lee and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson will have to handle Alex Len and James Padgett, but expect Temple’s Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez to dominate Terrell Stoglin and Sean Mosley.
- Xavier at Dayton, Saturday 1/21 at 1:00 pm (ESPN2/ESPN3) – The preseason preview did not see this game as one that would be played for first place in the conference, but stranger things have come to pass this season. ESPN plans to cover, which speaks volumes on what the World Wide Leader thinks about the matchups. I want to see the Kevin Dillard and Tu Holloway matchup. That should be worth the price of admission.
- Massachusetts at Richmond, Saturday 1/21 at 5:00 p.m. – The Minutemen are 0-1 on the road in conference games so far, so Freddie Riley will have to shoot better than 31% from beyond the arc to put this one in Derek Kellogg’s win column. The Spiders are a young squad and if UMass has hopes of finishing in the upper division this season they need this one.