Checking In On… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2012
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)
The Week That Was
- New Sheriff in Town? The surprise team so far is Dayton. The Flyers, under first year head coach Archie Miller, have unveiled a revamped offense with a decidedly different approach to player rotation. Under Brian Gregory all members in the rotation, with the exception of forwards Chris Wright (graduated in May 2011) and Chris Johnson (a senior this season) saw game time in four minute (or less) slices. Wright, Johnson and freshman point guard Juwan Staten (who transferred to West Virginia in the off season) played 70% or more at their positions, which translates to about 28 minutes per game. The junior guard Paul Williams aside, everyone else on the squad logged no more than 44.2% of the available time (Josh Benson, about 18 minutes per game) at their respective positions. The rotation this season also features two players (transfer guard Kevin Dillard and Williams) who have logged better than 70% of the available time (with Johnson playing 63%), but Miller uses three other players for 50% or more of the time, and fourth, sophomore Devin Oliver, who plays about 46% of the time on the wing. If Gregory’s approach gave more players some game-time exposure, Miller’s style, more tradition in the distribution of minutes, allows team members to acclimate to the game. Though Miller uses fewer players per game, the Flyers continue to get a bit more than 66 possessions per game, consistent with the last season under Gregory.
- A Points per Possession Look at the teams. Last season I used points per possession (conference games only) to give the reader a more insightful look into each team’s play. The numbers for the 3-5 games the teams have played so far.
Those who followed this column last season know that the efficiency margin will not always track with a team’s won-loss record. The approach can suggest where strength of schedule, consistency and luck may play a larger than expected role in shaping the team’s record. Two differences from this point last season (four-six games into the conference schedule) include the top-to-bottom size of the margin has shrunk considerably. Xavier, at the top of the conference, was +0.267 last season while Fordham at the bottom, was -0.277, a gap of nearly 0.55 points per possession, while this season (see above) shows a gap of 0.342 points per possession. Note the lack of undefeated (in conference play) teams this season, while One of the more obvious differences this season is thth wider efficiency margins (plus or minus)
Dayton continues to win, Xavier goes sideways while Charlotte and Richmond find the road rockier than expected? Looks like my promotion of Dayton last week was the right move as the Flyers handed Xavier a crushing 15 point loss last Saturday (1/21). The rematch next month in Cincinnati should be very interesting.
- Saint Louis (15-4, 3-2) – The Billikens beat Duquesne Saturday for their only game this past week. The conference record may not say #1, but the point per possession margin (+0.131 – see above) says Coach Rick Majerus’ team is on track. According to their Pythagorean Winning Percentage (conference games only) the Bills are on track to win 13 games, a very tall order given they have already logged 2/3 of their projected losses. Saint Louis has had problems winning away from Chaifetz, and the upcoming two game road swing will be an important early season test. Saint Louis will travel to Cincinnati for an early season showdown with Xavier on Wednesday (1/25) and then continue east to Amherst for a tilt with Massachusetts on Saturday (1/28).
- Dayton (14-5, 4-1) – The Flyers beat Xavier decisively 87-72, on Saturday (1/21) to win their only game last week. Chris Johnson may have gained little traction (and fewer points) in 32 minutes of play, but Kevin Dillard, Paul Williams and Matt Kavanaugh stepped into the void to drive Dayton to their best offensive performance of the season, posting nearly 1.30 points per possession on their home court. Coach Archie Miller’s squad cannot afford to let down now, as they travel to Philadelphia to play Saint Joseph’s Wednesday 1/25, and then return home for a game with Rhode Island on Saturday 1/28.
- Xavier (13-6, 4-2) – The Musketeers split the week (1-1) with a win over Saint Joseph’s (68-55) and a double digit road loss at Dayton (72-87). As gratifying as the Wednesday win might have been, the loss to in long time rival Dayton was the worst suffered by the Musketeers in a season in which they have seen several terrible losses. Offensively Chris Mack’s squad did fairly well as their points per possession performance against the Flyer defense was their 6th best in 18 games, but their defense was absolutely the worst, and a by a wide margin over their performance against La Salle. Ken Frease logged a modest five points in 16 minutes of play, leaving Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway to pick up the offense. Lyons logged a reasonably efficient 20 points on 14 shots, but Holloway consumed about 38% of the available possessions during his 37 minute stint, posting 21 points on 7-16 shooting from the field and 5-6 from the line. Xavier hosts Saint Louis Wednesday (1/25) and then travels to Charlotte Saturday (1/28) for a game with the struggling 49ers.
- Temple (13-5, 2-2) – Temple posted a 2-0 week with wins over La Salle (76-70) and Maryland (73-60) of the ACC. The Maryland win closes out the Owls’ out of conference slate with an 11-3 record, the most impressive win (overall) came against Duke earlier this month. Fran Dunphy’s squad can now focus exclusively on their relatively low state in the conference. The Duke win will go for naught on Selection Sunday if Temple cannot get their (conference) house in order. Temple travels to Charlotte for a game Wednesday (1/25) and then returns home for a game with Saint Joseph’s on Saturday (1/28).
- Massachusetts (15-5, 4-2) –The Minutemen finished the week with a 1-1 record, concluding a two-game swing with a loss to Duquesne (69-80) and a win over Richmond (79-68). Are they losing a little of the momentum they had coming out of their out of conference schedule? Still showing strength according to points per possession margins, consider the composite (conference only) record for their opponents (excluding results of their games) is 9-16. The meatier part of their schedule is coming in February, but the week after next features a second two game road swing, which should give a good indication of where Derek Kellogg’s squad fits in the conference. Massachusetts hosts Saint Louis next Saturday for their only game this week .
- Saint Joseph’s (12-8, 2-3) – With two losses on the week the Hawks find themselves riding a three game losing streak. Losses to Xavier (55-68) and Big 5 rival Penn (80-84), coupled with another round of publicity over the Todd O’Brien fifth year transfer made this a week Coach Phil Martelli would no doubt like to forget. Though O’Brien’s appeal was denied again, his story is the only version circulating and it is not favorable to the coach or Athletic Director Joe DiJulia. A few wins might put the attention elsewhere. The losses this week suggest progress may be slower than anticipated. Saint Joseph’s hosts Wednesday (1/25), then takes the bus to Broad Street for a tilt with Big 5 (and conference) rival Temple on Saturday (1/28).
- St. Bonaventure (10-7, 3-2) – Mike Schmidt’s squad won the only game this past week, downing Fordham by a whopping 41 points, 95-51 on Saturday. A win was expected, but the margin was considerably larger than expected and allowed Schmidt to clear his bench, and use all 12 squad members. Only Demitrius Conger and Da’Quan Cook logged more than 25 minutes. The Bonnies travel to Kingston for a game with Rhode Island on Wednesday (1/25), then return to campus to host Richmond on Saturday (1/28).
- Richmond (11-9, 2-3) – The Spiders’ youth speaks volumes with respect to their record. 2-1 going into last week with an impressive win over Temple, Richmond dropped two games demonstrating the inconsistency that will likely plague the squad through the end of next month. Losing by 16 (65-83) to a struggling George Washington squad is especially unfortunate as the game may play a tie-breaker role going into the conference tournament. The second loss, 79-68, to Massachusetts seems more in line with expectations. Richmond will host Fordham on Wednesday (1/25) and then travel to Olean, NY for a game with Saint Bonaventure on Saturday (1/28).
- Duquesne (11-7, 2-2) – Ron Everhart’s team 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 Massahusetts (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 (8-11, 3-2) –Can a 2-0 week spark a turnaround for Mike Lonergan’s crew? Given the opponents were a very young Richmond squad (83-65 on Wednesday 1/18) and Charlotte (60-52 on Saturday 1/21) squad itself in the midst of a rebuilding job, probably not. But the results certainly suggest the Colonials still have some fight left. They will be tested this week as they embark on a two game road swing through Philadelphia to play La Salle on Wednesday (1/25), and then over to New York for a game with Fordham … 1-1 perhaps?
- Fordham (8-10, 1-4) – The Rams posted their first conference win six weeks earlier than last season when they beat Rhode Island 66-64 last Wednesday (1/18) in Rose Hill. The week overall was 1-1 due to a crushing loss to Saint Bonaventure 95-51 on Saturday (1/21). Fordham travels to Richmond for a game with the Spiders Wednesday (1/25) in the front end of the week’s slate . In conference play Ken Pomeroy projects a three win season for Coach Tom Pecora’s squad (two more than last season), but does not identify the games specifically. The best remaining candidate arrives next Saturday (1/28) in the form of George Washington. The key for both Fordham and Rhode Island will be the points per possession margin (see table above). Should either squad drift out to a margin close to -0.3, the chances for wins diminishes. Fordham, at -0.211 is closer to the top of the conference this season than at this time last season.
- Rhode Island (3-17, 0-5) – The Runnin’ Rams extended their losing streak to five last week with losses to Fordham (64-66) and La Salle (66-80), in the process pushing their points per possession allowed (overall) to 1.09. The principal culprit is shot defense. Coach Jim Baron’s squad doesn’t, and they will continue to lose until they stop inside scoring. While Ken Pomeroy projects a winless conference record at 8.4% right now, expect that to rise over the next four games. Rhode Island hosts Saint Bonaventure Wednesday 1/25, and then travels to Dayton for a game with the Flyers on Saturday 1/28.
A few of the games I will be following this week:
- Saint Louis at Xavier, Wednesday 1/25, 7:00 PM (Fox Sports Ohio) – A crucial early season game for both teams. Both teams stumbled against Dayton (who hasn’t?), so this game should establish who is next in the pecking order behind the Flyers. Three keys for viewers – how efficiently will each team convert field goal attempts and how many turnovers Saint Louis can force. Both teams are ranked among the Division elites for field goal defenses (Xavier is ranked #22 with a defensive eFG% of 43.8% and Saint Louis is ranked #28 with an eFG% of 44.4%, per Ken Pomeroy). Saint Louis’ offensive eFG% is also very strong, giving the Billikens a slight advantage in this category. While the Musketeers do not turn the ball over often, the Bills are among the best at forcing turnovers. When combining the possibility of fewer field goal conversions with the strong possibility that the game will feature fewer possessions than Xavier is used to working with should spell a very closely contested, low scoring game.
- Saint Joseph’s at Temple, Saturday 1/28, 4:00 PM – Hawks will face a vulnerable Temple squad that has seriously underperformed in conference play so far. The game features two of the conference’s better back courts with Temple putting Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez and Khalif Wyatt up against Carl Jones, and Langston Galloway. Jones and Moore will get their points, so the game will most likely turn on the front court matchups, with Owl freshman Anthony Lee and sophomore Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson severely tested by C. J. Aiken, Ron Roberts and Halil Kanasevic.
- La Salle at Duquesne, Saturday 1/28 at 7:00 PM – The Explorers have a chance to establish their spot in the pecking order on this trip to Steel City. Dr. John Giannini’s back court likes to shoot from beyond the arc, and Saturday they match up with a team that does not defend the arc well at all.
- Richmond at Saint Bonaventure, Saturday 1/28, 7:00 PM –Saint Bonaventure is favored, but need this win to keep any hope for post season play (NIT at this point) alive. The game features two teams that do not shoot the ball especially well, so look for the outcome to turn on rebounds and turnovers. The Bonnies rebound among the best, at both ends of the floor while the Spiders have taken a large step back from last season. Coach Schmidt’s squad turns the ball over too much; the number of shots taken may well be determined by the weighing the rebounding margin the Bonnies build against the number of times they lose the ball without taking a shot.