Checking In On… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2012
Week That Was:
The Homogenization of the A-10: The surprise team through the first two weeks (Dayton) has fallen to earth with a 4-5 record at the halfway mark. Now what? The points per possession table (conference game only) below may suggest the conference is breaking into a series of tiers (three for the top half of the conference, then everyone else … ), but the striking number is how closely the top and bottom teams are to each other, a hint at the parity also suggested by the first half won-loss records. In sharp contrast to this point (about mid-way through the conference regular season) last season, Temple and Fordham show a mere 0.353 difference in their points per possession margin, a much smaller gap than last season’s 0.512 margin. Note there are no undefeated teams at this point, last season two teams (Xavier and Duquesne) sported 7-0 marks. Fordham and Saint Joseph’s were looking for their first wins last season (both broke into the win column before the end of the regular season), while the bottom two teams this season have both logged two wins apiece. Parity of a sort perhaps, but is this a sign the conference is “better” or “worse”?
The computed conference strength of schedule (Number and Rank, leftmost two columns) suggest Temple’s record may be due in part to their slate of opponents. Early evaluations underestimated the strength of La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, two Big 5 rivals who did not give Temple much competition the past three or four seasons. This time around may be different though, as the Owls must play those two one more time, along with Xavier, Massachusetts and Saint Bonaventure. Temple’s last half of the season should prove more challenging than season’s past.
A Midpoint Look at All-Conference Team Candidates:
- Each week the conference designates a Player of the Week, a Rookie of the Week along with a number of Honorable Mention players, based on their performance in the last week (usually a 2-3 games per week). If the season ended today, the Player of the Year vote would be split between Ramone Moore from Temple and Saint Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson.
- Conspicuously absent from the POY conversation so far is Tu Holloway, Xavier’s premier guard who was heavily co-favored (along with Nicholson) going into the season. Xavier’s postseason fate, not to mention Holloway’s chances at the conference honor, will hang on Holloway’s performance through the last month of the season.
- Mid-point favorites for the All Conference First Team include: Chaz Williams (Massachusetts), a guard instrumental in the Minutemen’s strong season to date, Chris Gaston Fordham’s frequently recognized forward, Tyreek Duren, La Salle’s sophomore point guard. Also in the conversation: Chris Braswell (Charlotte), Kevin Dillard (Dayton), Brian Conklin (Saint Louis), Khalif Wyatt (Temple) and Demitrius Conger (Saint Bonaventure).
- Like the Player of the Year, the Rookie of the Year race seems to have shunted aside the preseason choices in favor of several overlooked candidates. Rhode Island forwards Jon Holton and Kendall Anthony appear to have turned this into a two-man race. Thirteen weeks into the season the conference has named either Holton or Anthony the ROW seven times, with either or both being “Honorably Mentioned” 10 other times. A strong finish by La Salle may boost forward Jerrell Wright’s chances, but unlike Player of the Year, the conference has not allowed the team’s finish to heavily influence the eventual choice. The All Rookie Team candidate (Anthony, Holton and Wright aside) has to include Pierria Henry (Charlotte), Anthony Lee (Temple), a forward/center pressed into service when Michael Eric went down with an injury, Alex Gavrilovic (Dayton), Bryan Smith (Fordham), Sean Johnson (Duquesne) and preseason favorite Dez Wells of Xavier.
- Temple jumps back to the top of this conference poll with strong performances over the past two weeks.
- Saint Louis loses a little ground with their loss to Massachusetts and Dayton, and in the throes of a four-game slide, cede five spots in the rankings.
- Rundowns among the lower division teams this week will focus on the younger players.
- Temple (17-5, 6-2) – Temple continued its run with another 2-0 week, easily besting conference cellar dwellers Fordham (78-60) and Rhode Island (73-56). The Owls have run off six straight wins since losing to Richmond in mid-January. Fran Dunphy’s squad has lost only twice since New Years, largely on the strength of repeated conference-recognized performances by senior Ramone Moore and and sophomore Khalif Wyatt. Freshman Anthony Lee’s progress in the continued absence of Michael Eric has been crucial as well. A quick glance at the table above may give good cause to those not entirely impressed by the Owls’ run, as this part of their schedule is ranked as the 11th most difficult in the conference so far. Looking ahead:Temple’s favorable scheduling continues this week with visits from George Washington Wednesday (2/8) and Xavier on Saturday (2/11). The Musketeers are an upgrade in the competition, but the Owls get to take them at the Liacouras.
- Saint Louis (18-5, 6-3) – After dropping a bizarrely uncompetitive game to Massachusetts to close out January, the Billikens racked up two comfortable home wins over Saint Bonaventure (86-62) and Dayton (58-50). The conference record puts them in a four-way tie for second place in the conference, but the point per possession margin (+0.118 – see above) says Rick Majerus’ team is more in line with top ranked Temple than fellow second placers Xavier, La Salle and UMass. Though the conference still has no teams in the Top 25 of either poll (AP/Coaches), Saint Louis appears in virtually all bracketology reports. According to their Pythagorean Winning Percentage (conference games only) the Bills are on track to win between 12 and 13 games, a very tall order given they have already logged at least ¾ of those projected losses. Saint Louis has had problems winning away from Chaifetz, so expect the next two games to be critical for their chances. Looking ahead: Saint Louis will travel to Philadelphia for games with Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday (2/8) and return Saturday (2/11) for a game with La Salle.
- Massachusetts (17-6, 6-3) –The Minutemen opened February on a 1-1 note, losing to regional (and conference) rival Rhode Island 81-78 in overtime and beating George Washington 86-75 in D.C., putting them in a four-way tie for second place in the conference rankings. The Rhode Island loss suggests Derek Kellogg’s squad continues to struggle away from the Mullins Center, good news if the fans consider that UMass plays four of their last seven conference games at home. Compiling a 6-3 record to this point, the odds are excellent that Massachusetts will finish conference play with a record north of .500. Snagging a bye into the conference tournament in Atlantic City, however, may be problematic. Ranked #13 in conference strength of schedule (see table above), five of the last seven games feature opponents who are also in contention for those four bids. Sophomore Chaz Williams is the closest to the proto-typical lead guard needed to effectively run the Dribble Drive motion offense that Kellogg has had at UMass. Williams continues to struggle with his shot, but has developed a good feel for his teammates and is ranked #47 overall by Ken Pomeroy for assist rates at 33.5%. At least as important as Williams’ progress, sophomore Raphiael Putney has emerged as a legitimate scoring option in the offense. Looking ahead: Massachusetts hosts Saint Bonaventure Wednesday (2/8) in a game that has tie-breaker potential, and then travels to Philadelphia for a game with Saint Joseph’s on Saturday (2/11) in another game with tie-breaker potential.
- Xavier (15-8, 6-3) – The Musketeers posted another 1-1 week, opening February with a squeaker over George Washington (59-58) and what might translate into a Bracket Buster road loss to Memphis (72-68). Taking an out of conference game late in the season against a brand name team has, historically, been a good strategy that yields a high profile quality win for Chris Mack’s program. The move may backfire this season, as the Musketeers lost that game last week to a team that may finish second or third in the C-USA. Seniors Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease, along with junior Mark Lyons, continue to function as the team’s offensive nucleus, but Frease’s offensive efficiency in particular has fallen off in the past three weeks. Holloway, though efficient at jumpers and getting to the rim, bolsters his offensive rating (per Ken Pomeroy) with a Top 100 assist rate (31.0%, #89) and struggles with his outside shot. Frease is plagued by high turnovers, severely cramping Xavier’s low post game and putting the defensive focus on Xavier’s back court. Looking ahead: Xavier hosts Rhode Island Wednesday (2/8) and then travels to Philadelphia Saturday (2/11) for a showdown with conference-leading Temple.
- La Salle (17-7, 6-4) – The Explorers opened February on a 1-1 note, flexing their muscles on the road against Charlotte (85-72), then losing to cross town rival Saint Joseph’s (66-70) at the Hagan. Closing out January with a 6-2 record, Dr. John Giannini’s squad continues to benefit from strong front court play from freshman Jerrell Wright. Wright has virtually guaranteed himself a spot on the All-Conference Rookie Team and stands out along with Rhode Island’s Jon Holton, as one of the conference’s premier forwards in seasons to come. La Salle has benefited from unheralded senior wing Earl Pettis’ steady and consistent contributions on offense. Though sophomore guard Tyreek Duren, along with Wright and junior transfer Ramon Galloway garner the lion’s share of the publicity, Pettis has logged 75% of the playing time as a wing/low post forward, posting a solid 52% eFG% while taking a whopping 28% of the team’s shots when he is on the floor (per Ken Pomeroy’s La Salle Team Page). Looking ahead: Can the Explorers keep it up? The next week should provide a few clues as La Salle travels to Richmond for a game with the Spiders on Wednesday (2/8), and then returns to the Gola for a game with Saint Louis Saturday (2/11). A win over the Billikens would give La Salle an important tie-breaker for a #2 or #3 seed in Atlantic City.
- Saint Joseph’s (15-9, 5-4) – Phil Martelli’s squad opened February with two wins last week, closing the books on a 3-5 January. A 10-point, 70-60 win over Richmond was followed with a four-point, 70-66 win over Big 5 rival La Salle. Will the Hawks put together a run like the one they staged to close the 2010-2011 season? Perhaps, but junior guard Carl Jones and sophomore transfer Halil Kanacevic, a forward, will either have to become more efficient scorers or be persuaded to look for a teammate when the double/triple team comes. The latest edition of Pomeroy’s team page for the Hawks indicates that both take 24% or more of the team’s possessions (with a comparable percentage of the shots) when they are on the court, but convert those possessions below the 1.00 (one point per possession) level that suggests they are efficient scorers. Other members of the squad (Ron Roberts and C.J. Aiken) convert more efficiently, but do not get the same number of shots. Sophomore wing Langston Galloway gets 23% of the shots with 18% of the possessions, suggesting he is used primarily as a catch-and-shoot threat. Jones may need to look inside for Aiken or Roberts a bit more to keep defenses honest. Looking ahead: This week presents the Hawks with an excellent opportunity to move up in the conference standings, as Saint Louis visits Wednesday (2/8) and Massachusetts follows on Saturday (2/11).
- St. Bonaventure (12-8, 5-3) – Mike Schmidt’s squad lost their only game this past week, dropping a 24-point road game in Saint Louis on Wednesday. The fact that senior center/forward Andrew Nicholson played less than 11 minutes, was a significant factor. Nicholson picked up two fouls within the first minute of the game, and two more (his fourth was a technical, assessed shortly after his third foul) early in the second half. Da’Quan Cook also picked up a technical, the first time this season two Bonnies were assessed technicals in the same game. Looking ahead: Saint Bonaventure travels to Massachusetts for a game on Wednesday, then returns to Olean, NY to host Duquesne on Saturday.
- Duquesne (14-9, 5-4) – The Duke’s alternating win-lose pattern has been replaced with a win-win/lose-lose pattern. Last week was the win-win portion, and Ron Everhart’s squad did not disappoint when they registered wins over fading Dayton (83-73) and young Richmond (81-72). Their only game this week, on the road versus Saint Bonaventure on Saturday, may well be a loss. Everhart’s preference for short fast lineups is clearly reflected in this season’s squad. At nearly 69 possessions per game (according to Ken Pomeroy), Duquesne is nearly in the upper fifth in Division I for possessions per game, and though the roster counts three players 6’8” or taller, only one, Mamadou Datt, has logged more than 200 (252) or more minutes through 23 games. The other two have, combined, logged less than 95 minutes. Datt, a freshman, was recognized with an Honorable Mention on December 26 for games played the week before. Looking ahead: Duquesne’s only game this week is versus Saint Bonaventure on Saturday (2/11).
- Dayton (14-9, 4-5) – The Flyers’ season has begun to look suspiciously like too many of those in the immediate past – a promising start that tails off as the season wears on. A four-game slump has tarnished Archie Miller’s first season at the helm, putting Dayton under .500 in conference play for the first time since last March. The latest two losses came last week, versus Duquesne (83-73) and in Saint Louis (58-50). Kevin Dillard and Chris Johnson have garnered conference recognition during the losing streak, but one has to wonder how losing Josh Benson effected this squad. His presence inside would have helped against Brian Conklin last weekend. Looking ahead: Dayton should break the run this week with their lone game, against Fordham, on Saturday. Another lackluster outing, and it might be time to press the panic button.
- Richmond (12-12, 3-6) – The season may have become more brutal than Chris Mooney anticipated when he turned down the Georgia Tech job last March, but growth of Kendall Anthony and Derrick Williams this season bodes well for season yet to come. Looking ahead: Richmond stages a two game home stand this week, hosting La Salle on Wednesday (2/8) and then George Washington on Saturday (2/11).
- Charlotte (11-11, 3-6) – Alan Major’s squad beat Fordham in the Bronx to notch their third conference win this season, one better than Major’s first season total. Looking ahead: There are several good opportunities to rack up wins four and five, the first coming Wednesday (2/8) when Charlotte hosts Fordham. The next two, according to Ken Pomeroy (subscription required), will come versus George Washington (2/22) and Duquesne (2/29).
- George Washington (8-15, 3-6) –Can Coach Mike Lonergan find a fire break from the Colonials’ four-game losing streak? Looking ahead: Given a pair of road games, against Temple on Wednesday (2/8) and Richmond on Saturday (2/11), probably not. At least not in the next week. Best shot this month, short of a big upset, might be Duquesne on February 25. Lonergan can look to promising performances from Nemanja Mikic and Lasan Kromah as a starting point for a remodeled team, but there may be a few ugly patches while closing out this season.
- Fordham (9-13, 2-7) – Fordham hangs on to #13 this week despite adding two more to the “L” column last week. Their 78-60 drubbing at the hands of Temple may have been foreseen, but the home loss to (now) 3-6 Charlotte had to be disheartening to Rams’ fans. Though Tom Pecora’s squad has already posted more conference wins than last season, the 49ers are also struggling, and holding serve against comparable competition is a requisite first step to recovery. Charlotte was the team’s last best chance to post a third conference win in 2012. Continued kudos to freshman Bryan Smith, who has joined sophomore Branden Frazier and junior Chris Gaston to draw multiple accolades from the conference for weekly performances, suggests there are indeed better days ahead. Pecora needs a few more pieces though, to move the team into the middle of the conference. Looking ahead: Up this week, the Rams host a struggling Dayton squad (hmmm) on Saturday.
- Rhode Island (5-19, 2-7) – The Runnin’ Rams broke their six game drought in conference play with a pair of wins over faltering Dayton (86-81) and Massachusetts (81-78 OT) before reverting to form with a loss to Temple (56-73) last Saturday. Billy Baron, Jon Holton and Mike Powell may hold the keys to a Rhode Island revival, but chalk this season off to experience-building. Orion Outerbridge’s recent performances have drawn some positive attention, but Coach Jim Baron needs to have this group play together for another 12-15 games before they come together. Looking ahead: Rhode Island has a pair of road games on tap, traveling to Cincinnati for a game with Xavier Wednesday 2/8, and then to Charlotte for a game with the 49er on Saturday 2/11. Charlotte might be the second best opportunity for Rhode Island to escape the conference cellar; the best offered on February 29 when Fordham visits.
A few of the games I will be following this week:
- Wednesday, 2/8, 7:30 p.m., Saint Bonaventure at Massachusetts – The Bonnies were supposed to be better; the Minutemen were supposed to be worse. Both programs look to this game to establish their spot in the pecking order. Coach Mike Schmidt will need a game plan to stop Chaz Williams, Andrew Nicholson will be Sean Carter’s headache. The game will hinge on how much Ralph Putney, Sean Carter and Freddie Riley can contribute offensively (and defensively) for the Minutemen, and whether that will offset the contributions expected from Demitrius Congers, Matt Wright and Da’Quan Cook.
- Wednesday, 2/8, 8:30 p.m., Saint Louis at Saint Joseph’s – The Billikens have been up and down on the road, getting a great win at the Cintas Center (Xavier), while dropping games to Dayton and Massachusetts. Where in the A-10 do the Joe’s fit? One indicator will be this game. The Hawks and Billikens match up well in the back court, and those who catch the game in person should see some great individual play from Kwamain Mitchell versus Carl Jones and Jordair Jett/Mike McCall/Kyle Cassity versus Langston Galloway. The game will probably be decided in the front court, as Halil Kanasevic and Ron Roberts should have their hands full with Brian Conklin. Expect a low scoring, chess match-like game between coaches Martelli and Majerus, both of whom favor motion-oriented half court offenses.
- Saturday, 2/11, 2:00 p.m., Saint Louis at La Salle – Like the Bonnie/Minutemen tilt above, the Explorers and the Bills are not where they were predicted to be at this point in the season. For Dr. John Giannini’s squad that is good news; for Coach Rick Majerus … not so good. The back court play promises to be the bright spot for both squads, but Saint Louis might hold the advantage in the front court. Freshman Jerrell Wright should get quite an education at the hands of senior Brian Conklin. Saint Louis better be careful though, as this extended sojourn in the City of Brotherly Love may yield no love at all for the Billikens. An 0-2 week would be a disaster.
- Saturday, 2/11, 9:00 p.m., Xavier at Temple (ESPN2) – This game was penciled in about 30 seconds after the conference released the schedule, but preview had it wrong, neither team is ranked and neither is undefeated in conference play. The winner will not be the presumptive #1 seed in the conference tournament, and the loser may well have to fight for a bye (#1 through #4) seed. Most three-four postseason NCAA bid scenarios for the A-10 assumed two of those bids would go to these two teams. Both teams will have to finish strong to make that happen. The fans should put that aside to watch how Ramone Moore and Tu Holloway perform on this larger stage.