Checking In On… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2012
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)
Note: Standings are up-to-date but games earlier in the week have already taken place
The Week That Was:
Points per Possession Margins Through February 19
Ken Pomeroy has shown Saint Louis as the top team since late December, but college basketball’s stats guru looks at an overall margin as an indirect part of his formulation. For the past four weeks Temple posted the largest positive margin derived from conference games.
Saint Louis and Temple were not the only two squads whose conference points per possession margins moved closer to alignment with their overall numbers. Count Richmond among those whose skew was rectified last week. The Spiders stubbornly posted a +0.006 points per possession margin even though the team was three games below 0.500 in conference play. Though the Spiders posted a “positive” 1-1 week, their points per possession margin slid into negative territory, consistent with their record. Though throughout the conference the records and points per possession margins do not align exactly with the won-loss conference rankings (see Duquesne above), the alignment is the most consistent in the three seasons I have tracked the numbers. Identifying and explaining the discrepancies will be one of the bullet points for next week.
A Look at Conference Honors Two Weeks Out
The race for conference Player of the Year was not a serious contest in 2011. Tu Holloway won recognition either as Player of the Week or at least a nod in nine of the sixteen weeks the conference posted weekly honors. Honored as Player of the Week six times, Holloway’s nearest competitors had not gathered more than two, one-third the number of times Holloway was honored.
This season Holloway has garnered a nod a far more modest two POW citations through the first fourteen weeks, one less than the other preseason favorite, Andrew Nicholson. Nicholson and Temple senior Ramone Moore are tied at three for the most Player of the Week citations. Nicholson has also garnered seven mentions in the weekly announcements, four more than Moore. Though the Bonnies have not had a season as successful as they anticipated in October, Nicholson has posted good numbers for his senior campaign and if the voting were held today Nicholson would have to get the nod with an outside chance to Moore.
Temple’s run so far is a point in Moore’s favor, but the field is evenly matched so far and the last two weeks of the season could play heavily in the voter’s minds. Expect a very competitive vote for Player of the Year and first and second All-conference teams, as the voters draw from a pool that includes Holloway, Nicholson and Moore, with Chris Gaston (Fordham), Tyreek Duren (La Salle), Chaz Willliams (Massachusetts), Chris Braswell (Charlotte), Brian Conklin (St. Louis) and Khalif Wyatt (Temple) all in the hunt for first team recognition.
Where a team finishes may play less a role in the voter’s minds when they vote for Rookie of the Year, a point that tilt that contest more in the direction of Richmond (Kendall Anthony), Rhode Island (Jon Holton) or Charlotte (Pierra Henry). La Salle’s Jerrell Wright, and Temple’s Anthony Lee, two freshmen who were thrown into the deep end and exceeded all expectations will gather votes from those who believe where a team finishes can be held (or credited) should influence the balloting. Those five along with fellow freshmen Alex Gavrilovic (Dayton) and Mike Powell will fight over the five spots on the first Team.
- Temple continues to roll through their conference schedule but has yet to regain a spot in the Top 25.
- Saint Louis and Massachusetts continue to nip at the Owls’ heels, while five others (Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure and Duquesne) battle for the conference’s last bye seed.
- Most bracketology sites put either two or three teams in the field (Temple, Saint Louis plus one other), so games played between Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, Massachusetts and Dayton will carry extra conference implications.
- Temple (21-5, 10-2, #22 AP) – Temple continued their run with another 2-0 week … oh wait, I wrote that last week. Still true this week though, as the two latest victims included conference challenger Saint Bonaventure and a middling Duquesne squad that has yet to catch the lightening that ignited last season’s squad. The margins of victory were comfortable (+6 on the road versus the Bonnies and +19 at home versus the Dukes) and Juan Fernandez’s numbers versus both (16 points, 4 assists in 38 minutes versus Saint Bonaventure, 20 points, 6 assists in 30 minutes against Duquesne) were good enough to earn him an Honorable Mention from the conference on Monday (2/20). The Owls have found a good rhythm to this point in the season and the priority will be to keep the front court healthy (that’s you Michael Eric) and the guards involved. The last four games offer a few chances for a slide, but three of the opponents are mirrors, closing out their home-away obligations imposed by the conference. The bigger challenge for Temple may be remembering what to pack for an away game. Of the ten games scheduled for February and March, the Owls leave Philadelphia to play only three. A look ahead:This is a mini-Decision Week for Temple, even though they can take the SEPTA to each of the games. First up is La Salle (Wednesday 2/22), and then Saint Joseph’s (Saturday 2/25). Neither game is “in the bag”, as Ken Pomeroy projects two losses for the Owls, each by a single point.
- Saint Louis (22-5, 10-3) –The Billikens kept pace with the Owls last week, winning both of their … oh crap, another repeat sentence. The opponents were less challenging than the two Philadelphia teams (St. Joseph’s and La Salle) Rick Majerus’ team faced the week before, as the victory margins, both by double digits, attest. Saint Louis disposed of a young Richmond squad by 14, 64-50. The score does not surprise those who know both coaches favor a deliberate approach to their offenses. The Fordham games was decided by 20 (66-46), a margin consistent with the relative standing of the two teams. Cody Ellis earned a conference Honorable Mention, the second in two weeks, for this performances through this stretch. Though the Australian has not emerged as the scoring machine some pundits predicted when he joined the program in 2009, his 12-25 run from outside the arc in his last four games has to be welcomed by the staff and necessary if Saint Louis is to continue to show multiple inside and outside scoring threats.
- Xavier (17-9, 8-4) – The Musketeers won their only game last week, an 86-83 overtime barn burner against long time in state (and conference) rival Dayton. The win avenges an earlier loss to the Flyers. Is Xavier back on track for a postseason bid? Definitely … maybe. Which is better than a definitely no. Tu Holloway drew conference accolades (co-Player of the Week), an uncomfortably rare development this season. A secondary indication of how the X-Men have struggled this season may be inferred from the fact that Holloway has been recognized only twice as Player of Week to this point in the season, well off his pace of six POWs to this point in 2010-11. A look ahead: Xavier travels to Massachusetts for a rare Tuesday (2/21) conference game. This one is a showdown that may well influence the battle for the last two bye seeds to Atlantic City. The Musketeers then return home to host Richmond on Saturday (2/25). Xavier’s postseason (NCAA) hopes clearly hinge on a 2-0 week. Wins against Massachusetts and Richmond will not move them up on the S-Curve, but one or more losses will definitely move them down.
- Massachusetts (18-8, 7-5) –The Minutemen dropped their only game this past week when they lost to La Salle 71-72, on Saturday. This puts UMass out another ½ game from the conference lead with four games still to play. Derek Kellogg’s job, barring a second late season collapse, is probably secure for another season. No longer listed in the pool of teams for the NCAA, a run through the conference tournament may be Massachusetts’ last best chance for a Dance Ticket. The road to 20 wins in the regular season will be difficult, as the Minutemen still have games against Xavier and Temple, not to mention a road date at Dayton. A look ahead: Massachusetts hosts Xavier Tuesday (2/21) to be followed by a road date with Dayton Saturday (2/25). At stake is a bye bid to Atlantic City and a possible NIT bid. Beating Xavier will not get UMass to the Dance, but losing will definitely put the #3/#4 seed at risk to a late season push by La Salle, Saint Joseph’s or Saint Bonaventure. La Salle and Saint Joseph’s both hold tie-breakers over Massachusetts.
- La Salle (18-9, 7-5) – The Explorers rebounded from a costly 0-2 week the second week in February with a 1-0 week just concluded. Dr. John Giannini’s squad handed the Minutemen a one point (72-71) home loss that damaged Massachusetts’ chances for a bye seed to the Atlantic-10 Tournament and all but closed out their hopes for a bid to the NCAA. La Salle has matched the high for wins (18) in the Giannini Era at 18, a feat accomplished by the teams in 2005-06 and 2008-09. Though Giannini hinted at addition by subtraction in the post game interview last March in Atlantic City, the results, achieved without the graduated seniors, Aaric Murray (transferred right after the 2010-11 season) and Cole Stefan (left school in August) has to be very gratifying for the La Salle faithful. A look ahead: Can the Explorers keep the momentum going in the right direction? They have a huge test coming Wednesday (2/22) against cross-town rival Temple. On Saturday (2/25) they travel to New York City for a game against Fordham. A 2-0 week would seal a winning conference record along with a 20 game win season, the first since 1991-92.
- Saint Joseph’s (18-10, 8-5) – Phil Martelli’s squad put together a nice two-game run last week with wins over Rhode Island Wednesday and George Washington Saturday. The Joe’s will have a solid chance to ease the memory of a 20 game loss season in 2010-11 with a 20 game win season in 2011-12, the best turnaround stories in the conference this season. A look ahead: Notching numbers 19 and 20 however will not be easy, as the regular season slate offers only games with Richmond (Wednesday 2/22), Temple (Saturday 2/25) and Saint Bonaventure (2/29). The Temple game provides an opportunity for a signature win, but the Bonaventure game holds crucial tie-breaker implications for the conference tournament.
- St. Bonaventure (14-10, 7-5) – Mike Schmidt’s crew posted their second consecutive 1-1 record this past week, dropping a six point decision on the road to Temple on Wednesday, balanced by a 20 point 81-61, win over Rhode Island, on Saturday. The six point road loss may bolster their credentials for the NIT selection committee, but putting together a winning run to close out the season would be even better. A look ahead: Road games with Fordham on Wednesday (2/22) and Charlotte on Saturday (2/25) should pad the win column, but the closeout week which features games with Saint Joseph’s and La Salle will be more important, if they can win.
- Duquesne (15-11, 6-6) – The Dukes rebounded from their loss to Saint Bonaventure with a win over Fordham, 77-67, Wednesday, but ended the week at 0.500 when they dropped their Saturday game in Philadelphia to Temple, 59-78. A look ahead: A showdown with Dayton Wednesday provides Ron Everhart’s squad with the chance to put some distance between them and next-in-line Dayton. On Saturday they will travel to Washington D.C. for a game against George Washington.
- Dayton (16-10, 6-6) – Archie Miller’s squad easily disposed of Charlotte on Wednesday (75-65), but dropped their road game with Xavier last Saturday (2/18) by three points in overtime. And it could be costly if Charlotte wins. The Flyers can regain momentum Wednesday (2/22) when they travel to Pittsburgh for a game with Duquesne. A win would put them squarely in the top half of the conference going into the home stretch. A look ahead: Though a far cry from their fast start, rebounding to close the season strongly would be a good sign for next season. And this could be the week, as Dayton will host Massachusetts on Saturday (2/25) in a game that could finish the Minutemen’s hopes for a bye seed to Atlantic City.
- Richmond (14-14, 5-8) – Richmond lost to Saint Louis (64-50) but rebounded with a one point win over Charlotte Saturday (53-52) to tally a 1-1 week and earn the tie-breaker over Charlotte. A look ahead: The Spiders take a two game road trip this week, first to Philadelphia for a game with Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday (2/22), and then to Cincinnati for a game with Xavier Saturday (2/25).
- Charlotte (12-13, 4-8) –Charlotte’s two game road trip ended badly as they lost to Dayton (65-75) on Wednesday (2/15) and to Richmond last Saturday (52-53). The bright spot of the road trip was that they took Richmond down to the last possession before folding. A look ahead: The 49ers will host George Washington on Wednesday in a possible tie-breaker game for #11 in conference standings. On Saturday they will host Saint Bonaventure and the chance to play spoiler for the Bonnies’ chances for a bye seed to the conference tournament.
- George Washington (9-17, 4-8) – Mike Lonergan’s squad dropped their only game of the week last Saturday when they lost to Saint Joseph’s at the Smith Center, 73-66. A look ahead: The Colonials swing back into a two game-a-week cycle with games against Charlotte on Wednesday and Duquesne on Saturday.
- Fordham (9-16, 2-10) – Fordham lost games to Duquesne and Saint Louis last week. At this point the priorities have to be player development. Coach Tom Pecora has two promising freshmen back court contributors in Devon McMillan and Bryan Smith, both of whom have earned conference citations this season. McMillan has an outside chance to earn All-Conference Rookie Team honors. A showdown for #13 place in the conference standings is on for February 29, when Fordham travel to Kingston, RI for a game with Rhode Island.
- Rhode Island (5-23, 2-11) – Last week was another 0-2 week for the Runnin’ Rams as they dropped games Saint Joseph’s (80-69) and Saint Bonaventure (81-61). All but eliminated from the conference tournament, the Rams have a date with Fordham on February 29 to break the tie for last place.
A few of the games I will be following this week (note: first two games on docket already occurred):
- Xavier at Massachusetts – Look up Must Win in the Webster and it will list this rare (for an A-10 conference game) Tuesday night showdown. Coach Derek Kellogg’s job ought to be secure by now, but the Minutemen are scratching hard for a bye seed to the A-10 Tournament, and still have games with Temple and Dayton before the seeds are set. This is a solid chance to chalk a quality home win over one of the Atlantic-10’s brand names. The X-Men are located in that uncomfortable eight (Last Four In/First Four Out) in virtually all bracketology reports the past two weeks. A win in Amherst will not get them in, but a loss could very well put them in an elimination slot with Saint Louis (the loser in Atlantic City gets no NCAA invitation). [Note – Xavier lost by seven, clouding the Musketeers’ chances for an at-large bid to the NCAA and a bye seed for the conference tournament. More next update]
- Temple at La Salle – The Explorers should give the Owls a more competitive game than last season (or 2010, or 2009 for that matter). The game will spotlight the back courts for both teams, with Williams and Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore (and Khalif Wyatt) squaring off against Tyreek Duren and Ramon Galloway (and Earl Pettis), but the game may be decided by how much Michael Eric and Anthony Leecan contribute in the low post. Ken Pomeroy projects a one point La Salle win, but given the usual four point contribution from the home court, this game is definitely a toss-up. [Temple won by one in overtime, all but sealing a bye seed to the conference tournament and solidifying their hold on #1 in the conference.]
- Temple at Saint Joseph’s, Saturday 2/25, 7:00 pm – The Big 5 was decided, but both teams need this game. The Hawks (according to Ken Pomeroy) are favored by a point, making this the second toss-up game for the Owls this week. Like La Salle, Saint Joseph’s offers an outstanding backcourt in Carl Jones and Langston Galloway, two who should match up well against Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore. The key however, may well be how Michael Eric and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson rebound against Ronald Roberts, Halil Kanasevic and C. J. Aiken.
- Massachusetts at Dayton, Saturday 2/25, 6:00 pm – The NCAA is off the table for both teams but a bye seed to the Atlantic-10 Tournament and a possible NIT bid are still in play. Dayton Coach Archie Miller had magic early in conference play, something the Flyers would very much like to recapture going into the last two weeks of the season. Closing out the regular season has been a nightmare for Coach Derek Kellogg, as Massachusetts has gone 3-10 since 2008-09 in play during the last two weeks of conference play.