Checking In On… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by rtmsf on February 29th, 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)
Editor’s Note: Report written before Tuesday’s contests.
The Week That Was:
Does Anyone Want to Win This Conference?
- One of the odder turns this late in the season is the sudden spate of losses suffered by upper division conference teams. Though Charlotte bounded out of the gate with two quick wins and Xavier stumbled mysteriously for much of January, the conference appeared on the way to sorting itself as January turned into February. Not so last week as the two conference elites, Temple and Saint Louis each dropped a game. Temple’s loss may be understandable as Saint Joseph’s is putting together a great turnaround from last season, but Saint Louis stumbled against bottom dweller Rhode Island, a squad that posted 20 losses before St. Valentine’s Day. The conference’s flagship program, Xavier, was in the midst of a late season push when they dropped a very important road decision to Massachusetts last Tuesday. Other notable late season hiccups, Saint Joseph’s loss to a young Richmond squad, La Salle’s three game losing streak (which has all but eliminated the Explorers from NIT consideration) and the aforementioned Massachusetts squad, whose win over Xavier is the only win in the last four games.
- Early season results hinted that the middle of the conference was stronger this season, a theory born out by the continued uncertainty over bye bids to Atlantic City even into the last week of conference play. The resurgence is not limited to the middle of the conference however. Consider that in each of the last two seasons the bottom two teams in the conference combined to win four games. This season Fordham and Rhode Island have combined for six wins, with at least one more before the seeds for the conference tournament are finalized Sunday. I have also noted several times over the last month that the points per possession margin between Saint Louis (at the top) and Fordham (at the bottom) is much closer than last season.
- With a loss to Saint Joseph’s last weekend Temple dropped back towards the rest of the conference, leaving Saint Louis virtually alone at the top with a wide, +0.04 margin in points per possession. Comparing the statistics to the Billikens’ conference record (and especially the record of late), leaves one wondering if Saint Louis’ Top 25 status (as suggested by Pomeroy) is the product of an illusion fostered by the numbers or a genuine sleeper going into the postseason. The conference tournament may be the last best chance to gauge the Billikens before the NCAA opening rounds.
- The results last week produced a few strange late season upsets, but even more surprising is that the point per possession margins are beginning to align more consistently with conference records. Teams with losing records show negative point per possession margins, an expected pattern in theory that does not always play out in practice. Saint Louis continues to be an outlier atop the conference and Massachusetts, which has an 8-6 conference record should, according to the Pythagorean Winning Percentage, show a 7-7 record through 14 conference games.
The top teams developed a ripping case of hiccups at just the wrong time. If the power rankings do not look terribly different from last week however, consider that they all hiccupped at the same time. Saint Bonaventure moved up and La Salle crashed, but the other teams moved very little over the past week.
- Temple (22-6, 11-3 #23 AP) – Temple went 1-1 last week, beating La Salle in overtime by a single point (80-79), and then dropping a 10-point decision to Saint Joseph’s (82-72) and holding onto their Top 25 ranking for the second consecutive week. Though the result was disappointing to the Owl faithful and prevented Temple from clinching the #1 seed in the conference tournament, it was actually better than Ken Pomeroy predicted. The college basketball stats sage’s model had Fran Dunphy’s squad losing both games (and dropping into second place behind Saint Louis). Games with Massachusetts (at home) and Fordham will close out the regular season for the Owls, and both should be wins (though stranger things have happened this season). Temple can finish no worse than #2 even if they lose their last two, so they have a bye seed in hand right now. The Minutemen, with dwindling hopes for a bye seed themselves, come to Philadelphia for a February 29 date at the Liacouras.
- Saint Louis (22-6, 10-4) –The Billikens passed on a chance to overtake the Owls last Saturday when they dropped a 64-62 decision to last place Rhode Island. Rick Majerus’ team could not hold a six-point half time lead through the last 20 minutes of play, conceding the winning basket with less than five seconds on the clock. It was the type of performance that did not impress the AP voters, and will most likely leave the Selection Committee unimpressed as well. Saint Louis can clinch no worse than the #2 seed in Atlantic City by beating Xavier Tuesday night (2/28) in one of the featured games (see below) for this week. They will close out the regular season Saturday in Pittsburgh when they face Duquesne. An 0-2 week could spell disaster for the Billikens, as a late season swoon would chill their NCAA prospects and jeopardize their bye seed to the Atlantic 10 Tournament. While they hold the tie-breaker over Saint Joseph’s, they are 1-1 versus Dayton and 0-1 versus Massachusetts (the product of an earlier road upset). The Bills need to finish strong.
- Xavier (18-10, 9-5) – The Musketeers posted a costly 1-1 week, another letdown in their push for at-large consideration to the NCAAs. After dropping a seven-point road decision to Massachusetts (80-73) Tuesday, Chris Mack’s squad rebounded with a win over Richmond (65-57) on Saturday. Another Tuesday night road game in Saint Louis provides Xavier an opportunity to clinch a bye seed to Atlantic City and substantially improve their chances for a second place finish in conference play. They will close out the season by hosting Charlotte on Saturday (3/2).
- St. Bonaventure (16-10, 9-5) – Mike Schmidt’s crew posted two wins last week to string together a three game winning streak when it matters most. This is the third time this season they have posted three consecutive wins, their longest run of consecutive wins so far. Though they hold onto #4 place in conference play, they will have to win it outright on the court this week as they host immediate challenger Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday (2/29) and then travel to Philadelphia to face La Salle on Saturday (3/2). An 0-2 week could drop the Bonnies as much as three spots, forcing them to play a preliminary round on campus to earn their spot in Atlantic City.
- Massachusetts (19-9, 8-6) – The Minutemen posted an impressive win over conference brand-name Xavier (80-73) last week, but dropped their road date in Dayton to delay their 20th win by another game or two. A game in Philadelphia with Temple is up next and that game could put Massachusetts back into the NCAA conversation. Right now Massachusetts is on the outside looking in for a conference tournament bye seed, so a win versus Temple would provide immediate help. They hold tie-breakers over Xavier and Saint Bonaventure should they be able to finish in a tie with either. But their prospects hang on their ability to beat Temple and Rhode Island to close out the regular season, and have either of Xavier and Saint Bonaventure do no better than 1-1 though the balance of their schedules.
- Saint Joseph’s (19-11, 9-6) –The Hawks posted an untimely 1-1 week, losing a trap game to Richmond (52-49), but rebounding with a decisive win over conference leader (and Big 5 rival) Temple (82-72). The Joe’s close out with a road date at Saint Bonaventure in a game that would clinch 20 wins for Phil Martelli’s club, a stunning turnaround from last season’s 20-loss result. The game holds conference tournament implications in that Saint Bonaventure, currently holding down fourth place in the conference standings, is in contention for a bye seed. Should the Bonnies fall, Saint Joseph’s or Massachusetts would move into contention for the spot.
- Dayton (18-10, 8-6) – Archie Miller’s unit put together wins over Duquesne (74-62) and Massachusetts (76-43) last week to revive their dwindling hopes for a bye seed (a very outside possibility) to Atlantic City and a postseason bid to the NIT. They need to win out, and that means beating Richmond in Richmond Wednesday (2/29) and George Washington (3/2). Very possible, though given the large number of conference upsets this season, not a certainty.
- La Salle (18-11, 7-7) – 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 postgame 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.
- Duquesne (15-13, 6-8) – The Dukes rebounded from their loss to Saint Bonaventure with a win over Fordham, 77-67, Wednesday, but ended the week at .500 when they dropped their Saturday game in Philadelphia to Temple, 78-59. 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 with George Washington.
- Richmond (15-15, 6-9) – Richmond’s last road trip produced a modestly surprising 1-1 record as they beat Saint Joseph’s (52-49), but lost to Xavier (65-57 – a competitive score). The good news is that most of this squad will be back next season, led by freshman of the year candidate Kendall Anthony along with junior Darien Brothers and sophomore Derrick Williams. Currently ranked #10 in the conference, Chris Mooney could see his team improve their standing by one, maybe two more spots by the end of the weekend, but the Spiders would have to win their last game, versus Dayton, on Wednesday, and then look for Duquesne and La Salle to close out their seasons with losses. Richmond holds the tie-breaker over La Salle, but not over the Dukes. They will most likely finish #9 or #10, and face one of Saint Joseph’s, Dayton or La Salle (or Massachusetts?).
- Charlotte (13-14, 5-9) –Charlotte posted a 1-1 week, beating George Washington (72-62) then losing to Saint Bonaventure (56-72). Though the 49ers could finish the regular season North of .500, the last two opponents, Duquesne (Wednesday, 2/29) and Xavier (on the road, Saturday 3/2), make that chance slender at best. Since Charlotte holds tie-breakers over both Fordham and Rhode Island, Alan Major’s squad would be unaffected by a late (and very unexpected) rush by either cellar dweller. Should Charlotte finish #11 or #12, they will face either the #5 squad (if they finish #12) or the #6 place team (if they finish #11). That would mean a travel game in Cincinnati (Xavier), Amherst (Massachusetts), Philadelphia (most likely Saint Joseph’s) or Olean (Saint Bonaventure).
- George Washington (10-18, 5-9) – Mike Lonergan’s squad logged a 1-1 week, notching their fifth conference win (56-51) versus Duquesne last Saturday. Though Fordham holds a theoretical tie-breaker over the Colonials, given the Rams closing schedule, it is unlikely they will challenge for the #12 spot even if George Washington loses their last two conference games. Given that their last two opponents are La Salle (Wednesday 2/29) and Dayton (at Dayton on Saturday 3/3), two more losses are a distinct possibility. Should the Colonials finish #12, they will face the #5 team (Saint Bonaventure? Saint Joseph’s? Massachusetts?) in the campus-based first round of the conference tournament.
- Fordham (10-17, 3-11) – There are a number of positive developments this season, starting with Devon McMillan and Bryan Smith, but the record continues to lag two (or so) seasons behind. Tom Pecora’s unit will travel to Charlotte for a February 29 game to decide who will claim the last spot in the conference rankings. And after their March 3 game with Temple, the Rams will begin their offseason.
- Rhode Island (6-23, 3-11) – Last week produced one of the few bright spots in the season for Jim Baron’s Runnin’ Rams as they hung a 64-62 loss on second-place Saint Louis last Saturday. They will host Fordham Wednesday to determine who officially finishes last in the conference this season. Senior Orion Outerbridge led the Rhode Island effort with 18 points on 8-14 shooting from the field and 2-3 from the line. Down by six at the half Rhode Island outscored Saint Louis by eight in a second half that featured a rare appearance of Runnin’ Ram shot defense that held the Billikens to a 26% field goal completion rate and 25 points. Sophomore transfer Billy Baron provided the heroics when he hit the go ahead jumper with 4.6 seconds left in the game. The program announced that junior transfer Andre Malone, who has not appeared in a game since February 18 has been ruled ineligible to play due to academic issues. With Rhode Island’s season down to two games, one can only hope Malone’s academic problems will be resolved by opening fall practice.
A few of the games I will be following this week:
- Saint Joseph’s at Saint Bonaventure, Wednesday 2/29, 7:00 pm – The Hawks have one last chance to get win number 20 during the regular season, and this is it. The Bonnies have no answers for Phil Martelli’s backcourt, but can Halil Kanacevic contain Andrew Nicholson? The game may rest with how well the wings play, as Carl Jones, Langston Galloway and Nicholson will get their points.
- Saint Bonaventure at La Salle, Saturday 3/2, 2:00 pm – The Bonnies’ final week will not be easy, but clinching a bye bid would be gratifying for a program left for dead only five seasons ago. La Salle has an experienced backcourt, something Saint Bonaventure cannot match. Mike Schmidt does have Andrew Nicholson in the middle, and freshman Jerrell Wright is due for a long afternoon.