CIO… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2012
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.
Ed. Note – This week’s check-in does not include Tuesday night’s action.
- Rick Majerus Retires – To those who saw the 25-year veteran head coach at the Atlantic-10 (or NCAA) tournaments last spring knew he was struggling. The only surprise last August, made public after an extended stay and evaluation at a California facility were disappointing, was that the coach, anticipating a recovery, had applied for a medical leave of absence. Saint Louis Athletic Director Chris May dropped the other shoe on Friday – Rick Majerus will not return to the Chaifetz Arena sidelines. The coach is retiring for the second, and presumably final, time. Though the course Majerus charted for a Saint Louis resurgence on the hardcourt seemed at times to be a maddeningly uneven two-step, and though he was entering the final year of his contract, it was a chronic heart condition, one that forced a complex seven bypass procedure in the late 1980s and the insertion of a stint during the 2011 offseason, that forced the 64 year old into retirement. Interim Coach Jim Crews, who took over in August, will coach the Billikens through the end of the season.
- The Very Early (Invitational Tournament) Returns Are In – Dayton, Duquesne, Fordham, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis kicked off the 2012-13 season with (very) early season invitational tournament appearances. The results, relative to preseason expectations, were disappointing. Dayton earned a 2-1 record at the Charleston Classic. After dropping their first round game to Colorado (the champion), the Flyers took the next two rounds (versus Boston College of the ACC and Auburn of the SEC) to secure third place in the field. Duquesne lost at Georgetown to open their run in the Legends Classic, but will host one of the sub-regional pods, where they will face James Madison (CAA) and North Dakota State (Summit League). Fordham was beaten by double digits twice (to Pittsburgh and Robert Morris) in the NIT Tip-Off and has been relegated to the Lehigh consolation pod. They will play Pennsylvania (Ivy) and Fairfield (MAAC). Massachusetts beat regional rival Providence to open their Puerto Rico Tip-Off run, dropped their second round game to North Carolina State (ACC) and closed out with a win against Tennessee (SEC). Saint Joseph’s beat Yale at the Hagan to open the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and followed with a win over #20 Notre Dame (Big East) in their semi-final match at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn before following up by dropping a seven point decision (73-66) to Florida State, the 2012 ACC Conference Tournament champion to take second place. Saint Louis hosted USC Upstate (Atlantic Sun) and Santa Clara (WCC) in the opening round of the CBE Classic. Although they handled USC Upstate easily, the Broncos handed them a decisive, 62-74, loss. The tournament brackets for the semi-final and final rounds are set, so the Bills have Texas A&M and Kansas.
- Versus Other Conferences – The mixed results from the early season invitational tournaments is also reflected in the conference head-to-heads as well. Through Monday, November 19, the conference has played 48 games with schools out of 22 of Division-I’s 31 conferences (no independent, yet). The A-10’s 29-19 (.604) overall record is good, but not as good the 33-18 (0.647) record compiled through this point in the 2011-12 season. The breakout, given below reveals some good results so far – the conference has played the Big East and the SEC even (4-4 combined), but A-10 schools have struggled against high-end basketball conferences with profiles similar to theirs (the WCC and MVC for example) in a sharp contrast to this point last season, when the conference struggled in their power conference games. The breakdown at the bottom shows that like the power conference teams, the A-10 is crushing the opposition in lower-level conferences.
- Saint Joseph’s (3-1) – The Hawks used a 10-2 run in the first three minutes of the second half to erase a six point first half deficit and overtake ACC Tournament Champion Florida State in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic Final in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Saturday night. The two teams traded leads for the next three minutes, but a series of ill-timed turnovers, missed free throws and quick field goal attempts – especially from beyond the arc – sabotaged the Joe’s comeback. #1 on Phil Martelli’s “Lessons Learned” List has to be to go look inside first…and then again. Forwards CJ Aiken, Ron Roberts, Halil Kanacevic, Papa Ndao shot a combined 12-20 (60%) from 18 feet and in, while the veteran guards Langston Galloway and Carl Jones (back from a three-game suspension) and Aiken shot a combined 2-18 (11%) from three-point land. Martelli’s motion offense uses screens and kickouts to create three point opportunities, but their transition game is extremely effective…when they can get it going.
- Temple (2-0) – The Owls rattled off two wins to open the season, both 14-point wins over middling teams (Kent State of the Horizon League and Rice from CUSA). Most important, however, is the news that Scootie Randall seems to be rounding back into form. Coupled with Khalif Wyatt’s production, Fran Dunphy appears to have the rudiments of his inside-out offense working again. Front court starters Anthony Lee and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson are putting up gaudy offensive numbers, but the truth behind those numbers is that Wyatt and Randall are getting most of the team’s possessions and attention from opposing defenses – and using them efficiently. Come December the competition will get tougher (Duke, at Villanova, Syracuse), but Dunphy’s charges have time to perfect the system.
- Virginia Commonwealth (2-1) – The Rams dropped their second game of the season to an underrated Wichita State club out of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) 53-51. That two-point loss became the “filling” in sandwich of two +20 routs of lower level teams. VCU will get back to business Thursday when they meet Memphis on a neutral court to open the Battle 4 Atlantis. The tournament bracket is loaded: their second round opponent will be either Duke or Minnesota, while a third round matchup with anyone of Louisville, Missouri or Stanford in the offing. Coach Shaka Smart’s squad is splitting the scoring/usage responsibilities among a six man rotation (Juvonte Reddic, Darius Theus, Treveon Graham, Briante Weber, Rob Brandenburg and Melvin Johnson). So far five of the six have not disappointed. Reddic has been able to assert himself on the boards while Graham has had an impact on the offensive boards. This week will say something about how ready this team is to move up in the A-10.
- Saint Louis (2-1)– What a difference a weekend makes. On the heels of a 74-62 loss to Santa Clara last Wednesday, Billiken fans were ready to run interim Coach Jim Crews out of town. The defense was porous, the offense was motionless and defensive rebounding was invisible. And according to fans, so was the coach. Crews failed to call a timeout during a crucial stretch in the first half when the Broncos took control of the game. Friday brought news that Coach Rick Majerus’ medical leave would be permanent. On Monday, Saint Louis decisively beat Texas A&M in the CBE Hall of Fame Class semi-final. After facing Kansas, SLU goes up against Southern Illinois before traveling to Seattle to face Washington, so we can expect to learn how many more dips this roller coaster will have before too long.
- Xavier (3-0) – With the offseason drama, Xavier fans can be excused for any excessive exuberance over the Musketeers’ 3-0 start. The most impressive win will not count in the A-10’s record with opposing conferences, as Xavier and Butler negotiated a home-and-home contract before the latest wave of conference realignment shuffled the conference membership rolls. Xavier upheld their end in Indianapolis last November; Butler was committed to return the favor this year, long before anyone knew the Bulldogs would be invited to join the A-10. The 62-47 win was an exercise of controlling the boards while scoring inside, at times it seemed, almost at will. Xavier’s 61-59 win over Robert Morris of the Northeast Conference (NEC) was sobering, more enlightening and, in the long run, a realistic look at things to come. Robert Morris exploited a very inexperienced Musketeer backcourt of sophomore Dee Davis and freshman Semanj Christon who combined to dish nine of Xavier’s 10 assists…and 11 of Xavier’s 15 turnovers. Ken Pomeroy lists Davis’ and Christon’s turnover rates as 25.5% and 42.1% respectively, which means that Davis loses just over one in four of his possessions, while Christon loses more than two of every five possessions. Coach Chris Mack looked to another freshman, Tim Whelan, in previous games, but given that Pomeroy lists Whelan’s turnover rate at 47%, there is no surprise that Mack did not call Whelan’s number in a game as closely played as Robert Morris.
- Butler (2-1) – Rotnei Clarke’s volume shooting ways continued against Marquette in the first round of the Maui Invitational, but Roosevelt Jones and Khyle Marshall provided enough front court efficiency to put down Marquette 72-71 in a game that consumed 65 possessions (about average for Division-I – and a bit of a surprise given the teams involved). The Bulldogs squeezed 1.10 points out each possession against Marquette, but for the second game running they gave up more than 1.00 point per possession (1.08 versus Xavier and 1.09 versus Marquette), far, far above their 0.93 defensive efficiency of last season. The preseason analysts focused on Butler’s lack of offense, something Clarke’s outside shot efficiency was supposed to fix (see Crunching the Numbers below for more about this). The defensive “leaks” are a new and disturbing development that Brad Stevenswill have to fix quickly, as North Carolina is up Tuesday. Check back next week for a progress report.
- Massachusetts (2-2) – Massachusetts is the second A-10 squad in two years to leave the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic bruised and bleeding. After a promising beginning versus regional rival (and Big East member) Providence, the Minutemen dropped two consecutive games to power conference representatives. Wins over ACC hopeful North Carolina State and over eventual champion Oklahoma State would have made a clear statement for coach Derek Kellogg’s squad and for the conference. Following Temple’s “lead” by dropping the last two games in the sequence puts the pressure on to beat the ACC’s Miami when the Hurricanes come to visit December 1. Chaz Williams is no longer a “secret” weapon. Without help from the usually efficient Freddie Riley and Terrell Vinson, defenses will continue to focus on Williams and limit the pocket rocket’s effectiveness. A second area of concern is the squad’s struggle to turn field goal attempts into free throw opportunities. Taking only 63 free throw attempts on 262 field goal attempts hints that shooters are settling for jump shots rather than looking for low post scoring opportunities (either from an entry pass, a back door cut or a guard taking into the paint). The three-point to two-point shot mix (about 35% of all field goal attempts have been three’s) and their three-point conversion rate (34%) are just above the Division-I average. Minutemen do not hover on the arc waiting to chuck shots, but UMass’ two-point conversion rate (44%) is in the lower third of Division I, and whatever shot Riley, Williams, Vinson and the rest have decided to take has not drawn contact, and with it a “make up” opportunity (in the form of free throws).
- Dayton (3-1) – The Flyers stumbled in the opening round of the Charleston Classic against eventual winner Colorado (of the (Pac-12 ), but took a solid fifth place with double digit wins over two power conference stragglers, Boston College (87-71) and Auburn (73-63). Point guard Kevin Dillard has picked up where he left off last season, and coupled with (fellow) transfer Vee Sanford, the two provide an offensive backcourt that combines efficiency with high usage – the goal of Division-I offenses. The front court (Devin Oliver, Josh Benson and Jalen Robinson mostly) has put up good numbers, but has been hindered with higher turnover rates (typically in the 20’s, not where they should be). The same has been true for sophomore forward Alex Gavrilovic, whose minutes have been limited, most likely due to a turnover rate in the 40s (he turns over about four in ten of his possessions). Coach Archie Miller’s squad will have three games to work on the front court before they face Alabama, whose resurgence has been overshadowed by SEC powerhouse Kentucky. The game, to be played in Tuscaloosa early next month, will put Dayton’s front court to the test.
- Saint Bonaventure (2-1) – The Bonnies’ may have had a touch of Baron’s Revenge last Saturday when they dropped a 72-69 decision to Little Four rival Canisius. The Griffins are mentored by veteran A-10 coach Jim Baron, one of whose two stops in the A-10 included Saint Bonaventure. Coach Mark Schmidt’s squad will finish their annual Western Tier rivalry games over the next 10 days and then spend several weeks consuming a steady diet of MAC and MAAC teams before taking their biggest out of conference challenges: MAAC leader Iona and away games with North Carolina State (ACC) and MWC contender Colorado State. Offensive production has shifted to the wings and backcourt, with possessions (and points) picked up by three starters – wings Demetrius Congers, Matthew Wright and Chris Johnson. Those three have combined for 61% of the field goals made and 58% of the points scored. Wright has almost become the point forward for the team, leading the Bonnies with 10 assists. Congers and second year player Charlon Kloof are not far behind with nine assists apiece. Those three have dished 65% of the assists so far. Congers and Kloof have a propensity for turnovers, which degrade their offensive efficiency. Those two have another three weeks to work out the kinks before the schedule gets a bit more difficult.
- Richmond (3-1) – Coach Chris Mooney started his squad out slowly this season scheduling three home games against mediocre competition. Were the huge winning margins, which averaged 35 points, a sign of the Spiders’ resurgence, or a reflection of the weak(er) competition? If the road game at Minnesota (Big Ten) is a good indication, it is more the latter. Although the Spiders were competitive with the Gophers through the first 30 minutes of last Saturday’s game, Minnesota put Richmond away with a decisive 30-8 run over the game’s last ten minutes. The Spiders committed six turnovers, four during an especially crucial 1:45 minute span when the outcome was still in doubt. The Spiders shot 3-13 (23%) and missed three long range attempts. Mooney’s system favors a guard as the go-to guy during critical sequences, but junior space eater Derrick Williamswas the only consistent scorer in the game’s waning minutes.
- La Salle (1-1) – Previewers looking at the Explorers’ out of conference schedule could easily imagine Dr. John Giannini’s squad going into conference play with at most 2 (maybe 3?) losses and joining their two city-based conference mates in the NCAA come March. With the loss Saturday to Central Connecticut it seems the consistency needed to compile that resume may still be a work in progress. It may be too early to develop a Coaches on the Hot Seat List, but if the Explorers cannot develop a winning rhythm over the next few weeks, Giannini, whose squads have been among the least consistent over the past five seasons, may well head that list. Sophomore forward Jerrell Wright has (admittedly very early on) drawn enough defensive attention to help low post presence Steve Zack to score efficiently. Now is time for the much heralded back court (Ramon Galloway, Sam Mills and Tyreek Duren) to produce.
- Charlotte (3-0) – The 49ers opened the season with a three game home stand that brought three wins. This ends Thursday when Charlotte opens the Great Alaska Shootout against Texas State of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). DeMario Mayfield and Chris Braswell returned from suspensions of two and one game respectively, and their impact has been immediate and significant. The first three opponents will most likely not compete for their (respective) conference titles, but the Mayfield and Braswell suspensions provided an opportunity for freshmen Darion Clark and T. J. Thompson to show they can contribute efficiently. Coach Alan Major’s squad should beat Texas State, but the 49ers will have to (most likely) go through Loyola Marymount (of the West Coach Conference) and then Ohio Valley Conference powerhouse Belmont, to secure the Shootout Title.
- George Washington (1-1) – The future is now for the Colonials. Three of their newest players, freshmen Joe McDonald (a guard) and Patricio Garino (a guard/forward), along with transfer Isaiah Armwood (forward) have drawn the largest share of minutes at their respective positions. Senior guard Bryan Bynes drew 62% of the minutes, while the next two, Nenamja Mikic (forward) and Lasan Kromah (guard) both upperclassmen, drew just above 50% of the time at their backcourt and forward spots. Senior forward David Pellom continues to rehabilitate from his offseason wrist surgery while freshman low post player Keven Larsen, a groin pull casualty, is day-to-day. The big test will come Wednesday at Notre Dame.
- Duquesne (1-2) – Coach Jim Ferry’s squad broke into the win column with a 90-88 nail biter over James Madison (of the CAA) that took an overtime period to settle. Veterans Sean Johnson and Jerry Jones have emerged as the leaders going into this season, but they are getting strong assistance from the newer faces – Derrick Coulter, Quevyn Winters and Jeremiah Jones in particular – as the Dukes were competitive in their two losses (an ugly three point affair with Albany of the American East Conference, and a respectable six point loss to Georgetown of the Big East), both on the road. Ferry will run an up-tempo offense, so keeping his backcourt fresh and quick will be crucial.
- Fordham (1-3) – Losing three games to start the season was bad, but losing senior forward (preseason A-10 All-Conference First Team) Chris Gaston for a month ranks, by far, as the worst development in the young season for Tom Pecora’s young – but now much younger – squad. Gaston reportedly injured the knee during the Texas State/Pittsburgh NIT Tip-Off road trip. Continued pain and swelling tipped the decision to have arthroscopic surgery earlier rather than later. Gaston’s quest to break Fordham’s 58 year old scoring record (held by Ed Conlin) will wait until early January, while Pecora is forced to accelerate the development of Fordham’s underclassmen-heavy front court rotation. Look for freshmen Travion Leonard and Ryan Rhoomes along with sophomores Ryan Canty and Luka Zivkovic to draw more court time. Leonard and Canty start already, but both need to make major strides on rebounding and front court shot defense, two weaknesses exposed by the road trip.
- Rhode Island (0-4) – Welcome to the A-10, Dan Hurley. The Runnin’ Rams are the second conference team to open the season as an o’fer. The losses, to Norfolk State (ouch – at home and by 12), Virginia Tech (by 19), Ohio State (by 11) and Seton Hall (by 5), suggest that Hurley will try to limit possessions (take the air out of the ball) to keep games close and give Rhode Island the best chance to win. To make that work consistently the Runnin’ Rams will have to hit their three-point attempts (26% so far), up their field goal defense (opponents have logged a 50% eFG%, especially weak three point defense) and control the defensive boards, limiting opponents to one-and-done possessions. Hurley needs more aggressive interior defense (and rebounding) from seniors Andre Malone and Nikola Malesevic.
- Pacific vs. Xavier (11/22 11:00 am PT, ESPNU) – Coach Chris Mack’s crew kick off the Anaheim Classic invitational tournament against the local draw, Pacific. The Musketeers’ frontcourt should be able to handle the Tigers. The backcourt will probably be the decider.
- Memphis vs. Virginia Commonwealth (11/22 7:00 pm, NBC Sports Network) – The Rams open the Battle 4 Atlantis invitational tournament against a tough Tiger crew expected to once again contend for their conference crown.
- La Salle vs. Villanova (11/25 1:00 pm CBS Sports Network) – The opening game for the Big 5 is a crucial test for the Explorers. Villanova is in rebuilding mode, and La Salle holds the home court advantage. A “credibility” win for Dr. John Giannini’s program, if they can tame the Wildcats.
- Auburn vs. Rhode Island (11/25 4:00 pm CT, no TV) – A win would make Coach Dan Hurley’s reputation. This game is a measuring stick for how far the Rhodi program has to travel, as the Auburn program, sporting an extremely anemic offense, is also in the early stages of a rebuilding project.
Crunching the Numbers
How will Butler fare in their inaugural season of A-10 play conference play? The question drew a lot of preseason comment – far more than Virginia Commonwealth’s prospects, a complement by indirection to the Rams and their program by the way. The challenges facing Coach Brad Stevens were well documented – filling the void left by guard Ronald Norad, adding consistent three point production to add another dimension to a too easily defended offense were always at the top of the list. By a quirk of scheduling (a promised return date for an Indianapolis game last season actually), Xavier hosted the Butler squad in their second game of the season. Conference fans were treated to an admittedly too early “progress report” on Stevens’ rebuilding job. The outcome was surprising – Butler lost to an also rebuilding Xavier squad, but the Musketeers’ margin of victory (+15, 62-47) was impressive given the relative state of both programs. The table is a compilation of the possession-based statistics for Butler’s major contributors.
Ken Pomeroy (subscription required) shows some impressive efficiency/usage numbers for Clarke, but the transfer off guard had a tremendous game against lowly Elon to start the season. Clarke’s production versus Marquette looks more like the number he posted against Xavier. His conversion rate has to improve from beyond, either by taking fewer but better shots or having Butler’s ball rotation give him better looks. Freshman Kellen Dunham is drawing large minutes (80% in the Xavier game, which translates to about 32 minutes) because he is providing efficient offense. Note his Points per Weighted Shot (PPWS, the fifth column) – an estimate of how many points he scored every time he took a field goal attempt – is a high 1.32 points. He took shots and either hit the three point attempt or got to the line (if he took a two point field goal attempt). The margin of victory probably rests more on the poor outings posted by forwards Roosevelt Jones and Khyle Marshall, both of whom did better versus Marquette and Elon. Butler has an especially challenging out of conference slate that includes North Carolina, Northwestern, Indiana and Vanderbilt, which makes Stevens’ task of adjusting his offense on the fly even riskier. Too many losses, even to power conference contenders, will not translate into a post season NCAA bid.