CIO… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2012
- And Then There Was One – Charlotte and Temple entered their Saturday games undefeated, and the 49ers beat Central Michigan by 12 to run their string to nine while Temple, facing consensus #2 Duke on a neutral court, could not keep up, losing by 23 to drop to 6-1. Charlotte is one of 14 unbeaten Division I teams remaining, and the 49ers have thrived through senior Chris Braswell’s dominant play. Coming off of a season-beginning suspension, the 6’9” senior forward/center has been on a tear, leading the team by averaging 14.3 points with 7.0 rebounds per game. Two freshmen wings, Willie Clayton and Darion Clark, have stepped up with strong board play while providing solid scoring support. Their biggest test is coming on Saturday, as they travel to Miami to face the Hurricanes of the ACC. Stay tuned.
- Fall Semester Finals – The fall semester is winding down as most Division I schools head into final examinations last week and this week. And so it is with the Atlantic-10’s non-conference schedule. With a body of work already in place, a number of teams around the conference are facing their biggest challenges of their non-conference schedules. Temple fell to Duke last Saturday, and while the loss surprised only the delusional, the margin – 23 points on a neutral court – was shocking. Butler traveled to Evanston, Illinois, and beat Northwestern of the Big Ten, but an even bigger test looms ahead as #1 Indiana has a play date with the Bulldogs next Saturday. The Musketeers stubbed their toes in Cintas Center, dropping a two-point decision to the Commodores of the SEC, but they have no time to dwell on the lost opportunity as the Crosstown Classic (the name changed from the historic “Crosstown Shootout” no doubt due to unpleasant memories of last season’s game-ending brawl) is set for Wednesday, December 19. Undefeated Charlotte travels to Miami to face the Hurricanes. Virginia Commonwealth has already seen a ranked team or two, but Alabama comes to town Saturday to give the Rams yet another opportunity to spruce up their resume.
- The (Really) Big A-10? – ESPN’s Andy Katz and Dana O’Neil reported that the seven Catholic (basketball-only) members of the Big East met with Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco Sunday to express their growing concerns about the current state of the conference and the diminishing status and quality of the conference’s basketball product.As the Big East continues to show signs of stress with conference realignment, sources within the Atlantic 10 have shared with Katz and O’Neil that A-10 conference members are open to the opportunities and challenges a 20- or 21-member conference would create. These sources are looking at the possibility that as many as seven of the Big East’s basketball members may opt to leave the Big East or persuade another two-to-four members to join their bloc and vote to dissolve the conference and split the proceeds; or, in the extreme, decide to leave the conference and investigate membership opportunities elsewhere (like the A-10). The sources believe that the A-10, bolstered by the additions of VCU and Butler, would be an attractive destination for those Catholic schools. A major stumbling block, however, is the revenue gap. Big East basketball schools currently realize between $1 and $1.5 million in basketball-derived TV revenues. The A-10 members anticipate a $350,000 annual payout from the league’s recently concluded TV contract.
Butler and Temple swap places, as do Saint Joseph’s and Virginia Commonwealth. Fordham, Rhode Island and George Washington continue to struggle while Charlotte and Dayton continue to win and place some good wins on their resumes. The conference always has a few teams that take a long time to find their spot in the pecking order. Who really belongs at this point? A number of squads are putting in their bids.
- Butler (6-2) – The resume shows two double-digit losses and a big win over a Division II opponent, but with a win over North Carolina and a road win over Northwestern, boosted the Bulldog over the Owls this week. Two games last week (IUPUI and Northwestern) saw freshman guard Kellen Dunham show again he has the potential to develop into that second reliable outside shooter behind Rotnei Clarke. A consistent outside threat should loosen up the inside for Roosevelt Jones and Khyle Marshall. Freshman center Andrew Smith’s efforts against IUPUI and a double-double versus Northwestern drew a nod from the conference, but he will probably not get those opportunities in every game. Here and there, however, his should be effective.
- Temple (6-1) –The margin of Temple’s loss to Duke Saturday, 23 points, was a surprise. Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly exploited a younger and less polished front court rotation (mainly forward/center Anthony Lee and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson) on defense, causing Lee to sit with two fouls early in the first half, which forced Fran Dunphy to commit more bodies to post defense. And then Duke’s guards exploded. Dunphy needed a well-managed game from his senior guards Scootie Randall and (especially) Khalif Wyatt, but they did not deliver. Wyatt launched 10 field goal attempts in the first half, many shots were hurried and out of the offensive flow. Dunphy brought out the starting five to start the second half, but sat Wyatt just under the 14 minute mark (about six minutes into the half) and did not bring him back as he worked the deeper parts of his bench. The front court will be a problem going forward, but the back court must learn how to mask that weakness or Temple will continue to slide.
- Xavier (7-2) – With their seven point win over Kent State (62-55) on Sunday, the Musketeers dodged a bullet. Justin Martin’s value (out due to concussion) to Xavier this season cannot be understated. Isaiah Philmore, starting in place of Martin, added two points above his average with about the same playing time. Chris Mack patched through by distributing the available minutes to a combination of junior forward Erik Stenger (about eight minutes more than average) and guards Brad Redford (a senior red shirt) and Landen Amos (a junior walk-on). Amos logged a career-high 13 minutes and grabbed two rebounds. Martin’s status clouds Xavier’s prospects in this season’s edition of the Crosstown Classic (December 19 against traditional rival Cincinnati) and exposes the uncharacteristic lack of depth in the front court.
- Virginia Commonwealth (6-3) – Shaka Smart put together a difficult schedule, one the Rams have handled with only one true misstep. The Rams logged a good win over Belmont of the OVC last week, before they beat cross town rival Old Dominion Friday night. They put a three game winning streak on the line when they host Alabama on Saturday in one of the featured games this week (see below). Alabama coach Anthony Grant was Smart’s predecessor (and mentor) at VCU before moving on to Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide, well regarded in the preseason, is on a two game skid, and wants to stop the bleeding with a win at VCU. Anthony’s club has problems rebounding (especially on defense), and Smart has two of the best in Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham. Though VCU converts field goal attempts to points efficiently, dominating the boards should enhance their chances for a win.
- Saint Joseph’s (5-3) – The Hawks drubbed Coppin State of the MEAC 67-55, but that hardly resolved the problems exposed by their 29 point loss (80-51) to Creighton of the MVC last Saturday. The Joe’s defense, solid against the weaker opponents on their schedule, has a disturbing tendency to fail against stronger competition. Both Saint Joseph’s losses have been by double digits. Shot defense is the culprit as the Hawks allowed Florida State to go 30-55 (54.5%) and in an even more generous gesture, “granted” a 30-53 (57%) completion rate to Creighton. Creighton’s margin, 29 points is nearly entirely attributable to a 10-21 shot rate for three point attempts. The Hawks have a road game at Big 5 rival Villanova – which went to the last possession before they lost, 65-61.
- Saint Louis (5-3) – Ken Pomeroy, a Rick Majerus fan, penned an analysis debunking the connection between St. Louis’ three point defense and their opponents’ three point conversion rate. His point, that three point defense should be measured by a team’s ability to prevent their opponent from taking a three point attempt rather than how efficiently the opponent converted the three point attempts they actually took. The guru has a point. Though the Billikens’ under Coach Jim Crews have allowed their opponents to make nearly 47% of their three point attempts, among the the worst conversion rate in Division I (#344 out of 348 teams), those opponents took only 21.9% of their field goal attempts as three pointers, ranked #2 (out of 348) in Division I. How well the Billikens have limited their opponents’ ability to efficiently convert all of their field goal attempts has been a stronger indicator on whether they will win. Washington and Valparaiso were the last major tests, the Billikens finish out their out of conference schedule with six more games, all of which they are favored to win. It is very possible they will start conference play 11-3.
- Dayton (7-2) – The Flyers beat Miami, OH 83-61 to bump their record to 7-2 on the strength of performances by Kevin Dillard (40 points) and freshman Dyshawn Pierre (19 points) in their games last week – two wins, over Alabama and Miami. While where the points come from (front court or back court) shows balance in that two forwards and two guards have averaged double digit scoring, Dillard is clearly pulling the wagon on offense. The senior transfer averaged 20 points in games last week, and 15.2 points per game. Turnovers however, cut into the squad’s offensive efficiency even as they played a large role in the team’s two losses. Senior forward/center Josh Benson has twice as many turnovers as assists while forwards Pierre and Devon Oliver each has as many turnovers as assists.
- Charlotte (9-0) – The 49ers survived at Davidson and beat down-and-out Central Michigan by double digits last Saturday. The 12 point winning margin was the second double-digit win for Charlotte in their last three games. Alan Major’s squad faces its biggest test of the out of conference schedule Friday night at Miami of Florida. The 49ers will need big game efforts from senior forward/center Chris Braswell and junior guard DeMario Mayfield … not to mention sophomore Pierria Henry. Two of Major’s large freshmen contingent, guard Denzel Ingram and forward Willie Clayton have already earned two mentions apiece in the conference’s weekly awards press release, a big game effort from one or both is possible (and sorely needed). A win on the road against a power conference opponent would give the 49ers’ resume a sorely needed signature win.
- La Salle (6-1) – The Explorers winning run was extended by one last week, as La Salle traveled to Boston and beat Northeastern of the CAA on the road, 66-64. Given the slate of opponents, four in all, coming in the next two weeks, coach John Giannini’s squad could run through the end of 2012 without picking up another loss. A game with the Miami Hurricanes is the sternest challenge facing La Salle before they go into conference play. Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and Jerrell Wright continue to shoulder the major portion of possessions and field goal attempts when each is on the floor. More and more it seems the fate of the Explorers’ 2012-13 postseason prospects rise and fall on the fortunes of those three.
- Richmond (8-2) – The Spiders logged a road win over James Madison, 83-82, on Saturday, marking the fourth win in four tries over a CAA conference opponent for Richmond this season. Junior center Derrick Williams is becoming a force in the low post, displaying the athleticism and skill to score and rebound in abundance. If the 270 pound space eater could limit his turnovers (currently the team “leader”) his efficiency would explode. One especially overlooked talent is his ability to get to the line. Williams has more free throw attempts than field goal attempts. Williams has drawn a single Player of the Week accolade from the conference front office so far, but if his game continues to develop, expect more as the season goes on.
- Saint Bonaventure (5-3) – A bad shooting day by Demitrius Congers (2-11 from the floor that included an 0-6 effort from the three point line) allowed the host Red Wolves establish and hold a small lead throughout the game. A late rally by the Bonnies did give the visitor the lead for a short time, but a crucial miss in the waning moments of the second half opened the door for A-State junior guard Ed Townsel’s last second three point make. The Bonnies came up on the short end of a 73-70 score. The loss is the third in four road games suffered by Mark Schmidt’s squad so far this season, which dampens expectations considerably for upcoming road games with North Carolina State and Colorado State.
- Duquesne (5-4) – The Dukes moved above .500 again on the strength of their win, 88-70, over New Orleans. The backcourt continues to lead the way as senior guard Sean Johnson earned an Honorable Mention from the conference for his 21 point outing versus New Orleans. Jim Ferry’s two other guards, freshmen Quevyn Winters and Derrick Colter, along with junior Jerry Jones, are putting up very respectable numbers as the four continue to lead the squad in points scored and minutes played. Ferry relies heavily on three guard offensive sets, an aspect that tends to push the tempo (increases possessions per game) and favor longer range shooting. Four of Duquesne’s last five games have been played at four to seven possessions above the average for Division I.
- Massachusetts (4-3) – No word yet on Cady Lalanne’s status going forward. Lalanne was suspended after his arrest on campus on a disorderly person’s charge hours after the Minutemen lost to Miami of Florida 62-75 on December 1. Coach Derek Kellogg’s squad went on to beat Northeastern by six on the road (72-66) three days later. Against Northeastern Kellogg’s guard-oriented offense worked well as Jesse Morgan and Chaz Williams combined for 36 points on 12-23 shooting. Together they converted 6-10 from beyond the arc while Williams, who routinely drives the lane for scoring opportunities, managed to convert 6-9 from the free throw line. Though Lalanne has not contributed much offensively, the 6’9” forward/center has demonstrated board skills at both ends of the floor. Senior Sampson Carter, starting in Lalanne’s place against Northeastern garnered numbers similar to Lalanne in 34 minutes of play. The Minutemen will play three games over a seven days stretch before breaking for Christmas. It would be good to know what will happen to Lalanne.
- George Washington (4-5) – Coach Mike Lonergan’s squad has dropped two in a row, despite noteworthy efforts from senior transfer Isaiah Armwood and freshman Patricio Garino. The duo drew a nod from the conference Monday, Armwood for this double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds) and Garino for his 24 point explosion against Bradley, a career-high for the 6’6” wing. The offensive-oriented kudos bring more than a little irony, because the Colonials, who boast a defense that routinely keeps opponents under 0.98 points per possession so far this season, has been crippled by an inconsistent offense. Garino and Armwood are a good beginning, but senior Lasan Kromah and heralded freshman Joe McDonald need to cut down on the turnovers. Each converts efficiently, but tends to lose the ball once (or more) for every two field goal attempts they get. McDonald has 32 turnovers to 58 field goal attempts, far too high for a would-be point guard.
- Rhode Island (2-7) – While the Runnin’ Rams’ defense continues to slowly make progress, their offensive efficiency is wildly inconsistent, gyrating between a high of 1.07 points per possession versus Vermont (a 10 point win) and 0.8 (double digit losses to Virginia Tech and Providence). Shot making is the biggest challenge as the three most likely to take a shot — wings Xavier Mumford and Andre Malone, along with forward Nikola Malesevic — all have conversion rates below 50%. Foul-prone freshman center Jordan Hare is the only starter who converts with consistency (15-27, 56%). Hopefully Dan Hurley will use the nine day hiatus (12/6-12/15) to go over shot selection. A clinic or two on defensive rebounding would help too as Rhode Island is well below the Division I average for defensive rebounding rate (62.5%, ranked #304 out of 347).
- Fordham (1-8) – Fordham’s losing streak stands at five with prospects for a break before Christmas fairly bleak. In a race to the bottom Fordham’s offense appears to be “winning” at this point. The main problems from last season – poor shooting and lack of free throw opportunities – continue to plague the squad. Losing senior Chris Gaston, a career 45% shooter who typically takes about 30% of the team’s field goal attempts when he plays, hurts in the short term, but the starts and increased playing time that has allocated to sophomore center Ryan Canty and freshman forward Ryan Rhoomes should pay dividends in the longer term. Junior off guard Branden Frazier, last season’s second option on offense, has moved into the #1 option in Gaston’s absence.
- Miami (FL) vs. Charlotte (Friday 12/14 @ 7:00 PM ESPN3) – The weekend starts early with a Friday night with Charlotte’s biggest test of the season (so far). Miami has players who can score from long range (Shane Larkin and Trey Jones) and up close (Kenny Kadji and Durand Scott – hasn’t he graduated yet??). Coach Alan Major will need a mistake-free game from Chris Braswell and DeMario Mayfield, and those freshmen who have been flying under the radar (that’s you Willie Clayton and Darion Clark) will have to have a coming out game. This is the kind of win the 49ers’ resume could use.
- Butler vs. Indiana (Saturday 12/15 @ 1:00 PM CBS) – Anything less than four stars from RTC’s Set Your DVR and Brendon Mulvihill should have his head examined. Butler hosts, but the game will be played in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis instead of Hinkle. Cody Zeller and Christian Watford will be a handful for Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall, but if Rotnei Clarke gets hot from the outside, the Bulldogs should be able to keep up.
- VCU vs. Alabama (Saturday 12/15 @ 4:00 PM CBS College Sports) – Alabama has lurked at the edges of the AP and Coaches Top 25 for the past three weeks and would be ranked had they not stumbled against Cincinnati and Dayton in consecutive outings. A sophomore/junior dominated squad, the Crimson Tide relies heavily on Trevor Releford, Trevor Lacey and Rodney Cooper for offense. Combined those three accounted for 55% of the Tide’s shots and 57% of their makes. ‘Bama is in trouble when two of the three struggle as they did against Dayton and Cincinnati. Coach Anthony Grant built a small but quick squad, which makes this a good set of match-ups for Coach Shaka Smart’s squad.
- Kansas vs. Richmond (Tuesday 12/18 @ 6:00 PM ESPN2/ESPNU) – Richmond is a year away, but this will be a good benchmark for Chris Mooney’s squad. Jayhawk Jeff Withey is the best Derrick Williams will see this season, and the Kansas guards, Ben McLemore and Elijah Johnson, are long enough to keep Anthony Kendall off the floor (but watch out when Bill Self subs in Naadir Tharpe). Anything can happen in college basketball, but catch this one to see how Cedrick Lindsay, Williams, Anthony, Trey Davis and Wayne Sparrow handle the pressure of The Phog.