CIO… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by CNguon on December 19th, 2012
Conference Records: Previews in September and October offered rosy predictions on the number of teams that could/would qualify for the NCAA Tournament. If the previews were too exuberant, a poorly timed loss or two has brought that pendulum back in the opposite direction… with a vengeance. How is the conference really doing relative to last season? Compiling the games through December 17 of this and last season puts the progress in a different light.
The conference has won 65% of its games this season, a modest increase over its 62% winning percentage at this point last season. The conference has played games with teams from 29 of the 30 other conferences and independents in Division I, even if the mix has changed. Nearly 30% of the opponents have come from power conferences, about the same as last season (28%), although the winning percentage has declined (50% down to 41%). A-10 teams are dominating the other, non-power conference opponents, winning over 75% of games from both conference with a similar profile (Conference USA, the Colonial Athletic Association, the Missouri Valley Conference, the Western Athletic Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the West Coast Conference) and those with a lower profile.
A few quick observations:
- A-10 teams have a winning record (5-3) against the SEC and compliments of Butler’s upset over #1 Indiana last Saturday, a 5-3 record versus the Big Ten. Three of those SEC wins came against a now-struggling Alabama team.
- The A-10 has cleaned the CAA’s clock for the second year running, compiling a dominant (18-1) record versus the CAA that bested even last season’s impressive 11-3 record. Although Bernadette McGlade did successfully raid the CAA for Virginia Commonwealth University, the CAA still has a recent Final Four participant (George Mason) and a relatively deep conference. Losing records versus the West Coast Conference (0-2) and the Missouri Valley Conference (2-3) balances strong records versus the CAA and Conference USA (4-0). Conference teams have two more games versus the WCC.
Crossroads at the Crosstown? When they last met in the Crosstown Classic (nee’ “Shootout”), Xavier was 8-0 and hitting on all cylinders. Cincinnati was, on the strength of a 5-2 record that included a home loss to lowly Presbyterian, searching for the chemistry to ignite their season. The 23-point Xavier thrashing of Cincinnati that culminated in a bench-clearing brawl, however, threw each program on a very different path last season. Xavier finished the year with a so-so 15-13 run while Cincy compiled a 21-8 record and earned an NCAA bid that seemed all but impossible on December 11, 2011. The court will be neutral this time (a change negotiated to insure each school had 50% of the tickets, a measure to keep the crowd “balanced”), and Cincinnati appears to have the momentum, sporting a 9-0 record to Xavier’s uncharacteristically “average” 7-2.
There is more than one game being played on the floor of the U.S. Bank Arena, however, as the fate of the Big East looms large in the plans for both schools. Week-long rumors that the Catholic 7 intends to dissolve the conference and reconstitute a basketball-first entity (with the NCAA distributions, the exit fees and the rights to Madison Square Garden for the conference tournament as potential endowments), Cincinnati has to wonder where it will play ball (foot- and basket-) in those athletic facilities it has raised millions of dollars to renovate. Xavier on the other hand, appears to top the list of schools the Catholic 7 intends to invite into the reconstituted conference to bring the membership to 10 or 12.
- Butler (8-2) – The Bulldogs solidified their #1 power ranking, not to mention a spot in the AP top 25 (#19), with their 88-86 overtime win over #1 Indiana on Saturday. Taking a seven point lead with 2:25 to play, the Bulldogs lost junior forward Roosevelt Jones and sophomore center Andrew Smith in the 37 seconds, leaving the job of covering Indiana’s Cody Zeller to a pair of 6’6” forwards, sophomore Khyle Marshall and senior Eric Fromm (who picked up his fifth foul defending Zeller in the overtime period). The Hoosiers rallied with a 12-5 run to tie the game at 76 in regulation. Walk-on Alex Barlow hit a runner in the lane with five seconds left to put Coach Brad Stevens’ team on top for good. Though the game was not played at the Hinkle, the Butler fans did rush the court in celebration. Like their win over North Carolina, the Bulldogs’ three point offense was on track. A combination of Rotnei Clarke, Kellen Dunham, Chas Stigall, Eric Fromm and Andrew Smith converted at nearly 45% clip. The Bulldogs took 35% of their field goal attempts as threes, the key for winning is to convert at a better than 40% rate. Saturday they did just that.
- Temple (8-1) – A 17-point win over Alcorn State on Monday night bumps the Owls’ win total to eight. Although sophomore center Anthony Lee, who missed the Alcorn game due to illness is nevertheless developing well, the Owls will continue to rely on their backcourt (principally seniors Scootie Randall, Khalif Wyatt and sophomore point Will Cummings) for offense. Randall and Wyatt have to become more consistent from outing to outing. Saturday’s 11 point win over Towson was close because Randall and Wyatt combined for 7-24 (15 points from field goal attempts). The difference was Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Lee, who combined for 26 points on 13-25 shooting. Coach Fran Dunphy will look to Saturday’s game versus Syracuse as the next good opportunity for a resume win.
- Xavier (7-2) – The Musketeers have cleared their schedule in front of their Crosstown Classic game with Cincinnati. Sophomore forward Jeff Robinson suffered a concussion in the loss to Vanderbilt and sat out Xavier’s win over Kent State last week. He should be ready to go for the Crosstown. While Cincinnati offers an experienced lineup with very large frontcourt presence. Xavier will counter with a smaller but more mobile frontcourt and a much younger backcourt. Freshman Senamj Christon and sophomore Dee Davis are starters this season, the first time in Coach Chris Mack’s tenure that he has had to count on freshmen and non-starters to fill those critical roles. The “newbies” will have to play outstanding games to keep Xavier in the hunt.
- Virginia Commonwealth (7-3) – With Crimson Tide center Carl Engstrom out for the season and Coach Anthony Grant’s squad on a three game slide, the Rams’ 19 point shellacking last Saturday lost a bit of the luster it would have had two weeks ago. Ken Pomeroy continues to love VCU (his Pythagorean Theorem-based winning percentage system has them ranked at #15 nationally and at the top of the A-10) but Coach Shaka Smart’s squad has few opportunities before the beginning of conference play January 9 to convert poll voters. While the Rams should enter conference competition with at least 12 wins, even lopsided wins over the likes of Lehigh, Longwood, Western Kentucky (ok, maybe WKU) will most likely not turn heads. Treveon Graham, Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic have started strong this season. More than a few conference observers are in for a shock come January.
- Saint Joseph’s (5-3) – The Hawks have an 11 day layover between Villanova (December 11) and Fairfield (December 22). That the Joes’s lost at Villanova last week is hardly surprising, even though their Holy War rival is itself struggling. SJU last won at Villanova the year they fielded an Elite Eight that missed the Final Four by a field goal. Forward Halil Kanacevic has a two game suspension to serve (one for each obscene gesture he made to the Villanova crowd last week). Coach Phil Martelli has no doubt used the time to figure out why his squad is struggling: it is the defense. Despite logging four double digit wins, the Hawks have allowed 0.98 or better points per possession in three of their last five games. Despite length, the squad gathers no better than 66% of their defensive rebounds, barely average in Division I.
- Saint Louis (6-3) – This appears to be Ohio Valley Conference week in Saint Louis as the Billikens host their second consecutive OVC team at the midweek before Loyola Marymount gives their return date from last season. Coach Rick Majerus’ influence is still much in evidence as the Bills’ pace (possessions per game) continues to decline even as the defense is rounding into shape. If the team continues to make progress, Kwamain Mitchell’s return would be seen less as the return of a savior, and more the last piece to a dominant offense. Cody Ellis, Jordair Jett and Dwayne Evans have emerged as the offensive center for the squad, with Evans shouldering a bit more of the burden. Loyola Marymount and New Mexico remain as the biggest challenges to an 11 win start.
- Dayton (8-2) – Senior guard Kevin Dillard continues to make his case for A-10 Player of the Year, as he followed a 15 point outing versus Miami, OH (5-13 shooting) with a 14 point effort (6-11 shooting) against Florida Atlantic last Saturday. With fall semester examinations out of the way, the Flyers’ game-playing pace is picking up. They close out the current home stand with two games this week (llinois State and Murray State) in four days, after which they take to the road with a game with Southern California.
- Charlotte (10-1) –That the 49ers lost was not shocking, the margin of the beating, however (31 points), punctured any notion that Charlotte had been inexplicably overlooked in the preseason previews. Coach Alan Major’s squad bounced back with a lopsided win (66-52) over Kennesaw State and should wreak havoc on lowly Radford of the Big South before facing Florida State on a neutral court in what should be their last big challenge before the start of conference play. Major has to find another scoring option outside of the Chris Braswell/DeMario Mayfield/Willie Clayton troika currently powering the 49ers. Pierra Henry is struggling with the different expectations that come with a change of position. He also sports a horrific 1-15 shooting record behind the line. Terrence Williams and Denzel Ingram are fighting a assist-to-turnover rates that are under water.
- Massachusetts (5-3) – Cady Lalanne was back in the lineup for the Minutemen, who beat Elon 78-73 last Saturday. Still, UMass needed an additional five minute period to beat Elon. The sophomore forward came off the bench to score six points and grab six rebounds in 12 minutes of play. Senior forward Terrell Vinson camped out at the free throw line, hitting 13-14 attempts to go with a 4-9 effort from the floor to pace UMass with 22 points. Chaz Williams continues to consume a large number of scoring possessions. The net effect is a depressed offensive efficiency. Though the Minutemen did not gather a resume win, they have the chance to run their win total to 12 before the start of conference play.
- La Salle (7-2) – The Explorers sustained their second loss of the season, 74-66, at the hands of Bucknell. The margin of the loss, -8, uncomfortably large for Dr. John Giannini’s squad. Senior guard Ramon Galloway, junior point guard Tyreek Duren and Jerrell Wright are the focal points of this team’s offense. They are unusual in that they combine high efficiency (shooting the ball) with high usage (the percentage of possessions they take when they are on the floor). Success this season will hinge on how long the guards sustain that high efficiency.
- Richmond (9-3) – Coach Chris Mooney’s team was rolled in Kansas, 87-59, but given the relative inexperience of the team, hardly unexpected. Trailing by three points early in the first half, the Spiders could not blunt the Jayhawks explosive 30-12 run to close out the half. Senior Greg Robbins is slumping and the Spiders are not consistent enough at this point to sustain a strong run. Richmond hosts George Mason this week, then takes a week to prepare for the Davidson, the best of those remaining on the schedule in front of the conference play.
- St. Bonaventure (6-3) – The Bonnies stubbed their toe at Arkansas State, 73-70, last Saturday in one of those games that will make little sense at the end of the season. Though tied twice during the sequence, St. Bonaventure held onto a small lead through virtually all of the last five minutes of the game. Junior guard Ed Townsel hit the game winner, a three-point attempt, with 2.3 on the clock to retake the lead and leave the Bonnies with virtually no time to respond. Demitrius Conger’s unproductive outing was a hurdle the Bonnies could not clear. Conger has been reliable this season, but games like this remind the fans of how vulnerable Saint Bonaventure remains in the absence of a reliable second and third option on offense.
- George Washington (4-6) – With Finals Week closing out, the Colonials will take the court for the first time in 11 days next Saturday when they meet the Keydets of Virginia Military Instrutute. GWU opened a three game losing run before taking the exam break conferring more significance to the VMI game than was there at the beginning of this season. The conference does not recognize transfers and JuCo players with a newcomers award, but if they did, Isaiah Armwood would have a strong bid for the honor. The senior is averaging 13.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Armwood should be even more effective when David Pellom currently in rehabilitation, returns in January.
- Duquesne (6-5) – The celebration for the 60-56 win over West Virginia was short-lived as Robert Morris stunned Duquesne 91-68 four days later. Leading by a point at the half, the Colonials opened the second half with a 15-4 run that pushed the Dukes into a double digit hole that they were never able to cut into. Robert Morris’ players scored the 15 points in the half’s first six possessions, hoisting a perfect 5-5 from the field. Each field goal was preceded with an assist. The Dukes shot 1-3 with an assist and a turnover. Mistakes sourced to inexperienced players Derrick Coulter and Jeremiah Jones, were especially counterproductive. If the prospects for wins relies primarily on the shoulders of Coulter and Jones the Robert Morris result is not encouraging. Combined they shot 9-24 from the field, going 4-12 from beyond the arc.
- Rhode Island (3-7) – Paced by sophomore guard Mike Powell’s 18 points the Runnin’ Rams notched win number three with a 22 point blowout of Southern Methodist University from the CUSA. Coach Dan Hurley has come to rely heavily on Powell and his backcourt mate Xavier Mumford as both have logged over 90% of the available minutes so far. Hopefully for Rhode Island fans, the kind of offensive efficiency both exhibited against SMU will become the rule rather than the exception.
- Fordham (2-8) – Coach Tom Pecora’s squad won their second game of the season, 63-60, complements of Princeton. The Rams are 2-1 versus Ivy League opponents. Princeton is the third team in the last five games the Rams have held to less than 1.0 points per possession (a good defensive benchmark). In a half step back, the school announced that sophomore guard Devon McMillen a sophomore guard who appeared in 28 games last season, starting 23 of them, has left the program and will transfer. McMillan missed Fordham’s the first six games this season (injury) and logged only 10 minutes per game in his three appearances before transferring. For a program in rebuilding mode, losing an experienced player whether starting or substituting, is a setback.
- Cincinnati vs. Xavier (Wednesday 12/19, 6:00 PM ESPN2) – Last season’s match-up was one of those rare turning points games for both squads. Xavier won the battle but lost the war, going 15-13 after an 8-0 start. Cincinnati entered the game 5-2, lost it to go 5-3, but finished the season with a 21-8 run. The Xavier program was hit with transfers and a dismissal over the offseason while Cincinnati returns everyone but the 2012 graduates. The schools agreed to neutral site games from now on, and changed the name from “Shootout” to “Classic” to blunt the edgy rivalry. The Bearcats have a talented and experienced backcourt pair in Sean Kirkpatrick and Cashmere Wright. The Musketeers’ Semanj Christon and Dee Davis are talented but young.
- Dayton vs. Murray State (Saturday 12/22 11:00 AM CCS) – Belmont dominates the Ohio Valley Conference much like Gonzaga does the West Coast Conference. Murray State is the OVC’s Saint Mary’s, one of the few programs that can challenge Belmont in any given season. Dayton should win, but this will be one of those Great Games That Nobody Saw.
- Syracuse vs. Temple (Saturday 12/22 12:00 PM ESPN2) – This could have been billed as a “Preview of the Big East, 2014”, but Syracuse will not be in the Big East next. There might not be a Big East at all next season. The 2012-13 edition of the Orange have been world-beaters, but Temple will be the best team (San Diego State notwithstanding) Syracuse will have played so far, and it is not close. If Fran Dunphy’s team can manage the tempo and value their possessions, the Owls might fit right in at Madison Square Garden.
- Charlotte vs. Florida State (Saturday 12/22 2:00 PM CCS) – The 49ers were torched by Miami (FL), but Florida State is a .500 team playing on the road – this a winnable game for Alan Major’s squad. The Willie Clayton/Olcaro White matchup should be crucial. Welcome to the deep end of the pool, Willie.
- North Carolina State vs. Saint Bonaventure (Saturday 12/22 3:00 PM ESPN3) – The “return date” game, a two-point win for NCSU last season. This can be a resume game for the Bonnies, but the task will be tougher as they travel to Raleigh… without Andrew Nicholson. The Bonnies’ guards have the experience edge over NCSU’s two freshmen, but expect C. J. Leslie to give Demitrius Congers all he can handle.