CIO…the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2013
Another Saturday, Another Scalp: Reeling from an inexplicable 10-point loss to Canisius (72-62) on December 19, Temple bounced back with a stunning 83-79 upset of #3 Syracuse, all the more surprising given that it happened in the confines of Syracuse’s “second home”, Madison Square Garden, on December 22. The Orange, notorious for not leaving the state of New York before the start of conference play, were unable to contain Khalif Wyatt and sophomore center Anthony Lee as both scored career-high points. Wyatt, a slasher who can play either guard spot in addition to the small forward was a perfect 15-of-15 from the line on the way to scoring 33 points. Lee was manhandled by Duke’s Mason Plumlee two Saturdays before, schooled fellow Philadelphian Rakeem Christmas and his teammate James Southerland to grab nine rebounds to go with his career-high 21 points. Butler traveled to Nashville the next Saturday and housed the Commodores of Vanderbilt by 19 points, 68-49. The Bulldogs’ backcourt paced the team with 40 points (Rotnei Clarke – 22, Kellen Dunham – 12, Alex Barlow – six) while Khyle Marshall missed a double-double by a single point (nine points and 11 rebounds).
Versus Other Conferences
With nearly 98% of the non-conference schedule on the books (as of January 1), the Atlantic 10 has compiled an outstanding 64.3% winning percentage (126-70). Bettering their 2011-12 winning percentage of 62.6% (107-64), the conference posted a number of superb wins over power conference teams in the process.
The mark is not without a few blemishes, especially with respect to the seven power conferences where the A-10’s conference-wide record declined over their mark last season. Especially disappointing was the conference mark versus the ACC (3-10, 0.231) and Big East (6-11, 0.353). While they continue to dominate against those non-power conferences with whom they share a similar profile (the CAA, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, West Coast Conference, and Western Athletic Conference), the overall record masks losing records versus the Missouri Valley Conference (3-4, 0.429) and the West Coast Conference (1-3, 0.250).
The teams largely wrap up non-conference play over the mid-winter break, with only a few standings-changing games on the last and this week. Games/records are through January 2.
- Butler (9-2, #18 AP) – The defense of 2011-12 is starting to round into form for the Bulldogs. Coach Brad Stevens’ squad has allowed opponents on average 0.93 points per possession in the six (Division I) games since their loss to Illinois on November 21. After five starts, freshman Kellen Dunham returned to his sixth man role and appears to be thriving. If Player of the Year polling commenced today, transfer Rotnei Clarke would garner more than a few votes outside of Indianapolis, but as much as the newcomers (Clarke and Dunham) have sparked the Bulldogs, the contributions of the front court, Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith are key. Though not the focal point of the offense, Smith and Marshall are a devastatingly efficient combination, contributing over 1.1 points per possession on offense while hauling in over 12% of the offensive rebounds apiece when they are on the court. Butler will host Penn and New Orleans before opening conference play on the road against Saint Joseph’s (see below) on January 9.
- Temple (10-2) – Snow postponed the Detroit game (December 28), but the Owls swung back into action with the program’s 1800 official Division I win against Bowling Green, 75-57, on New Year’s Eve. Senior Khalif Wyatt has started to draw the spotlight, and though he, along with seniors Scootie Randall and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson draw better than 75% of the minutes at their positions, coach Fran Dunphy nevertheless uses a nine man rotation, with newcomers Quentin DeCosey (freshman guard) and Dalton Pepper (transfer wing) seeing the floor in nearly every game so far. The key going forward will be shot distribution, and through Tuesday night four players (Wyatt, Randall, DeCosey and sophomore center Anthony Lee) appear to share those opportunities when they are on the court.
- Virginia Commonwealth (10-3) – Only once in the last seven games (versus city rival Old Dominion) have the Rams allowed their opponent to average more than one point per possession, a defensive rating good enough to rank the Rams #13 on Ken Pomeroy’s Division I list. VCU’s Havoc Defense causes a 30% turnover rate among their opponents so far this season. That means three in ten opponents’ possessions end with a turnover rather than a field goal attempt. Team steals (19.1% per Ken Pomeroy), coupled with fouls appear to feed the Havoc. While sophomore guard Briante Weber leads the team with 44 steals (best in Division I according to Pomeroy), senior guard Darius Theus and junior forward Juvonte Reddic assure the ball pressure is applied everywhere. Though Teddy Okafor, Melvin Johnson and Jarred Guest draw limited minutes, coach Shaka Smart knows the ball pressure is still on when they are in. VCU plays East Tennessee State and Lehigh before opening conference play with Dayton on January 9.
- Saint Louis (10-3) – The Billikens’ win over New Mexico, 60-46 , was especially impressive because the Lobos are members of the Mountain West Conference, a prime competitor for NCAA bids. Since their catastrophic loss to Santa Clara in the second game of the season, the Bills have held opponents to an 0.84 points per possession, even while sustaining two additional losses (to Kansas and Washington). Jim Crews is the coach, but the team, from the leisurely pace (62.8 adjusted per Ken Pomeroy) to the boa constrictor defense, reflects Rick Majerus’ philosophy of basketball. Best news is the return of senior guard Kwamain Mitchell, sidelined with a broken ankle since October. Mitchell played in Saint Louis’ wins over SIU Edwardsville and New Mexico, logging a total of 38 minutes between the two games. Saint Louis will need his experience as they go into conference play. The Billikens play Savannah State before opening conference play versus Massachusetts Thursday January 9.
- La Salle (9-3) – Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland has had an immediate impact since becoming eligible on December 15. The junior guard has averaged 24.8 minutes and 13.3 points per game since coming off the bench in the Explorers’ loss to Bucknell. [ed note – Garland played 26 minutes and scored 20 points in La Salle’s loss to Miami January 2]. The original guard rotation (starters Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills and g/f substitute Rohan Brown) continues to log their minutes as Dr. John Giannini uses Garland in a four guard (or if Brown is in) a smaller, quicker lineup. That versatility has paid off with three consecutive wins against teams from the MAAC and NEC conferences. Garland and Company will travel to Miami and host Penn before opening conference play in Charlotte against the 49er Wednesday (January 9).
- Dayton (9-4) – The Flyers’ Devon Oliver drew a nod from the conference for his performance in Dayton’s road loss to Southern California on December 30. The loss, which represented a solid win opportunity for coach Archie Miller’s program, was the second in three games. Dayton looks to a UAB game on Saturday as their last chance to log a tenth win before beginning conference play January 9 at Virginia Commonwealth. Guards Kevin Dillard and Vee Sanford continue to be the most consistent offensive options available for Miller, even as turnovers continue to sabotage their offensive efficiency. The culprits appear to be in the front court, largely (no pun intended) in the form of Josh Benson, Jalen Robinson and Oliver, each of whom tends to lose about one in five of his possessions. Dillard too tends to lose nearly one in four of his possessions (per Ken Pomeroy), especially troubling since he handles the ball so much.
- Charlotte (11-2) – Despite losing their two biggest out of conference games, the 49ers will start conference play with the strongest record since joining the A-10 in 2005-06. Coach Alan Major is virtually guaranteed to exceed his highest win total (13) in his three year tenure at the Carolina school. Willie Clayton is making his case for Rookie of the Year with a string of strong December performances, his 12 points and seven rebounds in Charlotte’s win over Radford and double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) in Charlotte’s loss to Florida State the two more recent examples. Clayton is part of a very solid front court rotation that includes seniors Chris Braswell and J.T. Thompson along with freshman Darion Clark that has dominated the boards at both ends of the floor. Major must bring along an inexperienced (and turnover-prone) backcourt that includes freshman Denzel Ingram and sophomores Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams as the 49ers look to open conference play by hosting La Salle on January 9. Only junior win DeMario Mayfield has more than one season of Division I experience.
- Saint Joseph’s (7-4) – The preseason favorites closed out December with 3-3 record, far short of where they expected to be. On a positive note senior guard Carl Jones earned a Player of the Week nod from the conference for his performance in Saint Joseph’s win over Iona (he scored a career-high 31 points) and appears to be back on track and Halil Kanasevic, returned from a two-game suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct to help the Hawks beat crosstown rival Drexel. On a sour note the Hawks’ defense, the strong point in coach Phil Martelli’s program, has (despite strong showings against Coppin State and Drexel) fallen off drastically from the mark set in their five November games. Though they appear to have regressed on both sides of the ball, the problems with defense seem to be traceable to defensive rebounding, an especially troubling deficiency in the Iona game as the Gaels nearly matched the Joe’s under their own basket and scored 22 second chance points. Kanasevic, possibly the best defensive rebounder on the squad, should remedy that in conference play.
- Richmond (9-5) – The Spiders closed out 2012 with a three game losing streak, taking the shine off of what was shaping up as a great record for the young squad going into conference play. If the defensive breakdown against Kansas was predictable (the Phogg must be worth seven points by itself), the last minute lapse versus George Mason (67-64), followed by the six point home loss to Davidson were baffling. Against George Mason Richmond led continuously for the first 38 minutes, at times in the second half by double digits. GMU managed a 9-2 run over those last two minutes, shooting 3-4 from the field including two three pointers, to go with a 1-2 mark from the free throw line. The Spiders responded with a 1-2 shooting performance and two turnovers. Coach Chris Mooney’s team will host Rhode Island January 9 to open conference play.
- Massachusetts (8-3) – December has been a crazy month for UMass. The Minutemen have strung together five wins (three on the road) since losing to Miami (FL) on December 1. Senior forward Terrell Vinson joined the 1,000 point club with his 10 point effort at Northern Illinois December 29. Junior guard Chaz Williams was among 85 players (and one of four A-10 guards) named to the Cousy Award Watch List. The junior has a 44% assist rate (per Ken Pomeroy), which means that nearly half of the UMass field goals scored originate from a pass by him, when he is in the game. Sophomore center Cady Lalanne was reinstated after a one game suspension in the aftermath of his arrest in early December, but has contributed irregularly off the bench while senior Sampson Carter took his starting spot. Carter is averaging over 23 minutes per game. The Minutemen close out their out of conference schedule over the weekend when they host Eastern Michigan, then fly out to Saint Louis to open against the Billikens on January 9.
- Xavier (7-5) – Their loss to Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic on December 19 triggered a three game losing run to close out the month and year (2012), the longest losing streak in coach Chris Mack’s three year tenure. [ed note – Xavier lost to Wake Forest on January 2 to run the streak to four] An over-passive defense, some offensive rebounding (understandably lacking given the current roster) and some free throw practice might help (especially in the 47-51 loss at Tennessee) turn things around, but perhaps most of all, the Musketeers need to find their swagger. Somewhere between last season’s Shootout and this season’s Classic they no longer approach each game as “winnable”. They need to find it soon too, as they host Temple to open conference play on January 10.
- Saint Bonaventure (7-5) – The Bonnies are riding a two game losing streak, dropping games to North Carolina State (73-92) and Iona (74-93), to close out 2012. Both losses were by 19 points, very uncharacteristic of the squad’s performance earlier in the month. In both recent losses the Bonnies’ were very generous on shot defense, allowing NCSU to complete 32 of 56 attempts (57.1%) and granting Iona a similar 31-59 night (52%). Over the two game run their opponents shot a combined 19-41 (46.3%) from beyond the arc. The point yield for their opponents was comparable to completing 70% of their two point attempts. Coach Mark Schmidt can only hope that Ken Pomeroy is correct when he suggests that three point defense tends to regress to the mean over the course of the season. If not it will be a very cold winter indeed in Olean. And while I am on the subject of cold weather, Saint Bonaventure will travel to Fort Collins, CO to play Colorado State over the weekend, before returning to the east coast to open conference play at George Washington January 9.
- Duquesne (7-7) – The Dukes closed out their out of conference slate with two losses, both on the road, to Louisiana Lafayette (79-91) and Penn State (74-84). Strong individual performances from senior guard Sean Johnson (35 points, four assists) and freshmen guards Derrick Coulter (38 points, eight assists) and Quevyn Winters (23 points and a Rookie of the Week award from the conference) could not overcome the double digit loss margin in either game. Despite several promising defensive efforts (West Virginia and Appalachian State), the Dukes continue to give up more than 1.1 points per possession (blame the shot defense and the failure to force turnovers), with their defensive efficiency slipping to 1.12 over the last four games where they have gone 1-3. With over a week between games (Duquesne opens conference play January 9 at Fordham), coach Jim Ferry will no doubt be in the film room identifying the defensive breakdowns.
- George Washington (6-6) – On the strength of a two game winning streak, complements of Virginia Military Institute and Sacred Heart, the Colonials have pulled back to 0.500, but coach Mike Lonergan struggles with inefficient offensive production from his regular rotation. The Colonials do not value the ball as they lose one in four possessions without taking a shot. The principal, but hardly sole turnover source is steals — one in six possessions is simply taken away. Of the backcourt rotation (Joe McDonald, Lasan Kromah, Bryan Bynes, Kethan Savage and Patricio Garino) only Kromah and Savage have assist-to-turnover ratios 1.0 or better. Status on injured senior David Pellom remains uncertain; the forward is slated to see doctors this week and could be cleared for practice/play in time for the A-10 season opener versus St. Bonaventure (January 9). Lonergan, however, is not holding his breath.
- Rhode Island (4-8) – A very ugly road loss to St. Mary’s (82-59) of the West Coast Conference notwithstanding and an upside down won-loss record, Dan Hurley has put together an impressive run that includes a road win over Auburn out of the SEC and a 22 point win over Southern Methodist (who will join the Big East next season). In his 10 month tenure Hurley has assembled some potentially good talent, unfortunately most of it is watching from the sidelines in compliance of the NCAA waiting period for transfers. In the meantime the staff uses a combination of slow ball (63.7 possessions per game, ranked #295 out of 348 by Ken Pomeroy) and defense, holding opponents to just over 1.0 points per possession. Rhodi will play Brown before starting conference play at Richmond Wednesday January 9.
- Fordham (4-10) – The Rams recorded their fourth win on December 31 against Monmouth of the Northeast Conference, which guarantees they will start conference play with the lowest win total of coach Tom Pecora’s tenure. The good news is that preseason All-Conference First Teamer Chris Gaston, sidelined with minor surgery early in the November, returned to the lineup on December 15 and Fordham has gone 3-2 in the five games since. Gaston’s presence has helped Forham on both sides of the ball, bumping the offense production by on average seven points while holding their opponents’ to on average, a half point less. The senior resumes his march on Fordham’s all-time scoring record, averaging 17.4 points per game since his return.Their 82 point outburst against Monmouth was the highest this season for Fordham. The Rams will play Ole Miss (at Oxford, MS) before kicking off conference play with Duquesne January 9.
Conference play kicks off early next week and there will be great match-ups every week. Not many “off nights” in this conference this season.
- Kansas vs. Temple (Sunday January 6, 3:30 PM, CBS) – A very tough road game for the Owls as they travel to Lawrence to take on the #6 Jayhawks. Both teams play three guards, so all eyes will be on the backcourt match-ups, Ben McLemore, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford versus Will Cummings, Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall. But the game may turn on how Anthony Lee and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson fare against Jeff Withey and Kevin Young .
- Saint Joseph’s vs. Butler (Wednesday January 9, 7:00 PM, Comcast Net PA) – The preseason favorite is tested in their first conference game. C. J. Aiken should match up well with Khyle Marshall, but can Helil Kanesevic contain Andrew Smith? The Joe’s defense has been inconsistent, but both teams love to score.
- Virginia Commonwealth vs. Dayton (Wednesday January 9, 7:00 PM) – The Rams should start conference play 1-0; the game will serve more as a measuring stick for the Flyers. Can Josh Benson compete with Juvonte Reddic?
- Charlotte vs. La Salle (Wednesday January 9, 7:30 PM) – Willie Clayton and Chris Braswell should be a very tough match-up for Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack. John Giannini has gone small early by bringing in D.J. Peterson or transfer Tyrone Garland, but he will need an outstanding effort from someone to stop DeMario Mayfield.
Spotlight On …
Troy Daniels: Virginia Commonwealth’s senior guard makes a serious bid for conference Player of the Year honors with this outstanding 11 three-pointer night against East Tennessee State. The Rams went on to wallop the Buccaneers 109-58. Daniels broke the VCU record for threes made on Saturday against Farleigh Dickinson when he hit nine. He allowed that record to stand for all of four days. If he continues this rampage in conference play, watch out.