CIO… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2013
First Week: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
- The Good: Charlotte is one of three teams still undefeated in conference play. Neither win was against a conference powerhouse, but both were good signs. Beating La Salle at the Holton suggests they will do well at home, while taking their road game versus Rhode Island was a sign that they should be able to win games there as well.
- The Bad. Temple’s loss to Xavier will not preclude the Owls from drawing an NCAA bid, but it makes the conference-wide bid picture, expected in the preseason season to be five, possibly very murky. The preseason NCAA short list included Saint Joseph’s, Xavier, Butler, VCU, Temple and Saint Louis, but poorer than expected non-conference results for Saint Joseph’s and Xavier seem to have pared that list. Xavier’s win over conference rival Temple may boost morale among the Musketeers’ faithful, but it undercuts the prospects for Temple (who has a very poor outing versus Duke on it’s resume), one of the stronger prospects on conference’s shrinking list.
- The Ugly: Saint Bonaventure was not expected to perform at the same levels as the Andrew Nicholson-led teams, but the double-figure road loss to rebuilding George Washington lowers the ceiling on the Bonnies’ prospects for this season. That was a game they would have won last year (and the year before). This is a larger-than-expected step back for the program.
CBS Sports named two A-10 players to their mid-season Top 50 Impact players. Butler’s Rotnei Clarke, a senior guard who transferred in from Arkansas and sat last season, was ranked #42 with the comment “Best shooter in the country?” Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth’s sophomore guard, was ranked #45. Recognized as a integral part of VCU’s Havoc defense, Jeff Goodman went on to comment “Makes plays at both ends of the floor.” The list, a collaboration by CBS Sports’ four basketball beat writers — Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello — focused on the 50 players who they felt had the greatest impact on the first two months of the college basketball season.
Conference play opened last week with every team playing twice before the end of the first weekend. While the top – and bottom — of the power rankings remains largely unchanged from the end of December, there is some shuffling within the middle eight.
- Butler (14-2, 2-0) – A 2-0 start to conference play has extended the Bulldogs’ winning streak to 11. The run is jeopardized by guard Rotnei Clarke’s neck injury, sustained when the senior was fouled as he completed a layup at the end of a breakout play in Butler’s 79-73 win over Dayton. A day-after MRI showed no spinal fractures (or other damage), but Clarke will be held out of the Bulldogs’ next two games (Richmond on Wednesday and Gonzaga on Saturday), pending a medical review. The Butler team doctor took issue with NBC Sports Network which had a crew covering the Dayton game. The crew overzealously opened a nearby microphone and broadcast the injured player’s conversation with attending medical staff, an act Dr. Thomas Fischer contended that was intrusive and unethical. Dr. Fischer will determine when Clarke can return to play. Richmond, without junior Derrick Williams, will be hard pressed to match the Bulldogs’ front court contingent, but Gonzaga, ranked #8 by the AP, could prove to be a very difficult opponent. Freshman Kellen Dunham, sophomore Alex Barlow and senior Chase Stigall will have to take up Clarke’s scoring contribution for at least the next week. Given Clarke’s contribution is 16.5 per game, that will be a task bigger than the collection can probably handle.
- Virginia Commonwealth (14-3, 2-0 #22 AP) – The Rams extended their winning run to 11 games. The Havoc defense and a plethora of offensive weapons bolsters the possibility that Shaka Smart’s squad will run the conference table in January and possibility well into February. Of the next five games, the two most challenging include the next one up — Saint Joseph’s on Thursday (January 17) – and Richmond on January 24. Pomeroy favors the Rams by 12 versus the Hawks, and by eight versus the Spiders (cross town rivalry perhaps). Sophomore off-guard Treveon Graham may have landed on CBS Sport’s list (not to mention the A-10’s latest weekly honor roll), but senior guard Troy Daniels has been named conference player of the week and was four times named the conference’s weekly honor roll. Depth.
- Saint Louis (11-4, 1-1) – Coach Jim Crews squad saw their nine game winning streak snapped last weekend in Philadelphia as Temple’s Owls beat the Billikens 64-54 to drop the Bills to 1-1 in conference play. Senior guard Kwamain Mitchell has logged an average of 27+ minutes since returning from an injury, but his shot selection and conversion still require work. Mitchell’s combined shooting statistics for his two conference games was 6-17 that includes a 1-6 shooting effort from beyond the arc. Mitchell has several more games – Rhode Island (at home), along with Duquesne and St. Bonaventure (on the road) – before the Bills host Butler at the end of January. Ken Pomeroy aside (he currently favors Saint Louis in their next eight games), the Bulldogs will provide SLU with their sternest test until February 19 (VCU).
- Temple (11-4, 1-1) – An opening game loss to Xavier handed the Owls their first back-to-back loss since they closed out the 2011-12 season and knocked Temple down two spots on these power rankings. Temple picked up a road loss to Kansas on January 6, but the margin, about two possessions did not to damage to the squad’s post season prospects. The Owls followed the road losses with a home win over Saint Louis 64-54, last Saturday. Sophomore center Anthony Lee has emerged as the most efficient of Temple’s scoring trio (Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall are the other two). Randall needs to improve his shot selection. The Owls have three winnable games (George Washington, Penn, Saint Bonaventure) before they travel to Butler for a game January 26.
- Charlotte (14-2, 2-0) – Coach Alan Major’s squad is the surprise of the season so far, their conference play simply continues the trend established in their out of conference play. Charlotte plays defense well, often the question of winning decided by how effectively they can execute Major’s offense. Freshman Willie Clayton has been a welcomed surprise. Can the 49ers sustain their run? The answer would appear to be a tentative “yes”… for now. Over the next five games, the sequence of the opponents and the game’s location favor Charlotte. They host Fordham, travel to Richmond to play a Derrick Williams-less Spider squad, then return to host Xavier and finally travel to George Washington to play a rebuilding Colonial squad. The 49ers are not favored in every game, but the timing and sequence give them the best possible opportunity to win. Like La Salle (see below), the key for Charlotte’s longer term success will be more efficient offense.
- La Salle (11-4, 1-1) – The Explorers had a chance to set the conference pecking order when they traveled to Charlotte to open their conference slate with the 49ers. Coach John Giannini’s squad however came up on the short end of a 65-74 decision. While they bounced back with a home win over Richmond, they may come to regret that game in Charlotte over the next two weeks as they have to face a gauntlet of Dayton (home), Xavier (road), Butler (home) and Virginia Commonwealth (road), with the strongest prospect for a win coming from Dayton. While La Salle has hit it’s stride on defense, turning in six strong defensive performances in their last seven (the ACC’s Miami the exception) games, getting the offense right is the next step. Transfer Tyrone Garland might be the answer. Garland became eligible on December 15, and earned his first nod from the conference last Monday. Going winless over the next four games would be a step back, while one win would seem to be par for the course. More than one win (especially if it comes on the road) would be cause for optimism for Explorer fans.
- Saint Joseph’s (9-5, 1-1) – The Hawks opened conference play with a loss (at the Hagan) to Butler, but leveled their conference record at one with a road win at Duquesne. The immediate problem for coach Phil Martelli’s squad will be how to win without junior forward Halil Kanasevic, who has returned home to Montenegro to attend the funeral of his uncle. The Joe’s have struggled on defense in five of their last seven games, the two conference games have exposed the growing defensive passivity by lack of defensive rebounding and forced turnovers. Saint Joseph’s is not putting enough pressure on the ball to force steals and turnovers. A two game road trip will take the Hawks to Virginia to play VCU, then back to Philadelphia to play Big 5 rival Pennsylvania. Though they will most likely dip below 0.500 with the VCU game, the Hawks should have three more conference wins to close out January.
- Xavier (9-6, 2-0) – Although the Musketeers were staggering at the end of the their out of conference slate, they broke a four game slide with two wins to open conference play. For the Xavier faithful, the first game, but with their five point, 57-52 win over Temple, Xavier the possibility that they would not go quietly into the night this season. Though coach Chris Mack still has more questions than answers (“Which Jeff Robinson will show up tonight?”, “Who wants to be the #3 scoring option tonight?” and “How much more can Semanj Christon give us?” for example), when you couple the Temple win with Christon’s third conference Rookie of the Week award (the most of any freshman so far), some a answers are starting to emerge. Travis Taylor is becoming a consistent second scoring option, but who from the pool of Robinson, Dee Davis or Brad Redford will consistently step up to contribute double digit points for the cause? Xavier should have two more conference wins this week (Saint Bonaventure in Olean, La Salle at the Cintas Center) before they head to North Carolina for a game with Charlotte on January 23. On paper the 49ers get the nod, but if the “right” Jeff Robinson shows up, who knows? The Bonaventure game should give fans a hint about whether last week’s results are a trend or a respite.
- Dayton (10-6, 0-2) – Coach Archie Miller’s squad drew the shortest straw. Opening on the road at Virginia Commonwealth, the Flyers managed to keep the margin under 10 for a good part of the second half, falling 62-74 to the Rams. They then hosted Butler over the weekend, taking another hit, this time by seven (73-79) points. An 0-2 start, troubling though predictable, is consoled by the knowledge that they have finished the most difficult part of their conference schedule. Through the end of January their most remaining difficult game with be a so-so Xavier in Cincinnati. They should finish the month above 0.500 in conference play. The immediate challenge, La Salle in Philadelphia on Wednesday, should be a good benchmark for how far the Flyers will go this season. Both Dayton and La Salle want to finish in the upper half of the conference and have a shot at post season play (preferably in the NCAA), so a win by the Flyers will give them a leg up should it come down to a comparison.
- Massachusetts (11-4, 1-1) – Junior guard Jesse Morgan, injured during UMass’ 62–70 conference opening loss to St. Louis, was diagnosed with an ACL tear in the injured knee. He will get surgery next month and coach Derek Kellogg’s offense will have to show more efficiency than it did in the Minutemen’s 77-73 win over Fordham last weekend if UMass is to salvage this season. Morgan was the squad’s second leading scorer and primary three point threat. Kellogg started senior guard Freddie Riley against Fordham and Riley responded with 11 points in 36 minutes. Chaz Williams and Terrell Vinson assumed a larger role in the offense, launching a combined 32 attempts (16 apiece), higher than their season averages. If Riley is Kellogg’s solution for the season he will have to improve on his 4-12 performance against Fordham. The Minutemen benefit from a three game home stand coming up – Duquesne, followed by George Washington and Richmond.
- Richmond (11-6, 1-1) – The Spiders, still without junior forward/center Derrick Williams, who injured his ankle in Richmond’s loss to Davidson on December 29, squeaked by a rebuilding Rhode Island to open conference play, dropped their second game at La Salle by double digits. They are still very much a work in progress and without Williams, will struggle against squads with longer front courts. Coach Chris Mooney’s backcourt, Darien Brothers and Kendall Anthony (inserted into the starting lineup in Williams’ absence) have the dubious distinction of scoring more efficiently from beyond the arc than inside. Brothers’ conversion rate for three point attempts is 51.1% while his two point rate is 43.0% for Anthony, the numbers are similar –43.5% (three point attempts) and 41.8% (two point attempts). The loss of Williams cannot be underestimated. The undersized big hit 63% of his field goal attempts, which kept opposing defense honest. Without Williams, defenses are free to concentrate on shutting Brothers and Anthony down. Their January 19 game versus Charlotte should give a hint on how the Spiders’ season will unfold. Without Williams it will be difficult to control the boards and score, but even with Williams the front court matchups (Chris Braswell and Willie Clayton versus Williams and freshman Alonzo Nelson-Ododa) would favor Charlotte.
- George Washington (7-8, 1-1) – A lineup switch – coach Mike Lonergan started freshmen Patricio Garino, Joe McDonald, Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen alongside transfer Isaiah Armwood, unveiled a full court press and swept the Bonnies out of the gym, 78-59 in a physical game to open conference play. The good times were short lived however, as the Colonials lost a double digit game, 56-71, at Xavier. The Bonnies notwithstanding, GWU continues to struggle with a dismal three point conversion rate. Inconsistency from the outside means they do not get to the line, and continue to force attempts inside (where they are only slightly more efficient). Lonergan has some interesting young players who will no doubt improve for next season, but if the Bonas game proves to be an offensive outlier, the Colonials may have to wait six weeks (Fordham on February 20) for win number two. No news regarding senior David Pellom’s return – is Lonergan planning to apply for an extra year for the senior?
- Saint Bonaventure (7-8, 0-2) – The Bonnies stumbled badly out of the gate, losing to George Washington, by double digits to open conference play. The home loss to Virginia Commonwealth was no surprise but the margin was surprisingly less than the one registered in DC on Wednesday (-7 vs. -19). Coach Mark Schmidt’s squad is riding a five-game losing streak and looking at the next four opponents (Xavier at home, Temple and St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, St. Louis at home), the outlook is not promising. Their February 2 home game with Duquesne may be the best place to break the drought. Unfortunately they will be 0-6 in conference play by then, and pretty much fighting the Dukes, Fordham and Rhode Island to stay out of the conference basement.
- Duquesne (7-9, 0-2) –The Dukes lost on the road to Fordham to open their conference slate, then dropped their second game (at home) to Saint Joseph’s. Especially unsettling in both games was their offensive output. Neither the Rams nor the Hawks will garner conference awards for defense, but coach Jim Ferry’s squad could barely break the one point per possession benchmark for an average offense. On defense, a poor shot defense and low take away rate indicate a too-passive defense. Best win possibilities looking ahead (GWU on 2/6, Rhodi on 2/16 and the Bonnies on 2/23 – all at the Palumbo) all come in February, when the team, short and inexperienced by Division I standards, will be run down and demoralized.
- Rhode Island (5-10, 0-2) – Coach Dan Hurley’s squad dropped two close games, a road game in Richmond (61-64) and a home loss to Charlotte (50-58) to open conference play. For a squad whose nucleus consists of five returning players who contributed 38% of the minutes played. Of those five, two (Mike Powell and Andre Malone) are fixtures among the starting five, while two others (Ryan Brooks and Nikola Malesevic) have earned multiple starts. Hurley’s defensive system appears to be taking hold – note the declining red line that represents what the defense has (on average) given up on possessions over the course of the entire season. The defense is “crossing” the 1.0 line, considered good for Division I teams; the challenge is on offense, where the squad scores only (on average) about 0.95 points on their possessions. Hurley’s strategy, to increase chances to win by limiting the possessions each team may have during the game, is working as the Rams are currently playing for about 63.4 possessions per game (adjusted according to Ken Pomeroy — ranking them #297 out of 348 in Division I). The key to more conference wins will be to find another offensive threat behind Mumford and Malone. Freshmen front court players Jordan Hare and Mike Aaman are candidates if they can get more touches and convert efficiently.
- Fordham (5-12, 1-1) – The temptation to bump the Rams to #10 for this week only is strong, but not overpowering. Despite the strong start, a decisive (82-75) win over Duquesne that put them in a 1-0 tie with seven other teams at the top of the conference standings. The problems however, remain. A one dimensional offense (Branden Frazier and Chris Gaston) and too-passive defense persist. The offensive and defensive efficiencies (points per possession scored and allowed) are improving albeit very, very slowly. Having freshman center Ryan Canty emerge as a legitimate presence in the low post might well make a long-term difference for the squad this season.
- George Washington vs. Temple (Wednesday 1/16, 7:00 PM Comcast Sports Net Mid-Atlantic) – An odd early “must win” for the Owls. Temple has a few resume wins, but losing their conference opener to a (so far) .500 Xavier team can be a problem come March. A second road loss, to GW no less, would be a negative on their resume.
- Virginia Commonwealth vs. Saint Joseph’s (Thursday 1/17 9:00 PM CBS Sports Network) – No doubt a “circle the date” game in September, the Hawks will not have Halil Kanasevic (see above), a big problem as they try to match up with Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic. C.J. Aiken and Ron Roberts will have their hands full. How many more minutes will Papa Ndao get?
- Richmond vs. Charlotte (Saturday 1/19 6:00 PM) – The 49ers’ biggest conference road test so far. A win over the Spiders (not a universal given) would lend further credibility to their progress this season. No TV coverage and that is a shame as the clash of styles could produce an exciting, watchable game. Richmond likes to force turnovers (and Charlotte turns it over too much), while Charlotte rebounds well (and Richmond doesn’t). Those imbalances, along with a pace difference (Richmond plays a modified Princeton Offense while Charlotte prefers a power game that relies on low post scoring) means the teams will struggle to control how the game unfolds.
- Butler vs. Gonzaga (Saturday 1/19 8:00 PM ESPN) – Gonzaga is ranked #8 and Butler is at #13. Count this as a top 10-type match-up, and with ESPN providing the kind of media exposure rarely given at this point in the season to non-conference games (the defunct Bracket Buster excepted), this should be one of the best games of the weekend.