The Road to the Atlantic 10 Title Doesn’t Run Through PhiladelphiaPosted by CNguon on February 8th, 2013
Joseph Dzuback is a RTC correspondent and longtime Big 5 basketball enthusiast.
Where the Road Runs
Halfway through the Atlantic 10 conference schedule, fans find three conference members are earning AP top 25 votes, but none is from the City of Brotherly Love:
Temple and Saint Joseph’s share a 4-4 record and ninth place in conference standings, a game behind the five teams – one of whom is La Salle — that shares fourth place. What happened to Andy Katz’s Philadelphia-centric conference overview, “Atlantic 10 race will run through Philadelphia”, that argued the conference’s three Philadelphia-based members would compete effectively for the top seeds to the conference tournament in Brooklyn or, at the very least, play a critical role (larger than their 42 game contribution to the conference schedule) when time came to crown a conference champion and divvy up the NCAA bids?
Collectively the three Philadelphia teams were, on paper, the strongest they had been in over a decade. Katz’s argument was hardly a stretch. But now?
- Saint Joseph’s (13-8, 4-4): The coaches’ pick to take the conference title last October, returned everyone from the 2011-12 squad that won 20 games and earned an NIT bid. Veteran coach Phil Martelli, dean of the A-10 coaching fraternity, assembled the most talented and experienced collection of players since his 2003-2004 squad won the regular season title and ran to the Elite Eight on their way to a 30-win season. Wounded by a thousand pin pricks however, the Hawk has failed to soar this season. Guard Carl Jones was suspended for the Hawks’ last exhibition and first two regular season games. Though Saint Joseph’s beat (then #20 ranked) Notre Dame during Jones’ absence, off guard Langston Galloway lost a tooth in a freak collision while diving for a loose ball. Though he has appeared in every game, Galloway’s production is down nearly two points per game from 2011-11. A mediocre December record of 3-3 included losses to Creighton and Villanova and a two game suspension for junior forward Halil Kanasevic, tabbed by some previews as the sleeper candidate for conference Player of the Year. Kanasevic has yet to appear in more than five consecutive games this season. In addition to the suspension Kanasevic did not appear in St. Joe’s game versus American and missed three conference games when he traveled overseas to attend an uncle’s funeral. With the entire squad finally assembled and healthy, perhaps Martelli can use the last eight games to establish a rhythm.
- Temple (15-7, 4-4): The Owls fielded a squad a step behind the teams that dominated conference play the past three seasons. The 2012-2013 edition contains upperclassmen who understand, but may not be able to execute coach Fran Dunphy’s system. They have bobbled the baton passed by Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez and Eric Michael, with the accumulated attrition eroding the Owls’ front court enough to force Dunphy to bring fifth year senior Jake O’Brien in to provide depth. An unexpectedly shallow backcourt meant point guard responsibilities passed to sophomore Will Cummings which left West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper on the bench. Cummings, a more accomplished passer than a shooter has not provided the long range threat that would tie up defenses and open up inside scoring opportunities for Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Anthony Lee and O’Brien. O’Brien has logged an average of 19 minutes per game, higher than the spot-duty originally envisioned. The combined front court rotation of Lee, Hollis-Jefferson and O’Brien (and Pepper) has been consistently overmatched on the boards, garnering a paltry 31.4% of their own misses. Temple’s game at Saint Joseph’s Saturday is a case in point. Despite Khalif Wyatt’s career-high 34 points the Owls lost the battle of the boards by nine, 39-30, were outscored on second chance points and were outscored in the paint 40-16. And lost by one point on a Wyatt miss at the buzzer.
- La Salle (15-6, 5-3): La Salle was the coaches’ consensus “sleeper” last October, largely on the strength of a less talented, but recommitted team that won 21 games in 2011-2012. Having shed a few disruptive players, Dr. John Giannini picked up two transfers and several freshmen better suited to run his up-tempo offense. The Explorers are tied (with five other teams) for fourth place in the conference standings and are a projected #11 seed in ESPN’s latest brackets. Muddling through a relatively unchallenging out of conference schedule with a 10-3 record, La Salle beat conference leaders Butler and Virginia Commonwealth (ranked #9 and #19 respectively) in stunning back-to-back games and catapulted themselves into the post season conversation. Though transfer Tyrone Garland bolsters an offense powered by Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren, Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack, the key to success has been defense. The Explorers are ranked #2 in the conference, largely on the strength of shot defense and forced turnovers.