CIO… the Atlantic 10 ConferencePosted by CNguon on February 20th, 2013
*Ed. Note: the statistics in this column were aggregated prior to Tuesday night’s St. Louis-VCU game.
Difference Margins in Conference Games: The offense/defense difference margins are beginning to “behave” as teams with winning records (Charlotte and Temple excepted) have positive difference margins, while teams with losing records (Dayton excepted) have negative difference margins. Temple, with a 5-5 record, has a -0.001, just two one-thousandths under “positive.” Tiers within the winning and losing groups continues to be messy, and occasionally explains why a team is succeeding or failing.
Looking over the “standings” this week a few things jump out…
- Fordham and Duquesne are losing contact with the rest of the conference, and that includes 3-8 Rhode Island. For the Dukes, with a new coach and a program in disarray, the trend is not surprising as wins are hard to come by. Fordham, coming into the season with senior all-conference forward Chris Gaston and a promising young backcourt, has to be a disappointment to fans and university administrators. Granted, Gaston has struggled with injuries and extended absences, but the current late season fade continues a pattern established over the last five seasons.
- Saint Louis appears to be running away from the rest of the league. If the Bilikens’ numbers hold up over the course of this week (they play Butler next, after eviscerating VCU last night), expect coach Jim Crews’ squad to emerge with the #1 seed going into Brooklyn and up in the NCAA field where they are currently seeded in the #9-#11 range.
- Temple’s -0.001 efficiency margin reflects the fact that the Owls have had a series of one-point decisions (more in Temple’s team report below) against both stronger teams (Charlotte) and weaker teams (Duquesne).
Going, going… The topic touched on during virtually every Division I basketball game over the last week is “Who is in?” usually accompanied by a discussion of bubble teams – right side/wrong side, S-curves and “What happened to…”. Alhough the field is still under construction and opinions vary as to whether the Atlantic 10 will have six bids (Jerry Palm as of February 17) or four (Joe Lunardi and RTC’s own Daniel Evans), there is an emerging consensus that several preview “contenders” are in the field, somewhere on (or near) the bubble and clearly out of the conversation entirely. Some quick takes on the “bubble… sort of’s” and those who are “out”:
- Charlotte – Jerry Palm lists the 49ers as a #11 seed and well beyond the “Last Four In” category. Daniels lists them on his bubble watch of February 18 while Lunardi remains silent. Can good conference wins versus Butler and Xavier really negate double-figure losses to Richmond, George Washington and Saint Louis? More than any A-10 team not named Temple, winning their last five games going into the conference tournament will make or break this resume.
- Massachusetts – Listed by Daniels on his February 18 bubble watch, UMass, like Charlotte, sports a 6-5 conference record just short of the clubhouse turn, but unlike the 49ers, the Minutemen lack a “hmmm…” win over the conference leaders (or anyone else). Nobody else (i.e., Palm or Lunardi) has them in the conversation. Xavier and Butler are among the Minutemen’s last five opponents.
- Temple – Jerry Palm has the Owls playing in Kansas City as a #11 seed (with a bubble icon) while Lunardi lists them among the “First Four Out” and Daniels shows them out, but on the bubble with a 50% chance of getting in. One of the crazier seasons has been made all the more difficult with inconsistent play from the frontcourt. With La Salle, Charlotte and Virginia Commonwealth all coming up, the Owls can settle the matter with a 5-0 run going into Brooklyn.
- Xavier – Listed by Daniels with merely a 5% chance of making the field of 68, the Musketeers are relegated to the “teams whose appearance streaks are in danger” part of the tournament conversation. Rest up for Brooklyn, Muskies.
Conference play rounds into the clubhouse turn this week, as most teams have five or six games left on the slate. Seeds for the conference tournament are hardly set at this point, as three the obvious contenders have several more head-to-heads left:
- Saint Louis (20-2, 9-2) – The defense is all Majerus, but the tempo, especially in conference games, is a significant departure from the offensive style favored by the Billikens’ last coach. The last five games pit interim coach Jim Crews’ squad against three of their nearest rivals – Butler (back-to-back), Xavier (away) and La Salle. Five wins is unlikely (Pomeroy projects a 4-1 record in head-to-head team matchups), but would cement the Billikens’ credentials and boost their NCAA seed (currently in the #9 to #11 range). Wings Dwayne Evans and Jake Barnett combine with Cody Ellis to provide the Bills with dominant rebounding (especially defensive rebounding), while Ellis’ three point accuracy give Saint Louis prolific and efficient scoring.
- Virginia Commonwealth (21-6, 9-3, #24 AP) – The Rams have the toughest “last four” in the conference and it began this week with a visit to the Chaifetz and a date with Saint Louis. VCU tried to stop the second best conference offense with the third best defense, and it did not go well. Most brackets seed coach Shaka Smart’s squad between #8 and #10 as of today. The loss on the road to the Billikens won’t knock them off the bubble, but upcoming games with Butler and (on the road) Xavier and Temple will make them earn their position at #2 in the league.
- Butler (21-5, 8-3, #15 AP) – The Bulldogs face Saint Louis, VCU and Xavier in their last five games. They have an advantage over Saint Louis and VCU in that they get to host Saint Louis and Xavier at the Hinkle. Center Andrew Smith, out for a single game last week with an abdominal injury, returned for Butler’s win over Fordham last Saturday. Seeded between #3 (Palm) and #5 (Daniels and Lunardi), they could improve their standing with a sweep going into the conference tournament. They will need great effort from Roosevelt Jones, Smith and Khyle Marshall.
- La Salle (18-6, 8-3) – Dr. John Giannini’s squad is a great example of how the A-10’s overall strength can help to boost a team into the NCAA Tournament. The Explorers had a good, but not great out of conference schedule and record. Although they beat Big 5 rival Villanova, they stumbled against NCAA-bound Bucknell and Miami, FL…and then there is that head-scratcher versus Central Connecticut. Thursday’s game at Temple could earn them their first undisputed title since 1989-90. A loss would give them a tie with Temple (3-1) and their first shared title since 1997-98. Of the conference’s top four, La Salle has the easiest road to Brooklyn, with games at Temple and Saint Louis, the only opponents with winning records among the five they must play. Tyrone Garland’s mid-season eligibility added another strong guard to Giannini’s backcourt rotation. If the front court (Jerrell Wright, Steve Zack, DJ Peterson and Rohan Brown) holds up, La Salle should be in great shape for Brooklyn and beyond.
- Temple (17-8, 6-5) – “We need to put together some wins…” explained Khalif Wyatt after Temple lost a one-point game to Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s on February 2. The Owls have gone 3-2 in the month of February, every game decided by a single point. The margin would hardly matter, but the second loss (the first was to the Hawks, 70-69) was to previously winless in conference games Duquesne, 84-83, on Valentine’s Day. Given Duquesne’s RPI of #212, this loss is the worst of the season, outstripping the Canisius loss (ranked #104). With five games to go, coach Fran Dunphy’s team needs more than Wyatt offensively. In the month of February the senior has twice upped his career-high for scoring (now at 35) and averaged 27.6 points per game. He takes nearly 31% of the Owls’ possessions and 29% of their field goal attempts while he is on the court.
- Charlotte (18-7, 6-5) – The 49ers are making the most of their last hurrah in the Atlantic 10. The last five games on balance favor coach Alan Major’s squad with home games against Temple and underrated Dayton, followed by a three-game road trip to St. Bonaventure, Duquesne and Saint Joseph’s to close out the season. Drawing Temple, the toughest opponent left on the slate, at the Holton works for a team that would like to get by the Owls in conference standings going into Brooklyn, but closing out on Hawk Hill could be a problem for a team whose resume has some very ugly road losses. Junior DeMario Mayfield, suspended in late January, has not been reinstated, and the team, having logged a 2-3 record has not found a good replacement. The defense suffers most; in the six conference games prior to Mayfield’s suspension the 49ers allowed 1.0 points per possession twice, in the five games since the suspension they have allowed 1.0 points per possession four times.
- Xavier (14-10, 7-4) – The Musketeers might have pushed the envelope power conference ratings as they struggled through their out-of-conference slate with a mediocre 7-6 record, but opened conference play with four wins. If their record at the Cintas Center is below expectations, their neutral and road record to date, 5-8, is disturbing and more than enough to sabotage their chances for an NCAA bid. Their last six games however offer an opportunity for a legendary late season rally as the slate is impressive (i.e. challenging). Five games will be played in conference and will feature VCU, Butler and Saint Louis – all teams ahead of Xavier in conference standings. A fixture in their schedule the past five seasons includes a game with a high-profile out-of-conference opponent used to garner Selection Committee and media eyeballs. This season, CUSA powerhouse Memphis will visit the Centas Center in late February. For the dreamers, a sweep would earn the Musketeers their eighth consecutive 20 win season, their 16th in the last 17 seasons. For the realists however, the closing run is a gauntlet, that, should projections play out, garner the fewest number of wins since then-coach Sean Miller won 17 games in his first season.
- Massachusetts (16-8, 6-5) – Two losses last week virtually end at-large hopes for the Minutemen. Wing Jesse Morgan, out since mid-January was declared done for the season last week as coach Derek Kellogg continues to search for efficient second and third scoring options. Junior Chaz Williams has taken a larger offensive load and relied on volume shooting to provide offense, reverting to the offensive pattern of Kellogg’s first three UMass teams. Williams, Terrell Vinson and company have five winnable games (if Butler’s road woes continue) left in conference play, but only Butler will give their RPI and post season profile a healthy boost. And their last road game – at Xavier against an equally bid-hungry opponent – is hardly gim’me.
- Richmond (15-11, 5-6) – Coach Chris Mooney has to be happy with the Spiders’ progress this season. Although Richmond lost promising wide-body center Derrick Williams for nine games, the junior has returned and is working himself back into game shape. Williams has been inconsistent, but has five games (plus Brooklyn and beyond?) to work himself back into Mooney’s system. Only Virginia Commonwealth (a return date, the Spiders beat the Rams at the Robins Center last month) and George Washington have better conference records. If projections hold Richmond should finish no worse than 8-8 in conference, with a record that should warrant post season consideration from the NIT or CBI. Going 2-0 this week (at Saint Bonaventure and hosting Dayton) is a start.
- Saint Joseph’s (14-10, 5-6) – The promise suggested by their win over Temple in the beginning of February was illusionary as the Hawks continue to struggle into the third week of the month. Coach Phil Martelli’s squad has logged a 2-3 record in February, with two very difficult road games (at Saint Louis and Charlotte) among the last five they must play. On the road the Joe’s are 2-4 in conference play, not the record compiled by a team that wins conference titles. Martelli’s team should draw a postseason bid from either the NIT or the CBI, but they have to finish with, between the regular season and the conference tournament, at least 18 wins.
- Dayton (14-11, 4-7) – The Flyers’ lack of guard depth continues to hamper their progress. Freshman point guard Khari Price, sidelined for the ninth consecutive game with a variety of dings, nicks and coughs, is nursing a bruised thigh. His loss left coach Archie Miller with two scholarship guards to call on for duty versus cross state rival Xavier. Starting point guard Kevin Dillard cooperated by avoiding foul trouble, and when he needed a blow off guard Vee Sanford moved over to handle the ball, while small forward Matt Derenbecker played down at the off guard. With no firm timeline for Price’s return, Dayton may well face their last five opponents with the same shallow bench. Opportunities to get a ticket to Brooklyn (and a spot in the A-10 conference tournament ) abound as the Flyers will face three other opponents – two in the UD Arena – who are also on the “bubble”. Saint Bonaventure, Richmond and George Washington all sport 5-5/4-7 records and are in danger of joining Duquesne and Fordham (and maybe Rhode Island?) on the sidelines. St. Bonaventure, with an identical 4-7 record, is the closet opponent, and UD has the head-to-head advantage as they play the Bonnies in early March in Dayton. The next opponent is Massachusetts in Amherst. Maybe Price will be ready.
- George Washington (11-12, 5-5) – The Colonials have six more games and the next one, versus a Chris Gaston-less Fordham, should be a win. That might be, given the combination of opponents and location, their last before conference game #16, versus Dayton. If George Washington struggles as expected, that Dayton game, scheduled for March 9, may become a one game play-in for the conference tournament. Isaiah Armwood and the freshmen Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald drew conference nods for their performances over the past two weeks. Coach Mike Lonergan is building for next season as those three along with freshman wing Patricio Garino continue to draw most of the minutes and touches.
- St. Bonaventure (11-13, 4-7) – The bad news is the Bonnies dropped two more conference games last week to slip to 4-7. The good news is they took both opponents (La Salle and Richmond) to overtime in games that came down to a single possession. Coach Mark Schmidt’s team, the conference tournament winners last March, are in danger of being one of the four teams left out of the conference tournament next month. Sophomore Jordan Gaithers moved into the starting lineup alongside senior Eric Mosley and has given the Bonnies more scoring from the backcourt. The schedule favors Bonas, giving them three home games among the last five. Further, Charlotte, their toughest opponent, will travel to Olean (in the dead of winter no less…) to play. The Bonnies will also face Dayton, also 4-7 in conference play, in Dayton early next month. Winning four of the five (entirely possible since three games will be played at home) will punch their ticket to Brooklyn.
- Rhode Island (8-16, 3-8) – Can the Rams still make the trip to Brooklyn? Can a coach whose team wins three conference games take home conference coach of the year honors? One has to wonder how coach Dan Hurley did it with the collection of players he inherited from the last regime. Hurley has demonstrated that he knows how to motivate players to perform above their ceiling, but to squeeze another win out of a slate that includes Xavier, Temple, Saint Joseph’s, La Salle and Massachusetts might be too much for this group. Unfortunately, since (other than perhaps Saint Joseph’s, should the Hawks suffer a catastrophic collapse) all have at least two fewer losses than the Rams, a win over any will not yield the expected bonus of closing the gap between Rhodi and their nearest rivals, St. Bonaventure and Dayton. The Rams beat the Flyers, 67-62, last Saturday; others will have to assist in closing that gap. For now the Rams will have to focus on Xavier, who comes for a visit on Wednesday.
- Fordham (6-20, 2-9) – Senior forward Chris Gaston is sidelined again with his lingering knee injury. The opportunity for the Rams to move up in conference this season has long passed, but the team has opened the type of gap in their offensive and defensive margins (see chart below) that suggests problems ahead for coach Tom Pecora. Sophomore guard Branden Frazier has stepped up as the Rams’ primary scoring option, but he must be consistent and he must be backed by A-10 quality teammates if the Fordham is to finish the season strongly. The rolling averages for offensive and defensive efficiency (points per possession scored and allowed) show Fordham is “underwater” – allowing more points scored than scoring and despite a 2-3 start to the conference season, the gap has opened to -0.184 points per possession, higher than Duquesne’s -0.162.
- Duquesne (8-17, 1-10) – The Dukes made their (and possibly unmade Temple’s) season on Valentine’s Day when they beat the Owls, 84-83 at the Liacouras Center. Derrick Colter earned his third Rookie of the Week nod from the conference for his performance. Coach Jim Ferry has, with Colter, Jeremiah Jones and junior Jerry Jones, assembled a promising nucleus for his back court of the future. Quevyn Winters will be a fixture on the wing, but Ferry will have to recruit a competitive front court. Staying competitive through the end of the season will lay the foundation for next season.
The preview promised good games every week, and this week delivers on that promise with terrific match-ups daily. Conference seeds and postseason (NCAA) bids are at stake as these games feature tournament-bound and bubble teams:
- La Salle vs. Temple (Thursday February 21, 7:00 p.m., CBS Sports Network) – The final game in Philadelphia’s 2013 edition of their City Series (the Big 5) should, given Temple’s recent penchant for one-point games, come down to the last possession. The Explorers should have the edge in the backcourt and frontcourt, but with the Big 5’s history, who wins is anyone’s guess.
- Saint Louis vs. Butler (Friday February 22, 6:00 p.m., ESPNU) – The “U” may be listed, but I have to believe someone else will pick up this game. The Billikens’ second big game of the week, they could take and cement a lead for the #1 seed in Brooklyn in the space of two days, especially if the Bulldogs’ center Andrew Smith is held out again. Smith has proven to be the difference maker for coach Brad Stevens’ game plan. Give Butler a margin as big as their home court advantage, but this should be very, very close.
- Virginia Commonwealth vs. Xavier (Saturday February 23, 1:00 p.m., CBS Sports Network) – The Musketeers are not in anyone’s NCAA bubble team conversation (except to note they are not in the conversation), but there are a handful of late season opportunities (aside from a run through the conference tournament) to turn a few heads. Semanj Christon is not enough to help Xavier hold serve, but if a few other X-Men show up to play, who knows…
- Temple vs. Charlotte (Sunday February 24, 4:00 p.m.) – A late season game between two bubble teams would draw an audience if there was any television coverage. If the Owls run their one point decision streak to six, this will be even more interesting. Khalif Wyatt will get his shots, but track shots and scoring for Scootie Randall, Anthony Lee and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson. If they are scoring efficiently Temple should win. If the 49ers defend the shot poorly, they lose.