Atlantic 10 Season Recap and Postseason PreviewPosted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2013
Conference Realignment: Who’s Got Next? A non-story for the entire season, the divorce negotiated between the Catholic 7 and the Conference Formerly Known as the Big East was finalized last week, a development guaranteed to kick off another round of musical partners. The Catholic 7 got custody of the last name (Big East) and the house (an older but stately palace in downtown New York), along with a promise to process the paperwork quickly. The new/old conference needs three more members to share the TV money and national exposure they are rumored to have negotiated with Fox Sports. The yearly payout per team, believed to be just under ten times the per-team amount the Atlantic 10 just agreed to with CBS, should draw interest. Butler and Xavier have been at the center of Catholic 7 alignment rumors since last October. Unlike Temple’s announced exit in February of last season, however, neither school has confirmed – or denied – the rumors. Xavier, a member since 1995-96, would be the second flagship program (behind Temple) to exit the conference in that last 13 months. Butler who twice went to the Final Four within the last five years, has barely had time to unpack before moving on. When given the news of Temple’s exit in February of 2012, commissioner Bernadette McGlade took a proactive tack and had two replacements in place eight weeks into the offseason. Expect her to do the same this off season. George Mason and Wichita State are the two mentioned most by fans and conference followers.
The Best Basketball-Centric Conference? Mountain West fans may disagree, but it seems certain that the Atlantic 10 Conference will send at least five members to the NCAA Tournament, equaling the highest ever achieved (1997 and 1998). Saint Louis, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth are all but certain to receive bids regardless of what happens this weekend, and prospects for Temple and La Salle remain very strong. On top of that, Massachusetts or Xavier could, with strong conference tournament showings, squeeze out an unprecedented sixth bid for the conference, though it seems unlikely.
The last week of conference play opens with only three conference tournament spots – all three on the sidelines, determined. Others (that Saint Louis will take the #1 seed, Virginia Commonwealth will take #2 and La Salle most likely the #3) seem nearly certain, but note that seeds #4 through #12 are pretty much up for grabs…at least until Wednesday.
- Saint Louis (24-6, 13-3; #16 AP; Projected NCAA Seed #5) – The Billikens stumbled in the last week versus Xavier, but locked down the #1 seed in Brooklyn by beating La Salle. Off until Friday, coach Jim Crews’ team will meet the winner of the Richmond/Charlotte game (most likely Richmond), and if seed holds, most likely La Salle Saturday (and Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday). On the radar however is the NCAA tournament (yes the Bills are a lock at this point, win or lose Friday) seed. The consensus today is a #4-#5 seed with little prospect of moving up without a slew of early conference tournament losses elsewhere. RTC’s Dan Evans’ early March bracket matched the #5 Bills against #12 seed OVC Champion Belmont. The Bears run and gun, which would make this an interesting matchup.
- Virginia Commonwealth (24-7, 12-4; #21 AP; Projected NCAA Seed #6) – Fatigue among the top teams, perhaps? The Rams too had a 1-1 last week, easily beating crosstown rival Richmond, but dropping the regular season season closer at Temple on Sunday. VCU may have been looking forward to postseason play, but in any case, Shaka Smart must refocus the Rams for their Friday quarterfinal game versus the Xavier/Saint Joseph’s winner from Thursday. Xavier should be the opponent, and this could qualify as one of the two most interesting Friday games. The Musketeers have a problem matching up in the frontcourt, especially if their guards struggle with the “Havoc” pressure. Win Friday and they will most likely draw a rematch with Temple in Saturday’s semifinal. Beyond the A-10 tournament however, the Rams are fairly secure with a consensus #6/#7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A run to the league championship game might yield a seed bump if the bubble teams behave (and lose). The Rams will be a tough out once again, as their defense is one that scout teams just can’t emulate in practice.
- Butler (24-7, 11-5; Projected NCAA Seed #5) – The Bulldogs have struggled down the stretch, going 7-3 in their last ten and posting an ugly 0-2 run at just the wrong time. They appear to be back on track after beating back challenges from Dayton and Xavier to close the last week of the regular season 2-0. Butler draws the #5 seed in Brooklyn by virtue of a three-way tie with La Salle and Temple. They should survive a Thursday opening round game with Dayton, and should give La Salle all they can handle in Friday’s quarterfinal game. Though the Explorers won their regular season game with a combination of turnovers and limited rebounding, it is doubtful that Butler would allow both to happen again. Should they beat La Salle and the chalk holds, they would have a Saturday semifinal with Saint Louis. For the NCAA, count the Bulldogs “in”, with most likely a #5/#6 seed. Jerry Palm has them as a #5 seed in the South Region facing the winner of the Iowa State/Tennessee play-in. How fitting. Having beaten two #1s as designated by the AP, this Butler team has faced (and beaten) the big boys before. Neither should scare them.
- Temple (23-8, 11-5, Projected NCAA Seed #10) – The Owls finished with a flourish, beating Fordham and VCU to finish the regular season with a 7-0 run (9-1 in their last ten games) to take the #3 seed in Brooklyn out from under La Salle and Butler. Temple’s late season rush has most likely secured them a seed in the NCAAs; they are listed as #10 or #11 by Evans, Lunardi and Palm…bubble perhaps, but right side without a doubt. If Jake O’Brien stays hot (Wyatt will be) the Owls should have little trouble with the UMass/George Washington winner on Friday. Saturday is a different story as they will most likely see VCU for the second time in a week. These rematches rarely go well for the team that won the first time. A good game (win or lose) will likely leave them in the #10 seed range for the NCAAs, putting them on track to face a Notre Dame or UCLA-type power conference opponent.
- La Salle (21-8, 11-5, Projected NCAA Seed #11) – The Explorers earned the #4 seed in the conference tournament with a loss to Saint Louis last Saturday. The double-digit beating damaged their NCAA prospects marginally, making their Friday game versus (most likely) Butler – not a “must win” perhaps, but highly desirable. A win sets up Saturday’s first semifinal as a rematch with Saint Louis. La Salle is a consensus #11 seed for the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them projected as a #12 with a play-in date versus Kentucky, not a good draw for them.
- Xavier (17-13, 9-7 NIT) – The Musketeers have an oh-so-faint glimmer of hope, but it’s just that. Save your money, and root for Xavier in the NIT. Xavier, seeded #7 in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, will face #10 seed Saint Joseph’s. The Muskies should gather win number 18, but the run stops Friday versus Virginia Commonwealth as the Xavier backcourt remains vulnerable to turnovers (and the Rams’ defense forces lots of them). Xavier will most likely draw the home court in the NIT’s first round.
- Massachusetts (19-10, 9-7 NIT) – The Minutemen finished the week 1-1, earned the #6 seed by virtue of their tie with Xavier and drew #11 seed George Washington in Thursday’s round one of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Unlike Xavier, coach Derek Kellogg’s squad is still the object of NCAA whispers, but the kind of deep conference tournament run required to make the whisper a shout would probably entail a run to the championship game and would ultimately cost La Salle their bid – a zero sum game for the conference (though without a doubt a win for the UMass program). Given the Minutemen’s difficulties away from home and against the better ranked (i.e. the Top 50) teams, the most likely scenario has Massachusetts losing Friday (to Temple) and drawing an away game in the first round of the NIT.
- Richmond (18-13, 8-8; Projected NIT/CBI Participant) –Chris Mooney’s team finished the regular season’s last week 1-1, and thus drawing the #8 seed in Brooklyn. The Spiders will play Charlotte on Thursday and should they win (hardly carved in stone), will face #1 seed Saint Louis Friday in the conference tournament quarterfinals. Mooney has to feel pretty good about the future, as he will have Derrick Williams, Cedrick Lindsay, Kendall Anthony and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa back next season. Getting this nucleus more game experience in March is a priority. A nice run in the NIT or the CBI should be in order.
- Charlotte (20-10, 8-8; Projected CBI Participant) – The 49ers may have slumped through much of February (2-5), but they put together a 2-1 March and that was good enough to square their conference record and draw the #9 seed in the conference tournament. Slated to play Richmond Thursday, the winner will draw #1 seed Saint Louis in Friday’s quarterfinal. Coach Alan Major’s squad may not play on Saturday (or Friday for that matter), but they will play after Brooklyn. Who will call after Selection Sunday? Most likely the CBI or CIT, though the NIT would not be out of the question.
- Saint Joseph’s (17-12, 8-8) – The Hawks went 1-1 in the last week and settled for the #10 seed in Brooklyn. For a conference that normally sends at least half of its members to post season tournaments, the Joe’s find themselves on the bubble. The one advantage they have over Xavier, their opening round opponent Thursday, is familiarity with the surroundings – they played Notre Dame and Florida State in the Barclay Center last November. That may not be enough. This squad has played below preseason expectations for the second season running, and will go into the 2013-14 season without guard Carl Jones. Conference coaching dean Phil Martelli will no doubt feel the pressure to make them better.
- Dayton (17-13, 7-9) – The Flyers posted a 1-1 record last week, securing one of the last spots in the field at Brooklyn when St. Bonaventure faltered. Their season should end at the hands of Butler on Thursday afternoon around 4:30. Losing Kevin Dillard and Josh Benson means Archie Miller will have to find a good deal of offense from among the promising collection of underclassmen returning next season. Dyshawn Pierre is a good start, but more is needed if the Flyers are going to compete next season.
- George Washington (13-16, 7-9) – Though they staggered to a 3-7 finish, the Colonials managed to grab the last ticket to Brooklyn on the strength of an 81-80 overtime win over #11 Dayton Saturday, coupled with a last day collapse by Saint Bonaventure. George Washington will face Massachusetts Thursday in what should be the last game of their season. If David Pellom works hard in the offseason, he should be able to help a frontcourt rotation of Isaiah Armwood, Nemanja Mikic, Kevin Larsen and Jon Kopriva become one of the best in conference.
- Saint Bonaventure (14-15, 7-9) – The conference tournament winner one season, eliminated the next; such is the fate of the Bonnies. Coach Mark Schmidt’s squad, upset by Fordham in their last conference game, found themselves with the short straw in a three way draw for 11th place in the conference standings. Graduation and eligibility losses include Eric Mosley and Michael Davenport out of the backcourt and Demitrius Congers and Chris Johnson out of the front court. Youssou Ndoye and Matt Wright are a start, but Schmidt needs a good incoming class to make up for those personnel losses.
- Rhode Island (8-21, 3-13) – Describing an three win conference record as “successful” may be a stretch, but no conference coach achieved more with less. Coach Dan Hurley will have more offensive options next than overworked guard Xavier Munford, as forward Gilvydas Biruta, a Rutgers transfer with offensive skills will become eligible. Hurley has to find more backcourt help to escape the
- Fordham (7-24, 3-13) – Those who use the Rams’ win over Saint Bonaventure to close the season may as cause for optimism in 2013-14 have to know this is the second time in Tom Pecora’s tenure the Rams have won the last their last game. The previous regime won 19 games in three seasons. Pecora’s 24 wins is an improvement, not a turnaround. The program’s three most promising guards, Branden Frazier, Bryan Smith and Mandell Thomas need to stay and Pecora needs to find another talented wing or two to replace Chris Gaston. The program enters a crucial period next season and Pecora has to know more is reasonably expected.
- Duquesne (8-20, 1-15) – The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. Coach Jim Ferry and staff should take the extra week and start looking around for some big men.
Coach of the Year: Jim Crews, Saint Louis. Conference previews last May unanimously projected Saint Louis the flagship program for this season. The conference coaches’ poll, taken in September and made public on Media Day (October 4) had them at #2. The coaches were being kind, as most publications projected the Billikens anywhere from #4-#7. When Rick Majerus took his medical leave last August, the man he designated as his interim replacement was journeyman coach Jim Crews, who learned his craft under Bobby Knight at Indiana, then went on to head the programs at Evansville and Army before being abruptly dismissed from West Point in September 2009. It turned out that despite a hiccup versus a better-than-anticipated Santa Clara, Majerus had it right. The Billikens have turned in a season everyone expected they would… had Majerus prowled the sidelines. Had Rick Majerus turned in this season, the conference would have named him Coach of the Year. They can do no less for the man in whom he entrusted the fate of his program.
Player of the Year: Khalif Wyatt, Temple. The Owls’ closing rush speaks to the impact that Wyatt can have on this team. With Wyatt the Owls, projected to finish fourth, managed to take the #3 seed and secure a spot in the NCAAs. After starting the conference season 4-4, the Owls closed out with a 7-1 run, due in large measure to the offensive output and leadership of Wyatt. The senior scored 30 or more points in five games, 20 or more in 16 (51.6% of the games Temple played) and totaled 616 points on the season.
Freshman of the Year: Semaj Christon, Xavier. The Musketeer squad was decimated by offseason dismissals and academic eligibility issues. Christon, projected as backup at the point, was unceremoniously dropped into the deep end of the pool with the mandate to sink or swim. He swam. Throughout the conference season, the freshman kept the Musketeers in the hunt despite a consensus that freshman fatigue would eventually take a toll. They are still waiting. In Xavier’s loss to Butler Sunday, the freshman logged a 124 offensive efficiency rating per Ken Pomeroy (a very good rating), his best of the season.
Newcomer of the Year: Rotnei Clarke, senior guard, Butler. ESPN’s John Gasaway projected a stellar season for Butler if the Bulldogs could find an outside shooter. Coach Brad Stevens found two (see the freshman team below), the most prolific an Arkansas transfer named Rotnei Clarke. Butler, despite a substantial conference upgrade, improved its overall record by two wins (and counting) while reducing losses by seven (and worst case five). Clarke connected on 41.5% of his three point attempts, accounting for almost 40% of Butler’s three-point attempts and thereby jump started Stevens’ outside attack.
All-Conference First Team
- G Khalif Wyatt, Sr., Temple (19.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.1 APG)
- G Rotnei Clarke, Sr., Butler (16.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.8 APG)
- G Ramon Galloway, Sr., La Salle (17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.7 APG)
- F Travis Taylor, Sr., Xavier (11.8 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.2 APG)
- F Juvonte Reddic, Jr., Virginia Commonwealth (14.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 0.8 APG)
All-Conference Freshman Team
- G Semanj Christon, Xavier (15.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.7 APG)
- G Kellen Dunham, Butler (10.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.2 APG)
- G Derrick Colter, Duquesne (13.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 5.2 APG)
- F Dyshawn Pierre, Dayton (8.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.0 APG)
- C Kevin Larsen, George Washington (7.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 APG)