Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on November 21st, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

 

The Atlantic 10 Versus the World (the rest of Division I Actually):

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A 79 percent winning percentage conference-wide looks good, but it masks a disappointing 36 percent (4-7) winning percentage versus the power conferences (defined here as the five BCS conferences — the ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) plus the AAC and Big East — two fragments of the former Big East that should trouble those A-10 fans who anticipate more than two NCAA bids next March. The league must cut into that win deficit and the early season invitational tournaments which will play out over November’s last two weekends are the best place to start. Opportunities for non-conference signature wins diminish during December. Temple and Xavier, two teams with the “anywhere, anytime” scheduling attitude and the programs to back it up on the court have moved on. Massachusetts, Virginia Commonwealth and La Salle have beefed up their schedules, but other “flagship-in-waiting” programs (Saint Louis and Dayton for example) scheduled beatable but not RPI-notable opponents. The conference is crushing comparable conferences (the West Coast, Missouri Valley and the Mountain West conferences) and the low-majors in head-to-head play; that, combined with a (close to) 50 percent winning percentage versus the power conferences will translate into extra bids on Selection Sunday.

The Following Wins Are Important, Here’s Why

  • Sunday, November 10, Massachusetts at Boston College (86-73) — See above. Some sites might list the TD Garden in Boston as “semi-away,” but UMass fans traveled a lot farther than did the BC fans. The  majority of season previewers have the Eagles somewhere in the middle of the ACC, which should translate into an upset or two in conference play. The benefits will accrue to the Minutemen in conference play.

    Cedrick Lindsay and Richmond will benefit greatly from Belmont's huge upset over North Carolina. (Richmond athletics)

    Cedrick Lindsay and Richmond will benefit greatly from Belmont’s huge upset over North Carolina. (Richmond athletics)

  • Monday, November 11, Richmond vs. Belmont (69-61) — Belmont is a perennial low-major powerhouse who did not miss a beat when they moved from the Atlantic Sun Conference to the Ohio Valley Conference in 2012-13. The Bears typically pull an upset in early season play, all the better when it comes on the opponent’s home court. Last season Stanford was the victim; this season the honor fell to North Carolina … yeah that North Carolina. Should Belmont play to the top of the OVC again this season, Richmond will benefit indirectly.
  • Tuesday, November 12, Virginia Commonwealth at Virginia (59-56) — Although ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon is clearly into a transition away from an opening week festival that gave national exposure to a dozen or more low and mid-major programs (either in head-to-head early morning match ups or Lions-and-Christians settings versus power conference opponents) to a Made-for-TV Battle of the Name Brands, there are still time slots and match ups available. ESPN featured three A10 programs this season, and the conference showed well by going 3-0 in the televised games. The Rams made the most of their time in the sun (it tipped-off at 7:00 p.m.) by taking the Cavaliers on their home court.
  • Tuesday, November 12, Massachusetts vs. LSU (92-90) — The Minutemen beat their second power conference opponent in their second outing of the season.
  • Saturday, November 16, George Washington at Manhattan (80-74) — The Jaspers beat La Salle in Philadelphia to open their season. The Colonials, in their third game of the season, went on the road to avenge the conference. Manhattan is the sexy pick for the MAAC title this season (Iona and Canisius should be the Jaspers competition) and this road win should have the Explorers hearing footsteps.

Stumbling Starts — two teams need to change direction… quickly

  • La Salle — The Explorers look like the conference’s best candidate for PSSSWS (Post Sweet Sixteen Sleep Walking Syndrome) this season. Perhaps confused about their conference affiliation, La Salle played three MAAC teams to open the season, going 2-1 against the low-major programs. Especially distressing was the overtime home loss to (MAAC) contender Manhattan. Dr. Giannni’s squad squandered (79-72) an opportunity for a road win against a Penn State squad many expect to finish in the lower half of the B1G this season. At 2-2 with games against three Paradise Jam opponents (up to two of which may come from power conferences), Villanova and Miami (FL) still coming, La Salle could well start the conference season with a .500 (plus or minus) record and virtually no chance of a return to the NCAA tournament this season.
  • Duquesne — Is it possible for a program projected unanimously to finish last in the conference to under-perform? Hit by a second year of outbound transfers, the Dukes scheduled up on low ranked low-majors. Per Ken Pomeroy’s November 20 rankings, seven of Duquesne’s 12 non-conference opponents are ranked below #281 or lower (the bottom 20% of Division I), There had to be more than a few white knuckles in Newport Beach when the wires reported last Wednesday that Coach Jim Ferry’s crew dropped a three point decision to #281 New Hampshire at home. Any more losses to these opponents will turn the Dukes into a poison pill for conference play.

    Could Dr. Giannini and La Salle be in store of a post-Sweet 16 hangover? (philly.com)

    Could Dr. Giannini and La Salle be in store of a post-Sweet 16 hangover? (philly.com)

Quick Starts — Three teams are running ahead of preseason expectations. In another week or two their fans can dare to get excited about prospects

  • Saint Joseph’s — The Hawk lives. A consensus pick to finish #5 in conference play (I had them lower…much lower), Coach Phil Martelli’s squad rang up a pair of double digit wins out of the gate and took Big East frontrunner Creighton to the last 10 ticks before bowing 83-79 at the Hagan last weekend. Junior point guard Chris Wilson has stepped into Carl Jones’ role (he needs to cut down on turnovers) without competing for shots with Langston Galloway or Ron Roberts. Freshman DeAndre Bembry has been a very pleasant surprise so far, twice recognized by the conference for his play. He may be that much needed third scoring option.
  • George Washington — The Colonials have three double digit wins on their 4-0 resume. The most impressive win, however, is the six point win over Manhattan on the Jaspers’ home court. Picked by the A10 coaches to finish #10 in conference play, Coach Mike Lonergan’s squad has already played above expectations. Fifth year senior transfer Maurice Creek has already drawn a mention in the conference weekly honors list. They get a serious early test next Thursday when they open their run in the Wooden Legacy opposite an unexpectedly vulnerable Miami squad. GWU has to control turnovers (they lose them, the ‘Canes cause them), but has an aggressive interior offense that may give Coach Jim Larranaga’s team problems. Miami does not shoot well, especially inside the three-point line, which should give GWU an advantage (their interior defense is good). They may not be ready for a serious title run in the conference, but this game should give fans an idea of the next steps they need to make.
  • Massachusetts — After some waffling early in the 2012-13 season, Coach Derek Kellogg’s team worked itself onto the bubble, where they stayed through most of the last three weeks of the season. A conference tournament run to the semi-final game could have been enough, but the Minutemen did not, despite three chances, have a signature out of conference win to show the Selection Committee.  Lessons learned, Kellogg scheduled power conference opponents early and often. Four games into the 2013-14 season and UMass has four wins, two against power conference opponents.

Games to Catch This Week

  • #10 Virginia Commonwealth vs. Florida State (Thursday 11/21 7:30 pm ESPNU) — The conference’s flagship program faces off against the Seminoles in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic with an strong opportunity to chip away at that power conference win deficit. Leonard Hamilton’s squad has used red hot shooting to cover a serious turnover problem. The Rams, noted for their high powered, turnover-oriented defense have an opportunity to dismantle the Okaro White-Devon Bookert-Aaron Thomas scoring machine. White in particular may be vulnerable to defensive pressure (though as a low post player he will not bring the ball up the court) as he has lost about one in three of his possessions so far. This is one of the more competitive invitational tournaments; the Rams may face #14 Michigan in the semi-final round, with Georgetown waiting in the other bracket.
  • Richmond vs. #24 North Carolina (Saturday 11/25 noon ESPN3) — UNC lost to Belmont on a last minute (literally) three-point bucket last Sunday. Richmond beat Belmont the Monday before, making this Hall of Fame Tip-Off undercard a very interesting matchup for the fans. Despite the Belmont game odds makers are not sold on the Spiders, but if Coach Chris Mooney’s team can take the air out of the ball and become much, much better from beyond the arc…who knows. The winner gets Louisville on Sunday, loser gets local favorite Fairfield out of the MAAC.
  • Dayton vs. #13 Gonzaga (Monday, 11/27, midnight, ESPN) — The Flyers draw the Zags in the Maui Invitational opening round. In a season that features more fouls, the Bulldogs give more than they receive. Though they are aggressive rebounders (on both sides of the ball), the Zags earn their bread from the three point line where they have one of the better scoring averages. The Flyers might be white hot from beyond the arc, but they get their points inside. The keys to this game will be how seriously Dayton bothers Gonzaga’s interior defense and how well coach Archie Miller’s squad can defend the three point line. Like Puerto Rico, the Maui field is loaded featuring three ranked teams in the field of eight, of which the Zags are the second highest ranked school. Potentially Dayton may face off against at least one power conference program next week.
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