Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on November 28th, 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.

 

Highlights and Lowlights From the Week (from highest to lowest)

Looking for high profile wins in the early season invitational tournaments and traditional home-away settings, the conference had some bright spots but overall the results were mixed:

Big man Cady Lalanne has been outstanding for UMass. (Maria Uminski/ Massachusetts Daily Collegian)

Big man Cady Lalanne has been outstanding for UMass. (Maria Uminski/ Massachusetts Daily Collegian)

  1. Massachusetts — The Minutemen were voted #24 in the AP’s Top 25 on the strength of their weekend at the Charleston Classic. Coach Derek Kellogg’s squad ran their winning streak to six with wins over power conference representatives Nebraska (81-65) and Clemson (62-56) and (then) #19 New Mexico over the course of the Charleston weekend. Center Cady Lalanne became the much anticipated low post beast, scoring 47 points on 17-of-36 (13-of-16 from the line) shooting while grabbing 35 rebounds over the three game run. He logged two double-doubles in the three game set. Chaz Williams is the guiding force for the squad (and he did not disappoint in Charleston either), but if Lalanne (along with Maxie Esho and Raphiael Putney) emerge as legitimate threats game-to-game, this Massachusetts squad will challenge for the conference title.
  2. Dayton — The Flyers had a good two-game run that started with a road win over Georgia Tech 82-72 Wednesday November 20. Tech Coach Brian Gregory (Archie Miller’s predecessor at Dayton) is three years into a program makeover at the Atlanta school. Expected to finish in the middle of the now-bloated ACC, the Ramblin Wreck pretty much got the high tempo bang-bang offensive effort one would expect from a Gregory-coached squad. Unfortunately for Tech, the pace and bang-bang came complements of the visiting Flyers. Miller’s squad, continued on the road, this time to Hawaii to participate in the Maui Invitational Tournament, a premier event that featured three Top 25 teams in the field of eight. The Flyers bombed Gonzaga 82-79 in the opening round behind the long range shooting of sophomore wing Khari Price and Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert who combined for an 8-of-13 three-point exhibition. Freshman forward Kendall Pollard who scored nine points in 11 minutes of play. Dayton then took #18 Baylor to the last possession Tuesday night before dropping a 67-66 decision. They then went out and dropped an 18-point beatdown of California on Wednesday night to take home third place in the Maui.
  3. St. Bonaventure — The Bonnies have compiled a 5-1 record (the only loss a two pointer on the road to Siena) and have a chance to be the second A10 team to win an early season invitational tournament championship. The invitational tournament, the Gulf Coast Showcase field however is mid and low major teams, much like virtually St. Bonaventure’s entire slate of opponents so far. Senior wing Matthew Wright has emerged as the scoring leader, while senior guard Charlon Kloof has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3:1. Louisiana Tech out of Conference USA will face the Bonnies in the Championship game Wednesday in a game that should give a more accurate assessment of the Bonnies’ progress this season.
  4. Richmond — The Spiders romped over Fairfield, 68-47, to close out the Hall of Fame Tip-Off with a 2-1 mark. Coach Chris Mooney’s squad has posted a 4-2 record six games into the season. While Richmond has dominated low-major opponents consistently, the team has shown poorly when matched with even middling power conference opponents, dropping double digit losses to Minnesota (74-59) and most recently, North Carolina (82-72).
  5. Rhode Island — Despite a pair of double digit losses to power conference opponents, the Rams have logged six wins though eight game this season. It took Coach Dan Hurley’s squad 16 games and two additional months to log win #6 last season. Progress. Freshman guard E.C. Matthews and junior power forward Gilvydas Biruta take some of the scoring load off of workhorse Xavier Mumford, providing Rhode Island with the kind of efficient scoring the team lacked last season. Transfers Biggie Minnis (guard) and Jarelle Reischel (wing) are a pleasant surprise.
  6. Saint Louis — The Billikens tuned up on cupcakes through their first five games, the closest call coming against the Missouri Valley’s Southern Illinois on November 16. Though Coach Jim Crews’ squad nearly matched (then #12 ranked) Wisconsin defensively, the Bills did not have the scoring to closes the six point gap, falling 63-57 in the opening round of the Cancun Challenge Tuesday night. The Bills face Old Dominion of the Conference USA Wednesday to get back on track.
  7. Virginia Commonwealth — Coach Shaka Smart’s squad lost their Top 25 ranking and undefeated status in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last weekend, dropping their season record to 4-2. ESPN’s John Gasaway suggested in several columns last season  and  earlier this month that mediocre shot defense could undermine the effectiveness of Smart’s Havoc Defense, and Tip-Off results could serve as Exhibit A. Despite 25 turnovers in the opening round, Florida State still scored 85 points on the 60 possessions they did not turnover, thus yielding 1.44 points per (scoring) possession in a runaway 85-67 win. Georgetown managed an even more effective 1.5 points per scoring possession in VCU’s third game on the island. Seniors Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic struggled with their which shots made matters worse. To what degree does Smart’s version of full court pressure compromise the team’s ability to contest shots after the press is broken may be the question going forward.
  8. George Mason — After a 4-0 start Paul Hewitt’s team has hit a two-game skid against Iona and Princeton, a pair of well-regarded mid-majors. A Saturday preseason meeting with conference mate Rhode Island should provide fans with a hint on the pecking order once conference play begins.
  9. Fordham — After a double digit loss to Sacred Heart (85-73) over the weekend, the Rams bounced back with an unexpected road win (79-75) over Manhattan of the MAAC. Freshman Jon Severe, sophomore Mandell Thomas and senior Branden Frazier account for 97% (#3 per Ken Pomeroy), 95% (#7 per Ken Pomeroy) and 97% (#2 Pomeroy) of the time at their respective positions (all are guards). The three collectively account for 71% of Fordham’s field goal attempts and 81% of their three point attempts this season. When these three are on, Fordham can win, but if one or two are cold, the Rams struggle. Maintaining a four guard lineup (Severe, Frazier and Thomas plus 6’8″ forward Ryan Rhoomes) from the start of the season, Coach Tom Pecora swapped out sophomore Bryan Smith, injured before the Sacred Heart game for fellow sophomore Jermaine Myers. Smith, a less prolific but more efficient scorer will be missed. Sophomore forward Travion Leonard, a second 6’8″ paired with Rhoomes, has picked up a good portion of Smith’s minutes.
  10. La Salle — Troubles continue for last season’s surprise Sweet Sixteen team. The Explorers dropped the final two games in the Paradise Jam to fall to 3-4, the only A10 team underwater to this point. More depressing yet, two other conference teams, George Washington and Fordham, have gone to Draddy Gymansium and beaten the Jaspers, something the Explorers failed to do — in the Gola — when they opened the season.
Jim Crews' squad gets their shot at Final Four participant Wichita State. (AP)

Jim Crews’ squad gets their shot at Final Four participant Wichita State. (AP)

Games to Catch This Next Week

The early season invitational tournaments continue through the end of the Thanksgiving Weekend, providing fans with a few opportunities to see how the conference compares with others around Division I.

  • George Washington vs. Miami (FL) (Thursday November 28, 11:00 am PDT, ESPNU) — The Colonials open the Wooden Legacy against a depleted but still well-coached Miami Hurricane squad. Coach Jim Larranaga is looking for answers on defense — especially inside the arc, a GWU strength. Senior forward Isaiah Armwood could have a big day especially if the ‘Canes decide to focus on big Kevin Larsen. If shot defense is the deciding factor, Miami will have a long night as Coach Mike Lonergan’s squad is ranked #24 by Ken Pomeroy in that category. Guards Joe McDonald, Kethan Savage and Maurice Creek may be able to use their height and experience to exploit 5′ 9″ freshman starter Manu Lacomte. The tournament field includes Marquette (on GWU’s side of the bracket), Creighton, San Diego State and Arizona State. Depending on results, the Colonial should see at least one over the course of the tournament.
  • Saint Joseph’s vs. LSU (Thursday November 28, 8:30 pm, ESPN2) — Coach Phil Martelli’s squad faces SEC member LSU in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic. The LSU game could well turn on interior defense. The Tigers, beaten in their season opener by Massachusetts, convert two point opportunities more efficiently than outside shots. They depend on offensive boards for second chance opportunities. The Hawks have dominated the defensive boards versus their opponents so far, but are less effective at defending two point field goal attempts. Johnny O’Bryant is a volume scorer, if Ron Roberts and Halil Kanesovic can shut him down inside, LSU may struggle to put points on the board since Langston Galloway and Chris Wilson have a height advantage over their Tiger counterparts, Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey. Depending on the result, the Hawks should see either Memphis or Siena on Friday, with a game Sunday against one of Purdue, Washington State, Butler or Oklahoma State.
  • Saint Louis vs. Wichita State (Sunday December 1, Noon, CBS Sports Network) — The Shockers are the Bills’ second chance to knock off a Top 25 team this season. Wichita State has won all five of their games this season by double digits, though they may be vulnerable to a strong shot defense. Intriguing matchups include Dwayne Evans versus Cleanthony Early in the front court and 5′ 10″ Fred Van Vleet versus 5′ 9″ Austin McBroom at the point. Chaifetz may well prove to be the difference. Hopefully a few students will return early from their Thanksgiving Weekend to root their Bills to victory.
  • Saint Joseph’s at Temple (Wednesday December 4, 8:30 pm, ESPNU) — The Hawks and Owls kick off the 2013-14 Big 5 round robin with this game at the Liacouras Center on North Broad St. Coach Fran Dunphy is looking for answers as Temple has stumbled to a 3-3 record. The Hawk front court should dominate Anthony Lee and Mark Williams.
  • Virginia Commonwealth at Belmont (Sunday December 1, 4:00 pm) — Belmont’s ability to convert efficiently from the field could negate VCU’s aggressive press. The Rams need to get some scoring out of Rob Brandenburg and Juvante Reddic to be competitive this season. A good outing against this Ohio Valley Conference power house cold be what the doctor ordered, or more evidence that Smart needs to rework his approach to defense.
  • Rhode Island vs. Providence (Thursday December 5, 8:00 pm, CBS Sports Network) — The Rams host Providence for the 126th time in a rivalry that dates back to 1920. There may be a talent gap, but the heat of an in state rivalry should even the odds some. Gilvydas Biruta should remember Kadeem Batts, the two matched up when Biruta played for Rutgers in the Big East. Keep track of field goal efficiency, Providence converts better inside, which is where the Rhodey defense is weakest. Neither team converts well, but Providence’s defense is among the best right now in Division I.
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