Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 12th, 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.

Taking Stock – Atlantic 10 versus Division I

The conference roars along with a 69 percent winning percentage versus the rest of Division I, but is this year’s showing strong enough for the conference to maintain the three to four NCAA bid Selection Sunday pace the conference has grown accustomed to in the last decade? Maybe …

If a conference bubble team (Dayton?) finds itself in a side-by-side comparison with another team from another “basketball-first” conference (counting the Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Conference USA and the West Coast conferences here), the prospects are good, as the A-10 has won 80 percent of its games against those teams. Whether consulting the RPI or Ken Pomeroy, the Atlantic 10 sits atop that cluster of conferences.


(Note: A10 teams have no scheduled games with four conferences, those conferences are not listed here)

The A-10 ranks #7 in the RPI, ahead of the SEC, while Pomeroy ranks the league #8, well separated from the next best conference — the WCC. Power conferences, however, continue to bedevil all but the A-10’s four best representatives. Logging a 12-23 (34.3%) record to date is not good news. With under one-third of their games versus the power conferences (counting eight conferences here – the American, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, the Pac-12 and the SEC in this group… this season) remaining to play, finishing with a .500 record is theoretically possible but highly unlikely. Closing that gap may be a realistic goal as teams have four games remaining against the ACC (6-6 so far) and five versus the SEC (1-1 so far), two conferences where they have held their own. Virginia Commonwealth in particular can boost its postseason prospects with wins over Virginia Tech and Boston College, two ACC opponents the Hokies will face during Christmas Week.

The bigger problem lurks in the record against low-majors. A-10 teams scheduled nearly 60 percent of their non-conference games with teams from these conferences, limiting the league’s ceiling even before the first tip-off. Many of these are annual renewals of traditional rivalries (St. Bonaventure’s participation in the Little Four, Duquesne versus Robert Morris, for example), but others may be attempts to pad the win-loss record that backfire (George Mason’s losses at Iona and Princeton, La Salle’s season-opening loss to Manhattan, and Duquesne’s loss to New Hampshire, are Exhibits A, B, and C). While the conference has logged a whopping 87 percent winning rate versus members of the lowest ranking 19 conferences, the teams struggling most may become RPI poison pills come conference play. Potential bubble teams like Saint Louis and George Washington, whose strength of schedule to date is weak will not be helped with games versus St. Bonaventure (currently ranked #218 in the RPI), Rhode Island (#250), and Duquesne (#249). Strong play in conference action could cast teams like La Salle and Richmond more as spoilers than surging NCAA candidates.

Jordan Sibert and Dayton's stay in the top-25 was short, but the Flyers are still prime contenders for the A10 crown. (USA TODAY Sports)

Jordan Sibert and Dayton’s stay in the top-25 was short, but the Flyers are still prime contenders for the A10 crown. (USA TODAY Sports)

Notes From Last Week

  • Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye – Dayton’s first Top 25 appearance in four years lasted a week. After beating Delaware State (MEAC) by 10 points on December 4, the Flyers dropped a game at Illinois State (MVC) last Saturday (81-75). Upcoming games with Southern California (Pac-12), Mississippi (SEC) and a stronger-than-expected Iona (MAAC) will give the Khari Price, Jordan Sibert, Dyshawn Pierre, Vee Sanford backcourt rotation an opportunity to prove November upsets will be the rule, not the exception going into conference play.
  • The Chances Massachusetts Will Run the Table – They are less than one percent, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Division I stats guru projects a five-loss season, with one loss (identity unknown) coming in the non-conference schedule. The funny thing is that Pomeroy’s Pythagorean-based projections gives UMass a 60 percent chance in their most “competitive” match-up (versus Florida State on a neutral court on December 21). Senior point guard Chaz Williams is emerging as the strongest candidate for Conference Player of the Year honors so far.
  • George Mason May Debut League Play With a Losing Record – This is a circumstance A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade most likely did not anticipate. Patriots fans used to the solid winning ways of former coach Jim Larranaga have to be disappointed with Paul Hewitt’s one-plus season in Fairfax. GMU’s record sits at 5-4 with (according to Pomeroy #23) Iowa State, Penn, and Old Dominion to go before the Patriots open conference play at Virginia Commonwealth. Of the non-conference games, GMU is a heavy underdog against the Cyclones and virtual toss-up versus the Monarchs. Hewitt’s problems multiply when his squad starts conference play. Mason plays home-and-home games with George Washington, Massachusetts and Saint Louis, the strongest such set in conference play. Given the state of Hewitt’s program, those games will hang an 0-6 (1-5 at best?) anchor on GMU’s conference record.

Games Worth Catching This Week

  • Dayton vs. Central Michigan (Saturday December 14, 6:00 PM) – The Chippawas may have a winning record, but they are not expected to compete in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) this season and the Flyers should blow them out of the UD Arena by a 15-plus point margin. How the guard rotation performs is the point of interest in this tune-up for Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference power house Iona.
  • La Salle at Villanova (Sunday December 15, 2:30 PM, Fox Sports 1) – The best chance to turn around what to now has been a mediocre season comes Sunday when the Explorers visit Big 5 rival (and #10 ranked) Villanova. Dr. Giannini’s squad plays a wing-oriented uptempo offense that can give the Wildcats problems (see their Iowa game), but Tyrone Garland will have to become a more selective shot taker, while Tyreek Duren, D.J. Peterson, and Sam Mills will have to play their collective best game of the year. Villanova may not give their 6’ 11” center, Daniel Ochefu, much playing time, preferring instead to go with a four-guard lineup. This might not work to Steve Zack’s advantage if Duren cannot consistently get the ball into the low post for Zack and Jerrell Wright. Turnovers and fast break points (for both teams) should foretell the outcome. If the Explorers can keep it close.
  • St. Bonaventure at Wake Forest (Tuesday December 17, 7:00 PM ESPN3) – The Bonnies have not traveled well the past two seasons, but the Deacons are expected to struggle in conference play. Wake will not be able to exploit Charlon Kloof and Youssou Ndoye’s turnover tendency, but they do defend field goal attempts very well, and that could spell a problem for Matthew Wright. A bad night for Wright generally means a bad night for the Bonnies. The battle under Bonaventure’s basket should be intense, as Ndoye and senior forward Marquise Simmons, elite offensive rebounders will go head-to-head with Wake forwards Devin Thomas and Tyler Cavanaugh, two of the better defensive rebounders.
  • Saint Louis vs. Indiana State (Wednesday December 18, 7:00 PM) – The Sycamores, along with Vanderbilt (on the road), give fans the last opportunity to preview the Billikens before conference play commences. Ranked #64 by Ken Pomeroy, Greg Lansing’s squad is expected to be Wichita State’s biggest competitor in MVC play this season. While coach Jim Crews still offers an elite defense that challenges field goal attempts well, the Billikens do not get efficient enough three-point shooting from Jordair Jett, Rob Loe, Austin McBroom, and Mike McCall to prevent opponents from packing in the lane to prevent passes to Dwayne Evans or penetration from Jett. Some solid outside shooting would set this team right for conference play.
  • Dayton vs. Iona (Thursday December 19, 6:00 PM, NBC Sports Network) – Iona coach Tim Cluess has compiled a 75-36 record since taking over when Kevin Willard moved on to Seton Hall. Cluess has installed the Gaels at the top of the MAAC, taking them to three postseason tournaments in each of his three full seasons in New Rochelle (nabbing NCAA bids in 2011-12 and 2012-13). The Gaels run an uptempo offense that takes an average of 15 seconds per offensive possession – on of the “fastest” in Division I – largely on the strength of a smallish four-guard offense. If Flyer coach Archie Miller takes the bait and goes small, expect this to be one of the most entertaining games of the week, and a real test for both squads.
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