Checking In On… the Atlantic 10Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 19th, 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.
Dealing With Expectations
Forgive me if six weeks and 10 games (more or less) into this season I am a little dizzy from all the twists and turns. Most understood Massachusetts would be good, especially with Chaz Williams’ decision to take his last season of eligibility in Amherst, but undefeated? VCU would be nicked in the non-conference schedule — that much was a given — but three losses that include a 14-point loss to Florida State on a neutral court and a loss to Northern Iowa? That is a surprise.
- Chaz Williams (Massachusetts) — It may be hard to believe, but the unanimous pick has actually exceeded expectations. Williams has led the Minutemen to a 10-0 undefeated start and a #22 ranking in AP’s Top 25. UMass is the only conference representative.
- Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis) — The Billikens’ slashing forward’s sluggish offensive numbers mirror the larger problems facing St. Louis this season. Evans can score inside as his 51 percent two-point completion rate attests, but absent a consistent long-range scorer, opposing teams find it very easy to stop the Bills — pack the lane and wait for Evans (or guard Jordair Jett) to drive. The stingy defense lives on, Saint Louis is ranked #3 defensively by Ken Pomeroy, but a team-wide three-point drought (Jake Barnett excepted) leaves Jim Crews’ squad with a one-dimensional offense.
- Tyreek Duren (La Salle) — Hobbled by a troublesome plantar fasciitis condition that dates back to last May, the point guard has to adjust his energy to manage the Explorers’ offense rather than create it through his typical to-the-basket drives. There are many reasons the Explorers are struggling this season and with a better start Dureen’s inability to move laterally and plant for a jumper would be a footnote.
- Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth) — Graham continues the domination that established him as a first teamer last season. He leads the Rams in scoring (196 points, 16.3 PPG) and combines prolific scoring with efficient scoring, earning a 117.9 offensive rating from Ken Pomeroy. Questions on how to get VCU back on track should not start with Graham. He is on pace to accumulate last season’s numbers, and has improved his defensive rebounding to boot.
- Juvonte Reddic (Virginia Commonwealth) — VCU’s second leading scorer (140 points, 11.7 points per game, 110.1) and leading rebounder (30-56-86) has stepped back slightly in offensive efficiency, but has improved in block and steal rates and in getting to the line. If his contributions hold steady through the season, Reddic should be in the thick of an All-Conference conversation come March.
- Sherrod Wright (George Mason) — The Patriots’ senior forward led team scoring in seven of their nine games this season and twice led the team in rebounding. Prolific scoring, however, is not the same as efficient scoring. Mason’s anemic offense, largely responsible for their struggles in non-conference games, parallels Wright’s offensive struggles. His two-point field goal conversion rate has dipped below 50% this season, down 3-5% from better days, suggesting that while he still gets to the line regularly he is not finishing at the cup.
- Isaiah Armwood (George Washington) — If the senior forward’s two-point conversion rate is down slightly, he is getting to the line more often. He is blocking shots at a better rate this season, and his offensive rebounding rate is better than last season. The Colonials are off to a 9-1 start (they were 4-6 through 10 games in 2012-13) and Armwood’s improvement is one of the reasons.
- Xavier Munford (Rhode Island) — The conference’s leading scorer last season continues as coach Dan Hurley searches for additional offense from his squad.
- Ronald Roberts (Saint Joseph’s) — Roberts (and Langston Galloway — see below) leads the team in rebounding (23-37-60) and is second to Galloway in scoring (136 points, 17.0 points per game). The Hawks are struggling on defense however, and Roberts’ outstanding season-in-the-making will probably be lost in the bad news.
- Langston Galloway (Saint Joseph’s) — The 6′ 2″ senior off guard takes better than one-in-four of SJU’s shots when he is on the floor and converts at an incredibly efficient rate (131.5 per Ken Pomeroy). The team however is 4-4, two of those losses by 17 points or more. The defense is passive (few steals, blocked shots, etc.), but defending the arc (opponents convert at a 37.4% rate) is a point of real concern.
- Branden Frazier (Fordham) — The senior guard earned Player of the Week honors Monday (12/16) for his contributions in Fordham’s wins over Colgate and Howard last week. Should the Rams move up in the conference, Frazier’s ongoing contributions will be a contributing factor.
- Tyrone Garland (La Salle) — The senior off guard takes better than one-in-three of the Explorers’ field goal attempts when he is on the floor, but converts at a disappointing 38.9 (eFG%) rate. An offensive rating of 97.7 per Ken Pomeroy will not translate into an All-Conference honor.
- Jerrell Wright (La Salle) — The junior forward’s outstanding offensive (and defensive) season is lost in the ashes of La Salle’s 2013-14 flameout. Dr. John Giannini has 20 (more or less) games to right the ship, but the Explorers have run through most of their signature out of conference opportunities with no certainty that conference wins can substitute.
- Cedrick Lindsay (Richmond) — The senior point guard is having an all-star season as he leads the Spiders in scoring (182 points, 18.2 points per game) and assists (46). Pomeroy’s possession-based stats rank Lindsay among Division I’s top 500 for offensive rating (116.4, #487), possession rate (28.4, #116) and shot rate (26.9, #270) — Lindsay is a high usage/high efficiency contributor, a reliable first option on offense for coach Chris Mooney. Lindsay is struggling beyond the arc, but the rest of the back court rotation is struggling too as well, one of the reasons they have yet to garner that signature win for their postseason resume. Lindsay was injured in the Spiders’ overtime loss to Wake Forest and did not appear in their win over Coppin State. No word on whether he will be available for Richmond’s Sunday game against the University of Ohio.
- Jordair Jett (Saint Louis) — St. Louis’ senior off guard has the body (and scoring mentality) of a forward packaged as a 6′ 1″ pocket rocket. His outside shot is unreliable, but the off guard has no problem going to the hoop and taking contact. In his hands the kickout has become a real weapon in the Billikens offensive arsenal — the senior’s assist rate (30.7, #90) is among the best in Division I. More consistent scoring from the front court rotation will be needed in conference play if Coach Jim Crews’ squad is to repeat as conference champions. Jett has the tools to set them up.
Overlooked Last Fall
Most picks for the First and Second Team were foregone given last season’s results, but a number of players have stepped into larger-than-anticipated roles for their teams. Should Kethan Savage (sophomore, George Washington), Maurice Creek (fifth year senior, George Washington), Devin Oliver (senior, Dayton), Jordan Sibert (junior transfer, Dayton), Dyshawn Pierre (sophomore, Dayton), Cady Lalanne (junior, Massachusetts) or Raphiael Putney (senior, Massachusetts) continue to impress.
Games This Weekend (and Next Week)
Five match-ups with power conference opponents will not even the conference’s record with those opponents (currently 12-26 versus the AAC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12), but wins now would give those teams momentum as they head into conference play next month.
- Massachusetts at Florida State (Saturday 12/21 2:00 PM) — The Seminoles beat VCU in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Minutemen will see if they can do better in the FSU-hosted Orange Bowl Classic (not a exempt tournament). FSU’s offense comes mostly from the wings and backcourt, Given the Seminoles’ low post presence, mostly starter Boris Bojanovsky and sub Michael Ojo are 10 fouls-to-give, Cady Lalanne should live at the line. Second chance points should be decisive here as UMass dominates under their own basket and FSU struggles there.
- Virginia Commonwealth at Virginia Tech (Saturday 12/21 5:30 PM, NBC Sports) — VCU travels across town (Richmond) as instate rival VaTech is “host” in name only in this year’s edition of the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic. The game may well turn on the Hokies’ sophomore point guard Adam Smith, who values the ball. If the Rams’ defense can rattle Smith, the Hokies will struggle. If Smith can break the press, Virginia Tech’s three-point shooting could punish VCU on secondary break opportunities. Look for a battle under the Rams’ basket. VCU does not reliably convert field goals (outside of Graham and Reddic) and needs second and third chances to make the possession productive.
- Dayton vs. Southern California (Sunday 12/22 2:00 PM) — The Pac-12 is one conference the A10 is above water with (2-1), and Andy Enfield’s Trojans should present the Flyers with a good benchmark at this point in the season. Dayton does a good job of forcing turnovers and generating steals, so keeping track of USC’s empty trips should give a hint on how this game will go. The Trojans do not shoot well from the outside. Matt Kavanaugh will have his hands full with freshman center Nikola Jovanovic. If Dayton wins their Thursday game versus Iona, the MAAC’s top team, a second win in three days would give them two more “W”s to impress the Selection Committee and guarantee the A10 will have a winning record versus the West Coast power conference.
- La Salle at Miami (Fla.) (Sunday 12/22 3:00 PM, ESPN3) — The Explorers are running out of “signature win” opportunities, and this season’s edition of the Hurricanes does not quite provide “signature win”-level quality La Salle needs. But with a record circling .500, Dr. Giannini’s squad cannot be too picky. Neither team has shot the ball well, but Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack may have some success versus coach Jim Larranaga’s cobble-together front court. If Dr. Giannini’s squad keeps this close this could be the turnaround Explorer fans are hoping for.
- George Mason vs. #17 Iowa State (Sunday 12/22 5:30 PM, ESPNU) — The Patriots face the Big 12′s Iowa State for their opening round game in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. Very timily given the Patriots’ struggling offense will have to overcome the best defense coach Paul Hewitt’s squad has faced this season. Getting his best game of the season from Sharrod Wright will not be enough to win, senior guard Byron Allen and sophomore forward Marko Gujanicic will have to step up too.