Checking In On… the Atlantic 10Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 5th, 2014
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.
If the week proved to be a momentum builder for a few teams (Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Joseph’s), it also proved to be a killer for several others (like Richmond and Massachusetts).
- Saint Joseph’s — With the loss at Richmond January 25, the Hawk appeared ready for life support. A 2-0 week has improved their conference record to 5-2, though, and with a 15-6 overall record and a #54 RPI ranking (via RealTimeRPI.com), revived Saint Joseph’s hope for a bye seed in Brooklyn and NCAA consideration. For the skeptics, these were not run-of-the-mill conference wins. The first came on the road in Dayton, as the Joe’s overcame a 25-20 halftime deficit with a 27-5 second half run that put a “must-win” Flyers squad back on their heels. The Hawks held them off to post a 60-57 win. The second win, a 73-68 decision over an increasingly desperate UMass squad, came over the weekend. Coasting out to a comfortable 17-point halftime lead, the Hawks fought off a Minutemen rally to secure the win. Four Saint Joseph’s players (Halil Kanasevic — team high 18, Ron Roberts, freshman DeAndre Bembry and Chris Wilson) posted double-figure points with Kanasevic, a center/forward, also dishing five assists. Who knows, if the Hawks can roll through this week (they host Saint Louis, followed by Virginia Commonwealth), RTC’s resident bracketologist Daniel Evans may even give them a nod next week.
- Saint Louis — The Billikens continue to roll along; they routed Richmond by 20 points last Wednesday, then survived an overtime scare by cellar-dweller George Mason, 87-81, on Saturday. Guard Jordair Jett logged 39 points over the two games and drew a nod from the conference as a result. Jim Crews’ squad has displayed balanced scoring in conference play. Of the seven games played, five players have posted double-figure points, and a different player led the team in scoring in each of the last four games. The national media has taken note of the squad’s consistency — ranked #24 (by the AP) at the start of conference play, the Bills have moved up to #13 in the latest poll. Having nipped the Spiders’ mini-rally last week, Saint Louis will have an opportunity to do the same to Saint Joseph’s Wednesday night as the Billikens take a two game road swing through Philadelphia. After the Hawks, they will face La Salle on Saturday.
- Virginia Commonwealth — The Rams’ rollercoaster season continues on the upswing compliments of a 2-0 week. A disastrous outing in Puerto Rico dumped Shaka Smart’s squad, #10 at the time, out of the AP Top 25 altogether. With a 10-1 run (the only bump coming at George Washington), the Rams have worked themselves back into the “Others Receiving Votes…” list, rising to #28 (AP), poised to break into the Top 25 should their winning run (currently five straight) extend. Next week looks promising as VCU hosts Rhode Island before traveling to Philadelphia to play Saint Joseph’s on Saturday.
- Richmond — The Spiders’ boomlet stalled on an 0-2 note. Consecutive road losses to Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth dropped Richmond’s conference record to 4-3 and, given that the losses were by 20 and 11 respectively, muffled post season talk to a whisper. With the roughest point of their conference schedule behind them (St. Bonaventure, George Washington and VCU may beg to differ), Chris Mooney’s team can secure a high (#3? #4? #5?…) seed in Brooklyn, but opportunities for that signature win they needed for NCAA consideration are rapidly dwindling. Their best chances were last week.
- Massachusetts — The bleeding continues in Amherst as the Minutemen posted an 0-2 week that dropped them out of the AP’s Top 25. With a 4-3 conference record and a 1-3 record in their last four games, Derek Kellogg’s squad hits their firebreak this week with games against a slumping La Salle (home) squad and a not-ready-for-primetime Rhode Island (away). The RPI may still put UMass high enough on the S-Curve for a #3 seed, but most bracketologists put them in the #7-#8 seed range but falling. Senior forward Raphiael Putney is slumping, but Kellogg does not have a reliable alternative. A second consecutive bad week could find Kellogg breaking out the panic button.
Games To Catch This Week
- Saint Louis at Saint Joseph’s (Wednesday, February 5, 7:00 PM ET, SNY/Fox MW) — Stop one of the Billikens’ Philadelphia road trip, Jim Crews’ squad will face their sternest road test to date in conference. Saint Louis’ offense versus Saint Joseph’s defense makes for an interesting matchup of strength versus weakness. The Billikens can get sloppy with the ball, but the Joe’s do not force many turnovers. The Hawks are good defensive rebounders (Kanasevic and Roberts can suffocate offenses), but the Bills win without offensive rebounding. The Joe’s defend the paint well (Kanasevic and Roberts again), but Saint Louis shoots better from beyond the arc. Count the blocked shots though, this is one area where Crews’ squad is vulnerable and where Phil Martelli’s squad excels. When Saint Joseph’s has the ball the strengths-on-strengths matchups are more prevalent. The Hawks do not value the ball and the Bills force turnovers; the Hawks shoot well and the Bills defend the shot. This will be a defensive struggle as each team takes their time set up their scoring opportunities out of half court sets, while the defending team works to deny the easy shot/conversion. Saint Joseph’s front court, DeAndre Bembry, Halil Kanasevic and Ron Roberts should present matchup problems for their counterparts, Dwayne Evans, Rob Loe, John Manning and Grandy Glaze. Crews rarely plays Glaze with Low and Evans, though that might be the best size matchup available to Saint Louis.
- St. Bonaventure at Richmond (Wednesday, February 5, 7:00 PM ET, Streaming video) — The second meeting of the season for these two programs that harbor post season aspirations, the Bonnies beat the Spiders 84-70 early last month. Mike Schmidt’s team could use a road win to move their RPI (currently #79) up into bubble territory and square their conference record at 4, while Chris Mooney’s squad needs to cut off their two game losing streak. The matchups will showcase two of the conference’s best overlooked back court/wing rotations (Charlon Kloof, Matthew Wright and Jordan Gaithers of St. Bonaventure versus Cedrick Lindsay, Kendall Anthony and wing Trey Davis for Richmond), but the game will most likely turn on how efficiently the Bonas front court (Marquise Simmons and Youssou Ndoye) can score and rebound offensively. Richmond’s Alonzo Nelson-Ododa and Terry Allen are among the conference’s best defensive rebounders.
- Saint Louis at La Salle (Saturday, February 8, 5:00 PM ET, ESPN2) — In August this looked like a battle for the lead in the conference race, but La Salle’s season has imploded with even an early roll in conference play halted, which reduces the Explorers to the spoiler role. Dr. Giannini’s charges tend to play to their opponents’ level, and St. Louis is the conference’s best going into February. Explorer guards Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland will give Jordair Jett and Mike McCall (and Austin McBroom) problems. Garland, when he is on, can be nearly unstoppable. Depending on how competitive their Wednesday game at Saint Joseph’s is, the Billikens may find the Explorers more difficult to handle than usual. La Salle returns from a Wednesday road game at Massachusetts, which could also affect how well they prepare and respond to the challenges the Billikens will pose.
- Virginia Commonwealth at Saint Joseph’s (Saturday, February 8, 7:00 PM ET, CBS SportsNetwork) — Part two of the Hawks’ “Make or Break Week”, the game will be the second in 48 hours for the Rams. The HAVOC defense however, should be able to exploit the turnover-prone Saint Joseph’s back court (and front court player Halil Kanasevic, who is also vulnerable to turnovers). The Joe’s front court rotation should be able to score if Langston Galloway and Chris Wilson can consistently break VCU’s press. Who stops Treveon Graham? The game may turn on Phil Martelli’s ability to fashion an answer.