Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 26th, 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 Season Ended Today

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The conference standings are ordered by A-10 winning percentage (through February 25), using the rules to determine conference tournament seeding applied to order those with identical marks. The efficiency differences do not match the conference standings, but that is not unusual. A few of the larger differences, however, do stand out (note the shadings). Massachusetts, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Bonaventure in particular are out of place relative to the teams above and below them. Those efficiency differences, especially if the standings hold through the end of the regular season, could play a larger than expected role in the conference tournament. Note the brackets below represent the seeds if the conference tournament were seeded based on results through Tuesday.

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Although Saint Louis is seeded #1, the Billikens have a more challenging set of match-ups en route to the championship game than #2 seed Saint Joseph’s. If seeds in the other upper bracket games hold, Saint Louis would face the most efficient offense of St. Bonaventure in Friday’s quarterfinal round, to be followed by the winner of last season’s best semifinal game (rematched in the quarterfinals this season). Neither Massachusetts nor VCU would be walkover opponents in the semifinals on Saturday. The Hawks, on the other hand, will play the winner of the Dayton/Duquesne Thursday game (most likely Dayton), to be followed by the winner of the Richmond/George Washington quarterfinal. Both the Spiders and Colonials, depleted by injury (and for the Spiders, personnel departures), have a combined 6-5 February record (excluding their game against each other). The seeds are not carved in stone yet, though. VCU could potentially take the #3 seed outright by sweeping its last four games, the most difficult of which is at current #3 seed Richmond. Massachusetts has a game at Saint Louis, so a four-game sweep would be more difficult for the Minutemen. Massachusetts holds the tiebreaker over VCU, which would mean Kellogg’s squad would reseed to the lower bracket (and draw GW and Saint Joseph’s) should both end the season with 4-0 runs.

A Quick Look at All-Conference Honors Candidates

Jordair Jett is making a late push for conference POY honors. (NCAA)

Jordair Jett is making a late push for conference POY honors. (NCAA)

  • Player of the Year – The race for Player of the Year is a virtual microcosm of the conference season. Going into conference play the POY race appeared to be an all-UMass affair with Cady Lalanne and preseason favorite Chaz Williams taking four of the conference’s first seven Player of the Week nods. Nine weeks later Lalanne has disappeared and Williams has earned only one more POW nod. Meanwhile Saint Louis widebody wing Jordair Jett, having garnered nearly half of the POW mentions given in conference play, is closing strong. Williams is probably still in control, but the Minutemen need a stronger finish from their senior guard both to improve their seed in the A-10 Conference Tournament next month and to lock up an NCAA bid.
  • All-Conference First Team – Ken Pomeroy’s numbers-first approach yields this first team: Jordair Jett (Saint Louis), Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis), Treveon Graham (VCU), Chaz Williams (UMass) and Juvonte Reddic (VCU), with Jett taking the Conference Player of the Year award. Pomeroy’s picks are strong on both ends of the floor, as all have offensive ratings greater than their respective teams while doing work defensively as well. Graham, Reddic and Williams are ranked among the leaders for steals. Graham and Reddic are ranked among the leaders for defensive rebounding while Evans (and Reddic) are ranked for offensive rebounding. Williams is ranked for his assist rate. Voters however, are sensitive to balance, name recognition, the MVP-type role an individual may play for his team, and late developments in the conference race. Expect enough votes for Langston Galloway (Saint Joseph’s), Tyreek Duren (La Salle), Kendall Anthony (Richmond), Maurice Creek (George Washington) and even Xavier Munford (Rhode Island) to make the first team vote very close.
  • Freshman of the Year – On New Year’s the choice would have been preseason favorite Jon Severe by a mile, but Fordham is struggling again this season. E.C. Matthews, on the other hand, has put together a terrific conference season that has enabled Rhode Island to match last season’s conference win total with solid prospects to up that total. The stakes for Fordham and Rhode Island when they meet for the last game of the regular season may well be to decide which of their freshmen earns the top honor. Both are cinches to make the All-Conference Freshman First Team. George Mason forward Jalen Jenkins is a longshot to beat out Severe and Matthews, but should also be a unanimous selection to the All-Freshman Team. Others who make up the rest of the candidate pool include DeAndre Bembry (Saint Joseph’s wing), Jordan Burgess (VCU, wing), JeQuan Lewis (VCU, guard) and Scoochie Smith (Dayton).

Games This Week

The focus this week moves to those stuck in the middle, specifically Massachusetts and George Washington, two squads who played well in November and December, but have struggled in conference play. If either (or both) are able to right their respective ships, they can take a legitimate run at VCU for the #2 seed in Brooklyn and secure their places on the right side of the S-Curve.

  • Massachusetts at Dayton (Saturday, March 1, 10:00 AM CT, ESPNU) – Was Tuesday the beginning of Dayton’s annual implosion? Late season swoons have become a tradition for the Flyers, as their 6-0 run through February ended rudely in Philadelphia as the Joe’s handed them a 26-point drubbing. This game is important if Archie Miller’s squad is to cash their terrific non-conference record for an NCAA ticket. Massachusetts needs this win if they want to get out of the Saint Louis (and VCU!) side of the conference tournament bracket. February was a 4-2 month for Derek Kellogg’s squad, off the pace they set in the first two months of the season, but wins over George Washington and VCU suggest the mini-slump may be over. Cady Lalanne and Sampson Carter should match up well with Miller’s frontcourt rotation (Devin Oliver, Devon Scott, Matt Kavanaugh and Jalen Robinson). Dayton will need big games from Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre.
  • Saint Joseph’s at St. Bonaventure (Saturday, March 1, 3:00 PM ET NBC Sports Network) – A trap game for Saint Joseph’s, perhaps? The Hawks have the conference tournament #2 seed in hand and control their in-conference fate (and NCAA bid prospects?) if they can win out. The Bonnies’ Matthew Wright, Marquis Simmons and Charlon Kloof have collaborated for a senior season better than the conference coaches predicted back in October. The battle under St. Bonventure’s backboard will probably decide the game. The Bonnies’ offensive efficiency leads the conference, but relies on offensive boards to compensate for less-than stellar shooting. Saint Joseph’s frontcourt rotation, Ron Roberts and Halil Kanasevic (and others) top the conference.
  • Saint Louis at Virginia Commonwealth (Saturday, March 1, 6:00 PM ET ESPN2) – One of those games the networks circle as soon as the conference schedule is announced, the World Wide Leader slotted this showdown for prime time on the deuce. The outcome will not decide the #1 seed for Brooklyn next month (in contradiction of virtually all season previews), but a win would help the Rams secure the #3 seed in the conference tournament (and make Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli develop a whole new game plan). Do not be surprised if the combined score does not break 130, as these are the conference’s two best defenses. Saint Louis converts field goals at a more efficient rate (about 51% eFG) than VCU, but VCU force turnovers which should limit the number of field goal attempts the Billikens will take. Coach Jim Crews’ squad closes the season with another tough road game (at Massachusetts), and two losses should not cost them the #1 seed, but it might drop them a seed-line on Selection Sunday.
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