Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 22nd, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Breaking Down the Non-Conference Season

As KenPom’s eighth-ranked conference, the Atlantic 10 is securely in the top 25 percent of Division I basketball, well above the next conference (the WCC) and at the head of the Basketball-First group of conferences that typically expect at least two NCAA Tournament bids every season. The A-10 has drawn at least three bids every season since 2007 and this year should be no different. The non-conference composite record again shows that the league is capable of competing with the elite conferences while dominating (to varying degrees) the other 24.


(Note: The conference is 4-0 versus non-Division I teams. No conference members have games scheduled with teams from the Big West, the Mountain West, the Summit and the WAC).

The conference’s overall winning percentage sits at 68 percent going into the Christmas break, with its splits reflected by the level of the competition. The A-10 has a winning record against five of the top seven conferences, but poor showings against the ACC (3-10) and Big East (2-6) account for most of the losses against the elite leagues. The Colonial Athletic (6-6) and the Missouri Valley (2-4) conferences account for 10 of the 11 losses to its peer conferences. And the conference won 90 percent of its games scheduled with the bottom nine leagues, but the OVC strangely enough accounts for two of those three losses. While a solid finish to the non-conference season will help and the Selection Committee has emphasized that conference comparisons are not part of its selection calculus, the league’s overall record should help A-10 members when conference play resumes in January.

Five Games to Catch This Week

The Atlantic 10/ACC doubleheader at the Barclays Center tonight is the centerpiece of the hectic pre-Christmas scramble. Ten A-10 teams will play on Tuesday with only a single game Wednesday, after which everyone takes off and resumes play on Sunday. The holiday interruption notwithstanding, this week’s schedule includes games with eight teams from KenPom’s top seven conferences. The five games listed below are particularly interesting.

The Atlantic 10 might be the toughest non-Power Five conference in the country, but Phil Martelli has his squad right in the thick of things. (USA TODAY Sports)

The Atlantic 10 might be the toughest non-Power Five conference in the country, but Phil Martelli has his squad right in the thick of things. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Saint Joseph’s vs. Virginia Tech (Tuesday December 22, 1:00 PM ESPN3) — The leadoff game for the Atlantic 10/Atlantic Coast Conference doubleheader hosted at the Barclay’s Center, these games were part of the deal that persuaded the A-10 to allow the ACC to use the Barclay’s Center for their conference tournament in 2017 and 2018. Although billed as the undercard, this game features two teams who hope to improve their standing in their respective conferences as they put their four game winning streaks on the line. The Hawks’ offense runs through DeAndre Bembry who accounts for 25% of St. Joseph’s possessions and 23% of their shots during his typical 36 minute-per-game run. The Hokies cannot invest too many defensive resources into shutting down Bembry, however, as the 6’6″ wing has made a living feeding senior wings Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown who, along with sophomores James Demery and Shavar Newkirk (the Hawks’ point guard who can also find an open teammate) provide coach Phil Martelli with multiple scoring options. The Hokies’ offense is nearly as efficient, but coach Buzz Williams’ squad relies on second chances and opportunities at the line. Look for the battle under Virginia Tech’s basket, and track the fouls. Winning both of those battles will bode well for the Hokies. KenPom calls this a close one for the Hawks.
  • Fordham vs Boston College (Tuesday December 22, 1:00 PM ESPN3) — The second, game, featured in the ESPN-covered double header, scheduled in this order to pull in the crowd for the local favorite Fordham, who KenPom projects as the clear winner. Eagles’ coach Jim Christian, in his second season at Chestnut Hill, continues to rebuild, bringing one of the least experienced squads in Division 1 into the Barclay’s Center. He has shuffled his starters liberally, with his only three constants, Eli Carter (a graduate transfer from Florida), AJ Turner and Jerome Robinson (both freshmen). The Rams first year coach Jeff Neubauer counters with a younger squad as well, but the starting five has been stable and balanced with two seniors (Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes), a junior (Jon Severe), a sophomore (Christian Sengfelder) and a freshman (Joseph Chartouny). After dropping their opener to Texas-Arlington, the Rams have run off nine straight — including wins over cross-town rivals Manhattan, St. John’s and Long Island University-Brooklyn — due in no small part to a high assist rates from the back court mates Severe and Chartouny. Christian’s squad has scored less than 60 points in six of the their 11 games while Fordham has scored at least 70 points in all 10 of their games this season. Fordham’s defense forces turnovers, a strength that has fed its offense. Carter will value the ball, but track the Eagles’ turnovers, because if they lose at least 12 possessions they will be hard pressed, between the decrease in scoring opportunities and limited second chance opportunities, to keep up with the Rams.
  • Rhode Island at Old Dominion (Tuesday December 22, 7:00 PM) — At 5-6 overall, Old Dominion is struggling this season. The Monarchs are 0-3 versus Atlantic 10 teams (Saint Joseph’s, Richmond and VCU), but this is a road game for coach Dan Hurley’s Rams, so the Monarchs have home court advantage, but a Rhode Island win will give the Rams a boost in the road-biased RPI favored by the Selection Committee (see the GW game below). KenPom favors Old Dominion by the home court advantage. The two offenses are similarly efficient, and for many of the same reasons. Both like to score close in, and will pass into the post or drive and finish. Their offenses get rely on few turnovers and strong offensive rebounding to compensate for a very average shot conversion rate. The Monarchs look to senior guards Trey Freeman and Aaron Barcote to power their offense. Rhode Island’s back court looks for forwards Kuran Iverson and Hasan Martin who between them will take 44% of the shots with sophomore guards Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell contributing another 40% of the field goal attempts. URI shoots better (neither team shoots the three well), but this is the Monarch’s home court. Rhode Island can get to the line, but their free throw conversion is a shakey 60%. If both teams are cold, turnovers and rebounds will become the determining factors. Look at each team’s offensive rebounds and turnovers.
  • George Washington at DePaul (Tuesday December 22, 9:00 PM Fox Sports1) — George Washington takes a stop at the AllState Center where they will play the Blue Demons. Colonial coach Mike Lonergan has selected his high-major opponents carefully as GW holds a 3-0 record versus Rutgers, Seton Hall and Penn State. DePaul should be victim number four. Coach Dave Leitao, on his second stint at the helm of the Blue Demons, faces much the same problem as the departed Oliver Purnell — persuading the Blue Demons to play defense. The Kevin Larsen/Tommy Hamilton matchup should be interesting, as will the Billy Garrett/Joe McDonald matchup at the point. Playing before a nearly empty AllState Center may throw the Colonials off, but the Blue Demons are struggling and the home court will not be enough to carry them over the line.

    Mike Lonergan and George Washington picked up one of the bigger wins the A-10 has garnered in recent memory last week. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Mike Lonergan and George Washington travel to Chicago in what could be a tricky contest against DePaul. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • Davidson at California (Monday December 28, 9:00 PM Pac-12 Net) — The road game next Monday will be Davidson’s last before the start of conference play. Davidson’s highly efficient offense will be pitted against California’s defense, possibly the strongest aspect of the California team this season. The Golden Bears do not defend the three-point attempt especially well; 47% of the field goal attempted by the Wildcats come from beyond the arc. Wildcat coach Bob McKillop likes to balance outside shooting with inside plays to forwards Peyton Aldridge and Oskar Michelsen. Michelsen needs to more efficiently finish those plays at the rim. KenPom favors the Golden Bears, but if the forwards can finish more consistently and a few more three point attempts drop McKillop has a good chance to come away with a win.
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