Checking In On…The Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on January 20th, 2016

Three Thoughts About The Week That Was

  1. The conference is, with two exceptions, behaving. A glance at the offensive (points per possession scored) and defensive efficiencies (points per possession allowed) for the first two weeks of conference play shows that teams with losing records (Richmond excepted), show a negative efficiency difference (points per possession scored is less than points per possession allowed). Through the first five conference games the spread of winning and losing teams, point per possession scored vs allowed, and the efficiency differential is relatively symmetrical (Richmond again excepted). This is not typical for this point in the conference race. What we do know is that luck (good and bad) has had a small impact and that freshmen and transfers continue to have an impact on scoring and defense through the first two months (and 16+ games) of the season. Table01160118
  2. Virginia Commonwealth is building its case for an NCAA bid. With a crushing 88-54 home win over Fordham Wednesday night, followed by a crucial 94-89 overtime win at Richmond Saturday, the Rams have improved to 13-5 overall and extended their conference-best record to 5-0. The Rams have a one-game cushion over Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, and St. Bonaventure. If chalk prevails, Will Wade‘s squad will not be seriously challenged until February. The schedule-makers have been kind to VCU, as their toughest tests to this point have been Saint Joseph’s (85-82 winners on 1/5) at home and a height-challenged St. Bonaventure (1/23) team in Olean. The real work begins with a game at Davidson (1/29) and a home date with George Washington (2/6). It builds to the closing fortnight as their last three opponents, George Washington (2/27, away), Davidson (3/2, home) and Dayton (3/5, away), should be fellow contenders for the regular season title. Credit senior Mel Johnson and fifth year senior Kory Billbury, who have combined for 43 percent of the team’s three-pointers. Junior center Mo Alie-Cox and JuCo transfer Ahmed Hamdy Mohamed have also formed a nice tag team in the low post in dominating the offensive boards. Alie-Cox and Mohamed have connected on 55 percent of their two-point attempts. This inside-outside combination is efficient enough to negate the loss of junior wing Jordan Burgess, who has been sidelined with a broken finger since early January. Burgess should be back before the end of the season, so there will be time to work him back into the rotation before the conference tournament in Brooklyn.
  3. Same Old, Same Old for St. Louis and La Salle. The Billikens and Explorers rode losing streaks and losing records into conference play. Two weeks and five games into conference play and nothing has changed as each sports a 1-4 record and consecutive losses in conference outings. Jim Crews inherited a roster four seasons ago whose personnel matched legendary coach Rick Majerus’ motion offense system. Crews prefers pick-and-roll and screens to Majerus’ pass-oriented back cut, penetrate and dish sets, but was smart enough four seasons ago to leave well enough alone. Over time, Crews recruited to his preferences, but has not been able to match the results of his famed predecessor. The record of his last two seasons – 17-32 (and counting) – cannot hold a candle to the 55-14 record he posted in his first two seasons with Majerus’ personnel. How much more time will Crews need to make the transition to his system, and will those squads be as competitive as the program developed by Majerus? Meanwhile, combining skilled transfers with athletic but overlooked locally recruited talent (several of whom were high-risk/high-reward), Dr. John Giannini rebuilt a La Salle program devastated by scandal during Billy Hahn’s tenure. The process took nine seasons to produce a Sweet Sixteen run (in 2012-13), but Giannini has not been able to use the run as a foundation for continued success. The recent batch of transfers have not bought into the program like the 2011-13 group did and the locals have struggled as well – not as risky, but not as rewarding either. Giannini has suggested this season’s roster is a multi-season work in progress. His task will be to develop the squad and establish the work ethic necessary to soon return the program to the 2012-13 level.
Penn's home floor will be host to a pretty cool "old school" doubleheader. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Penn’s home floor will be host to a pretty cool “old school” doubleheader. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Three Games (and a Doubleheader) to Catch This Week

Saint Joseph’s, La Salle, Temple, and Penn engage in some nostalgia at the Palestra on Wednesday. In the Atlantic 10, the race for regular season top honors is on. Teams with hopes of bye seeds (teams whose regular season records earns them a #1-#4 seed earns a bye to the quarterfinal round on Friday in the A10 Conference Tournament) will not thrive on home wins alone. Road wins are needed, so expect Davidson, Dayton, and Rhode Island to be tested this week.

  1. The Big 5 Doubleheader (Wednesday, January 20) Saint Joseph’s vs Penn and La Salle vs Temple – A throwback to the golden era in Philadelphia basketball when several weekends in January and February featured double and triple-headers that pitted Big 5 rivals against each other. Playing against Penn in the main event, the Hawks should be able to avenge their loss to the Quakers last season and seal Penn’s consecutive 1-3 City Series finish. La Salle’s latest losing streak sits at two (Richmond and Rhode Island), and should Temple extend it to three (very likely, but this is the Big 5), the City Series champ will be determined by the Temple-Villanova game next month.
  2. Dayton at St. Bonaventure (Tuesday, January 19, 7:00 PM) – The 4-1 Bonnies host the Flyers (also 4-1) who need this win to stay in contact with conference leader Virginia Commonwealth. If Steve McElvene can stay on the floor (and stay fresh) the 6’11” center could make the difference, because the matchups in the backcourts and on the wings are close. St. Bonaventure is short and guard-oriented; they do not rebound well. If Dayton can control the offensive boards and convert second chances they should win and put the Bonnies another loss away from VCU.
  3. Rhode Island at George Washington (Friday, January 22, 7:00 PM ESPN2) – With both teams knotted at 3-2, the loser will drop to .500 and fall two games behind the expected frontrunners (Dayton and VCU). The Colonials (3-2 in conference) squandered an opportunity at St. Louis and dropped their head-to-head with Dayton. For Rhode Island, gaining a resume win over an RPI top 50 team on the road would be great, but difficult to earn. Track the rebounds – both teams work for them at both ends of the court – and fouls. Kevin Larsen, the Colonials’ 6’11” center, could be the difference here. The Rams do not have an effective counter in the low post.
  4. Davidson at Richmond (Saturday, January 23, 12:30 PM NBC Sports Net) – The Spiders host the travel-averse Wildcats in an NBC Sports Network doubleheader. Viewers should be entertained by two very capable motion-oriented offensive systems. Jack Gibbs should be able to add another nice scoring performance to his budding Conference Player of the Year resume, but fans who appreciate the defensive aspects of the game will find this a frustrating experience.
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