Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 10th, 2016

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

The “Rs” Are Out of Step

The table below shows that 12 of the conference’s 14 members have efficiency differences consistent with their conference records, but Rhode Island and Richmond have bucked that trend for different reasons. For the Rams, blame injuries, as Rhody’s roster has been a patchwork since E. C. Matthew’s season-ending injury 10 minutes into its opening game. Since then, three stalwarts — Hasan Martin, Kuran Iverson, and Jarvis Garrett — have missed at least one game each, leaving the Rams with a 5-5 record despite Dan Hurley’s efforts to add depth to the rotation. It may be time for Hurley to seriously consider throwing the switch on development for next season when he should have his nucleus of Matthews-Martin-Iverson healthy and conditioned for a serious run.

Table01160210

Richmond’s strange placement comes from a strong offense (as the table indicates, 111.2 points per 100 possessions) combined with a very weak defense that yields 109.8 points per 100 possessions. As the table above indicates, the bottom five squads — UMass, Duquesne, St. Louis, Fordham and La Salle — continue to separate away from the rest of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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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. Read the rest of this entry »
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With History on Its Side, William & Mary is No Pushover

Posted by Ray Curren on January 14th, 2016

There’s really no way to avoid history when you attend the College of William & Mary. It’s the second-oldest school in the nation (behind Harvard) and the picturesque buildings and statues are sure to jog your memory of that fact if you had temporary amnesia. The official school bookstore is a couple of blocks from campus and looks like any other you might encounter in your travels except that it also is in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg, a replica of the 17th- and 18th-century Virginia capital and a “living history museum.” A short jog from campus would bring you to Yorktown, where British general Charles Cornwallis committed the first egregiously unsportsmanlike act on American soil, failing to shake George Washington’s hand after being defeated to end the Revolutionary War in 1781 (instead, he sent his second in command to surrender). A few miles in the other direction is Jamestown, the first permanent British settlement in North America.

The most famous player to ever come out of William & Mary? Probably the super talented Marcus Thornton. (AP)

The most famous player to ever come out of William & Mary? Probably the super talented Marcus Thornton. (AP)

Basketball history in Williamsburg, though? Well that’s defined by what you won’t find on campus anywhere — an NCAA Tournament banner. If you know your basketball history (or have been paying attention when it has been mentioned), you know that William & Mary is among the Cursed Five (along with Army, St. Francis — Brooklyn, The Citadel, and Northwestern), the quintet of schools that have never appeared in an NCAA Tournament since it began in 1939. It’s a particularly sore subject in Williamsburg because the Tribe have been very close in the last two seasons, losing a pair of heartbreakers in the CAA title game. Two seasons ago, William & Mary held a six-point lead with 90 seconds left against Delaware and, even after relinquishing it, Tribe star Marcus Thornton’s last-second shot to win appeared headed for its intended target, only to have history, physics, and karma combine to keep it out. Last March, the regular season CAA champion Tribe was beaten by Northeastern, and at least got a small consolation prize of an NIT bid. However, none of that removes W&M from the ignominious list, even if it marked the first time in seven decades that William & Mary tallied back-to-back 20-win seasons.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on January 13th, 2016

Now a couple weeks into conference play, a few early observations can be made in the Atlantic 10 race.

Quick Hits From the First Fortnight

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: Patricio Garino #13 and George Washington dropped a surprising game to, but should be right in the mix for the A-10 crown. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Patricio Garino (left) and George Washington should still be in the mix for the A-10 crown. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

  • Home vs Road — Home teams have won 69 percent of conference games, going 13-8 through Sunday evening.
  • Most Surprising Win — St. Bonaventure’s 97-85 over Davidson to open conference play at the Reilly Center, as the 12-point margin raised eyebrows all around the conference. Davidson has lost four games away from Belk Arena by an average of 19.3 points. The Bonnies’ offense produced 1.29 points per possession, better than that which was produced by Davidson’s other three conquerors: North Carolina (1.20), Pitt (1.27) and California (1.16).
  • Most Impressive Road Win — On the strength of a 28-12 run, Virginia Commonwealth erased a 13-point deficit with seven minutes left at Saint Joseph’s to post an 85-82 win.
  • Knucklehead Loss, Part 1 — George Washington‘s loss at St. Louis, 65-62, on the first Saturday of conference play. The defeat cost the Colonials their spot in both Top 25 polls, as the Billikens limited Pat Garino and Tyler Cavanaugh to a combined 20 points on 9-of-21 shooting. GW should still compete for the conference regular season title, but the loss opens the door for other challengers.
  • Knucklehead Loss, Part 2 — Dayton‘s loss at La Salle, 61-57, last Saturday broke the Explorers’ seven-game death spiral and gave them their first conference win. La Salle lulled the Flyers into an ugly 59-possession game, so Dayton attempted a long range assault with poor results. Three Flyers (Scoochie Smith among them) combined to go 0-of-10 from beyond the arc (the rest of the squad was 7-of-15). And in committing 14 turnovers, Dayton handed away over 24 percent of its possessions. Read the rest of this entry »
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Dynamic Career of John Brown Ending on a High Note

Posted by Ray Curren on January 8th, 2016

To casual college basketball fans, the mention of John Brown often elicits a quizzical look of recognition with an inability to place the name in the proper cerebral file cabinet. Wait, he plays for one of those really small schools, right? High something. High Top? High Tide? The dude with those sick dunks that show up on the SportsCenter Top Ten a few times a season? Is he still playing? To paraphrase noted philosopher Zed of Men In Black fame, Brown is often “a rumor, recognizable only as deja vu and dismissed just as quickly.” Except there are no flashy thingies that can erase YouTube (at least not yet), and you can spend a decent portion of your evening lost in Brown dunk highlights.

One of the best leapers in the history of college basketball, John Brown is looking to end his senior year on a high note. (AP)

One of the best leapers in the history of college basketball, John Brown is looking to end his senior year on a high note. (AP)

It’s High Point, of course, whose most known export prior to Brown’s arrival was its furniture. Nestled a few miles southwest of Winston-Salem and southeast of Greensboro, it’s also within shouting distance of ACC towns Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, meaning that very few mainstream media members notice High Point home games at the Millis Center (capacity 1,750) or its plight in the Big South. Until he does this. Or this. According to the university, Brown — now a senior — has appeared on SportsCenter’s Top Ten plays a total of 10 times in his career, and his alley-oop against Coastal Carolina in 2014 has been seen by 2.5 million people and counting. (ed. note: the school has even developed its own John Brown microsite)

“They want to see the dunks, and there are some people who just know me through that, but there are a lot of people that do their homework and know I’m more than that,” Brown said. “I’m glad I’m just a click away most of the time, though.” Brown has been much more than dunks for coach Scott Cherry‘s Panthers the last four seasons. He was the 2013 Big South Freshman of the Year, the 2014 Big South Player of the Year, and was barely edged out by Charleston Southern’s Saah Nimley last season for another POY award. Brown is second among active Division I players in scoring (1,937 — behind only Evansville’s D.J. Balentine), and should become High Point’s Division I career scoring leader by the end of the season. And that’s not really Brown’s biggest strength. At 6’8″, 210 pounds, the athleticism and quickness that allow him to pull off remarkable dunks also make him an outstanding defender: He has averaged 6.7 rebounds for his career along with 148 blocks and 156 steals.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on January 6th, 2016

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

Three Things We Learned in the First Weekend

  1. Davidson won’t repeat as the regular season champion. The Wildcats are 1-4 away from the Belk Arena so far, including their 97-85 loss to St. Bonaventure on Saturday. With away games still to come versus Dayton, George Washington, VCU, Richmond and Fordham, along with tough home games against VCU, Saint Joseph’s and George Washington, Davidson could lose as many as eight conference games over the next two months.

    Despite his elite coaching prowess, it doesn't look like Bob McKillop and Davidson will repeat at conference champs this time around. (Tim Cowie/DavidsonPhotos.com)

    Despite his elite coaching prowess, it doesn’t look like Bob McKillop’s team will repeat at conference champs this time around. (Tim Cowie/DavidsonPhotos.com)

  2. A strong defense, some unanticipated player development and a favorable conference schedule means Saint Joseph’s should follow its 6-1 December with a 7-2 January. The players appear to be “getting it” — meaning head coach Phil Martelli’s approach to the game — and it shows in the Hawks’ defense and team-oriented approach to offense. St. Joseph’s field goal shooting still needs to improve, but the team is already showing up in a number of midseason brackets. If all goes well this month, February’s schedule features a handful of more difficult games that will ultimately determine whether the team is a legitimate contender for the conference title.
  3. It was a 69-63 loss, but Fordham’s players and fans are optimistic. The road venue was the Smith Center in Washington, D.C., and the Rams, down 15 at the half, managed to climb back in and stay within three possessions of the Colonials through the remainder of the game. The players are buying into what first year coach Jeff Neubauer is selling, as Fordham carried a 9-2 record into conference play and is on track to win between six to eight Atlantic 10 games. If the Rams hit inside that window, they will post their first winning season since 2006-07. A winning program in the New York City metropolitan area provides a huge boost to the conference’s overall profile, and correspondingly, Neubauer’s recruiting. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 29th, 2015

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

Last Week… and This Week

Conference teams played 12 games over the abbreviated week, going a total of 7-5. A winning percentage of only 58 percent continues the conference’s declining winning percentage this month, but Atlantic 10 teams have 12 more games through New Year’s Eve to rebuild their momentum. Four more games featuring Power Six opponents, two of which offer the signature-type of wins that can help a team’s postseason resume, are still to play — see the Five Games to Catch This Week section below. We then turn quickly to conference play over the weekend, with five games on Saturday and two more Sunday, two of which should have long-term conference race implications.

Jack Gibbs has paced what has been an impressive showing by the A-10's top tier guys this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

Jack Gibbs has paced what has been an impressive showing by the A-10’s top tier guys this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

The All Non-Conference (OOC) Teams

KenPom observed that “players do jump from being decoys to go-to guys in one season, and some even regress the other way. Those are the exceptions. By and large, a player’s role on his team in one season is a good indicator of his role the following season.” Non-conference play suggests that the following players are the engines that drive their team’s performances. The question is whether they can maintain that status through conference play. For those on the All-Freshman and All-Surprise Teams, the question on the eve of conference play is whether the roles and momentum they have established so far will continue.

Non-Conference First Team

It should not surprise anyone that three of the names on the First Team at the midpoint of the season are known commodities who were named to the preseason All-First Team, while the other two were named to the All-Third Team. Their roles as outstanding players on their respective teams have not changed much from last season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Isaiah Miles’ emergence Just What Doctor Ordered at Saint Joseph’s

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 25th, 2015

Though they returned 81 percent of the minutes and 86 percent of the points scored from last season, even the Atlantic 10 coaches were not optimistic about coach Phil Martelli’s Saint Joseph’s prospects this season. True, the coaches voted junior forward DeAndre’ Bembry, a projected first or high second round pick in the NBA Draft next June, as the preseason Player of the Year, but the talent behind him was thin — a ceiling low enough to project the Hawks no higher than seventh in their poll released on Media Day. So far, Bembry has not disappointed —  “plays with a great pace, incredibly tough to guard, 16-17 feet and in, an elite passer” as Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams described after the Hawks defeated the Hokies, 79-52, at the Barclays Center Tuesday. Going into the Virginia Tech game, Bembry led the Joe’s in minutes played (367), points scored (159) and rebounds (79). Nipping at his heels was senior forward Isaiah Miles, who was second to Bembry in all three of those categories. Going into Tuesday’s game Miles had scored at least 10 points in all 10 of his games, matched his career-high 24 points versus Buffalo, logged double-doubles (points and rebounds) three times and was named to the All-Tournament Team for the Hall of Fame Classic in November for his play versus Florida and Old Dominion.

Isaiah Miles has become the second option that the Joe's have been searching for. (PHILLY.com)

Isaiah Miles has become the second option that the Joe’s have been searching for. (PHILLY.com)

Identified as the Hawks’ most efficient offensive player by KenPom‘s possession-based statistics with a 122.5 offensive rating and most effective offensive rebounder (9.1 percent, ranked #351), Miles set new career-highs for points scored and rebounds gathered in Tuesday win over Virginia Tech when he scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in 39 minutes of play. His year-over-year progress is unusual, from 2.3 points per game as a freshman to 10.7 points per game as a junior, but gave no hint that he would jump to his current 17.4 points per game this season. When did Martelli have an inkling Miles might have a game like this? “In August,” he said. “Really, in August. Because he lost a lot of weight.” Indeed, Miles, who tipped the scales at 226 pounds his junior year, lost 11 pounds during the offseason. Martelli took it as a sign of a more focused commitment Miles would have this season. “Seniors have two choices,” Martelli continued, “They can be ‘been there, done that’ and they can go through their 30 games. (Miles) leads this team in charges taken (combined). This game was decided on his two offensive put-backs at the end of the second half.” Read the rest of this entry »

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On Jeff Neubauer’s Immediate Impact at Fordham

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 24th, 2015

Under Tom Pecora’s guidance, Fordham appeared to be making its way — very slowly — back into New York City’s college basketball conversation. The program hit rock bottom with a dismal 2-26 season in 2009-10 during the combined, abbreviated tenures of Dereck Whittenburg (1-4) and Jared Grasso (1-22). That disaster followed a 3-25 season the year prior, that one fully coached by Whittenburg. Pecora, then the coach at Hofstra, moved over to Rose Hill in the offseason with a promise to turn things around. He moved the needle immediately, winning seven games in his first season. Pecora went after New York City talent aggressively, bringing in Branden Frazier, Bryan Smith and Jon Severe. Three of the Rams’ next four seasons would end with exactly 10 Fordham wins, a measure of success too modest for Pecora to stick around. Fordham athletic director Dave Roach ended Pecora’s tenure last offseason, then peered outside of the metropolitan New York City coaching box to make an offer to Eastern Kentucky’s Jeff Neubauer. Neubauer did play point guard for La Salle’s legendary coach Speedy Morris in the early 1990s, but the closest Neubauer ever worked as coach to New York City was at Richmond under Jon Beilein.

Jeff Neubauer has Fordham playing at a level in which NYC hasn't seen in a long time. (AP)

Jeff Neubauer has Fordham playing at a level in which NYC hasn’t seen in a long time. (AP)

Flash forward to Tuesday evening. Neubauer and Fordham may have lost to Boston College, 64-55, in the featured game in the Atlantic 10/ACC doubleheader at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but Neubauer’s impact has been immediate and obvious. After opening the season with a 77-72 loss to Texas-Arlington, the Rams ran off nine straight wins, the program’s first nine-game win streak since the 1990-91 season and its first 9-1 start since 1970. Less obvious, but important for the Fordham fan-base (and New York media), was the Rams’ 3-0 record versus their metro area counterparts. Fordham beat Manhattan and St. John’s (a feat Pecora did accomplish in 2010-11), then capped it off with an 89-84 overtime win over Long Island University-Brooklyn to sweep the local rivals. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

Table01151221

(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.

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Seton Hall Defense Driving Early Success

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 21st, 2015

Wichita State’s self-described “Redemption Tour” broke up Saturday afternoon in Newark as the Shockers fell to Seton Hall in overtime. It did not, however, start out quite that way for the Pirates. Through the game’s first 13 minutes, the Shockers scored 33 points on 22 field goal attempts, going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc and 9-of-15 from closer, scoring 14 points on turnovers and runouts. “Actually, it was my fault,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard after the game. “I had too much time to watch film and I tried to be creative. I was trying to confuse them [Wichita State, with a zone defense], but I ended up confusing our guys. We got back to being real simple.” Real simple for the Pirates meant a physical man-to-man defense that shut down the lane and planted taller defenders on wings Ron Baker and Evan Wessel. Wichita State shot 12-of-42 for the rest of the game, and the defense that shut down the Shockers should put perimeter-oriented teams like Creighton and Villanova on notice — the Pirates are developing answers.

Desi Rodriguez scored a team-high in the Pirates' big win over the Shockers. (Saed Hindash/NJ Advance Media)

Desi Rodriguez scored a team-high in the Pirates’ big win over the Shockers. (Saed Hindash/NJ Advance Media)

Physical defense has been a trademark of Willard’s last two squads, especially with the additions of center Angel Delgado and forward Desi Rodriguez in the 2014 recruiting class. But this season is different given the progress of fellow sophomore Ismeal Sanogo and redshirt freshman Michael Nzei Willard providing options at the two forward spots. Willard’s move of Rodriguez to the small forward spot, where he used his size and athleticism to limit Wichita State senior Zach Brown (who fouled out the first time this season) to three points on 1-of-3 shooting, was a very good strategy. Having Nzei and Sanogo inside adds a physical dimension to the Pirates’ defense. “Since I’ve been here we have had very skilled four men — Patrik (Auda), Brandon (Mobley) — Ismael and Mike are the complete opposite of Brandon and Patrik, much more junk yard dogs, athletic,” Willard explained after the win. “Ismael uses his athleticism really well. He can get above the rim and rebound. They have been — I keep saying this — the two of them have been the best surprise, and they worked hard, they are the best surprise by far this season.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 17th, 2015

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

Is the Atlantic 10 Fading?

Did Feast Week foretell a conference-wide stumble? After compiling a 36-10 (0.783) record through the season’s first 10 days, Atlantic 10 teams cooled off to a still solid 21-10 (0.677) record during the height of the early season invitational tournament events. Rolling into Finals Week (an academic, not an ESPN-inspired, reference), the conference’s December results of 29-19 (0.604) show another decline. The best win in December so far — Dayton‘s 72-67 win at Vanderbilt on December 9 — stands nearly alone among the consensus top seven conferences (AAC, ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC). This month’s games have established that the A-10’s better squads are better than the top seven’s stragglers — George Washington has beaten Penn State (Big Ten) and Rutgers (Big Ten); Fordham demolished St. John’s (Big East); and there have been a number of near-misses. The sheer number of double-figure losses are numerous and troubling for those contemplating four or more bids come March, however. December losses that the Selection Committee may have trouble ignoring should those teams find themselves on the bubble include Richmond’s loss at Florida (12/1), Massachusetts’ loss to Mississippi on a neutral court (12/5), and Davidson’s big loss to North Carolina (12/6).

Mike Lonergan

Mike Lonergan and George Washington have been the class of the A-10 so far. (USA TODAY Sports)

Their Season So Far

Five of the conference’s better postseason prospects …

  • George Washington (#21 AP, 9-1) — The conference’s first team in a Top 25 poll this season (the Colonials are #22 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll) gained some national press when they knocked off ACC preseason favorite Virginia, 73-68, in their second game back on November 13. A five-point loss to #23 Cincinnati in the Barclays Center Classic championship finals remains their only blemish. The Colonials’ resume is heavily sprinkled with teams from the top seven conferences –Tennessee (SEC), Seton Hall (Big East), Penn State, Rutgers (Big Ten) and South Florida (AAC) — all wins. Virginia and Cincinnati are favored to hear the call come Selection Sunday; Tennessee and Seton Hall may find themselves in the conversation by the end of February. With St. Peter’s (NEC) and two more lower division top eight conference teams (Central Florida — AAC and DePaul — Big East) still to play, coach Mike Lonergan’s squad should start their conference slate with a 12-1 record … and a target on their back.

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