Putting a Bow on the Atlantic 10 Regular Season

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 8th, 2016

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

A Wild Finish to an Unusual Season

Is Dayton Poised For Yet Another Postseason Run? (USA Today Images)

Is Dayton Poised For Yet Another Postseason Run? (USA Today Images)

The Atlantic 10 had no fewer than four teams share or outright hold the top spot in the standings during the last five weeks of the regular season. VCU (8-0) entered February with a one-loss lead over Dayton (8-1) and Saint Joseph’s (7-1), but the toughest tests for Will Wade’s team were deferred to the last month of conference play. A 1-2 start to the month dropped the Rams into a tie for second place with the recovered Hawks, two wins behind the preseason favorite Flyers. Having snatched the baton, Dayton could not hold it. Two losses in the third week of February dropped Archie Miller’s squad into second place, again behind VCU. Things then became even more complicated as the league’s top five teams — VCU, Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure and George Washington — finished the season with a virtual round robin. By the beginning of March, Saint Joseph’s and VCU were tied at the top with identical 13-3 records, one game ahead of Dayton (12-4) and St. Bonaventure (12-4). Heading into the final day of the regular season, Dayton pulled VCU back to the pack with a 68-67 overtime win, while St. Joseph’s, which had lost another game to the Bonnies, absorbed a 78-70 loss to Duquesne to spare the conference a four-way co-championship. Instead, Dayton, VCU and St. Bonaventure shared the crown. Read the rest of this entry »

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Texas Southern’s Derrick Griffin Plays Two Sports With Same Tenacity

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 26th, 2016

Scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a collegiate debut is impressive — especially when you do it on the road at an SEC school after a 12-hour bus ride. When you’ve known your teammates for 48 hours and only practiced with them once. And haven’t played competitively in two years. And you were playing a different sport at a Division I level five days before. Somehow, Texas Southern wide-receiver-cum-forward Derrick Griffin managed to pull that off on December 2 at Mississippi State in a closer-than-it-appeared 85-73 loss. The Houston native and former Rivals.com four-star football recruit – he signed to play football at Miami before failing to academically qualify – has turned his athleticism into a series of highlight-reel dunks, gobbled-up rebounds and impressively blocked shots, and he’s part of his hometown Tigers’ 13-1 start in SWAC play.

A first round pick in the NFL or the NBA?! Derrick Griffin is that type of athlete. (Houston Chronicle)

A first round pick in the NFL or the NBA?! Derrick Griffin is that type of athlete. (Houston Chronicle)

“I’m like a junkyard dog out there,” Griffin says. That tenacity has the 6’7″, 225-pound post ranking eighth-best in the country in two-point field goal percentage, 12th in offensive rebounding rate and among the top 125 nationally in defensive rebounding rate and shot-blocking rate, according to KenPom. And if there were a stat for alley-oops per game, Griffin would have to be leading the nation. He tallied four in the first half alone against Syracuse – and that was just his fifth game as a collegian. He hasn’t missed more than one shot in a game in February – he’s 29-of-33 in six games – and he’s had 10 or more rebounds in 13 of Texas Southern’s 14 conference games. “On the court, he’s really quiet,” says head coach Mike Davis, who led Indiana to the NCAA Tournament Championship Game in 2002. “He’s really aggressive. He has an inner rage, not in a bad way, but inner rage. Like, you push that button and he’s got ultimate, ultimate aggression on plays. He can be standing there and all of a sudden block a shot with so much aggressiveness, and you’re like, ‘Wow.’” Read the rest of this entry »

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Rhode Island Loses Hassan Martin in an Injury-Filled Season

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 25th, 2016

The announcement from Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley on Wednesday was short but hardly sweet: Starting forward Hassan Martin is done for the rest of the regular season. The consensus all-conference player has tendinitis in his right knee that caused him to log only 10 minutes in the Rams’ 11-point loss at Davidson on Tuesday, and although it’s unclear how long he’ll be out, the school does not expect him back in action prior to the start of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Coupled with the loss of EC Matthews in Rhode Island’s first game of the season, Hurley has now lost the services of the two players he was most counting on to propel his team into the conference elite.

It was Bad News Wednesday for Hassan Martin and Rhode Island. (Getty)

It was Bad News Wednesday for Hassan Martin and Rhode Island. (Getty)

Hurley retooled his offense to cover for the loss of Matthews, turning to the trio of Fore McGlynn, a fifth-year senior from Towson, and two developing sophomores, Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell. Martin, who shared frontcourt playing time with transfer Kuran Iverson, fifth-year senior Earl Watson and freshman Nicola Akele, had already missed two previous games with an ankle sprain, while Garrett and Iverson missed games because of injury back in January. Although Hurley has described his 15-13 squad as exceptionally “resilient,” the loss of Martin for at least the next few games has drastically lowered expectations for the home stretch. Touted as the sleeper team during Atlantic 10 Media Day last October, the Rams will do well to finish .500 in league play and earn the #7 seed at the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

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Checking In On…The Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 24th, 2016

First It Got Crazy, Then It Didn’t

Reviewing the scores from last Wednesday, it looked as if the shake-up at the top of the conference would continue for another week. VCU had dropped two games the week before and put itself a loss behind Dayton, the coaches’ preseason pick for the conference title. The City of Brotherly Love was unkind to a pair of visiting teams on that night, however, as Dayton lost to Saint Joseph’s 79-70, and up the road, La Salle (1-10 in the A-10) earned its second conference win of the season over St. Bonaventure. The Flyers’ loss dropped them into a three-way tie for first with the victorious Hawks and struggling VCU.

As the A-10 contenders come down the stretch, Archie Miller and crew is once again right in the thick of things. (Getty)

Archie Miller and his crew are once again right in the thick of things heading down the stretch. (Getty)

St. Bonaventure had been in the midst of a 9-3 tear through the conference, but saw its at-large dream grow more distant with the loss to the Explorers (#224 in the RPI). Fast forward to Saturday, where two frontrunners again suffered crippling losses. Dayton fell 79-72 at home to those Bonnies, while Saint Joseph’s had its eight-game road winning streak snapped at Davidson, 99-93. At the end of a chaotic week, the conference standings had somehow remained nearly the same as the week before. VCU was back in first place, while Dayton and Saint Joseph’s fell back into a two-way tie for second place, a loss behind the Rams. St. Bonaventure did slide up the standings page, moving into sole possession of the fourth slot, as George Washington slipped to fifth.

If the standings were status quo ante, the prospects for NCAA bids were not. St. Bonaventure, whose at-large hopes appeared grim on Wednesday, added a signature win to their resume in winning at Dayton over the weekend. Their RPI bumped to #34. Bracketologists will argue about the eye test and ugly losses (see: La Salle) when it comes to the Bonnies’ profile, but the RPI figure has definitely earned them a serious look as the season winds down. Right now, bracketologists Jerry Palm, Chris Dobbertean and Joe Lunardi project the same three teams, Dayton, VCU and Saint Joseph’s, in the field of 68, but disagree on the seed. Dobbertean and Lunardi have both St. Bonaventure and GWU in their First Four Out, while Palm lists only the Bonnies among the first four on the outside of the cutline.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Team Managers Plan Tourney to Crown Nation’s Best

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 19th, 2016

How do you determine which school has the best managers? Is it the school whose white uniforms are the whitest? The school with the most perfectly folded towels? The school where managers grab the most rebounds during practice? How about a 64-team basketball tournament with the final four teams meeting at the real Final Four in Houston? That last one is the dream of Michigan State managers Ian May and Andrew Novak, and Spartans’ assistant athletic director Kevin Pauga. But once that idea was on the table, even more questions emerged: How do you play? What if you can’t play every game? When’s the best time to play? How do you fit it into a bracket, still have fun and draw attention to the hard-working managers?

Imagine showing up to a pickup game and Juan Dixon is on the opposing team. That was the athletic predicament that some are now facing. (AP)

Imagine showing up to a pickup game and Juan Dixon is on the opposing team. That was the athletic predicament that some are now facing. (AP)

May formed a Twitter account in January 2015, @B1GManagerHoops, to track Big Ten managers’ basketball games last season, and enlisted Novak to help run it a short time later. The conference had informal manager games dating back at least to Pauga’s time as a manager – which started in 2000 – but the Twitter account and corresponding blog catalogued results and kept conference standings for the manager teams of the 14 schools for the first time. An online group message on the GroupMe app allowed the Big Ten managers to schedule games much more easily than they ever had before. “I made the Twitter account because I heard that teams were keeping their own records and there was a phone notepad, a little scratched-together thing of records that I got a hold of, and then from there I just started keeping track and I would gather up the scores just from people tweeting at me just in the Big Ten,” May said. “And then we had the same ambitions for this year, which was doing the Big Ten, and then all of a sudden we started getting scores from around the country.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 18th, 2016

The Atlantic 10 regular season is winding to a close but much is still to be decided. Four teams (Dayton, VCU, Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure) have a legitimate shot at taking home the crown this season, and all (save Dayton) will be fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives in the coming weeks. Before things get too tense, let’s take a look at several of the young players who have made this season in the Atlantic 10 a special one.

Early All-Freshmen Leaders

All-conference awards will be announced in about three weeks. While a few of the preseason picks are on track, there have also been a few surprises. Several years ago, the conference was loaded with wings and combo forwards. This season marks a return to what the conference has always been known for — tough, smart guards. The pool of candidates for Freshman of the Year is decidedly guard-heavy, so expect the All-Freshmen Team to feature guards over bigs. One member of the group below is likely to take home Freshman of the Year honors, and they are listed from most to least likely to do so.

(Fordham Athletics)

  • Joseph Chartouny, Fordham, G: If these picks had been made on January 1, Chartouny would have won in a landslide after receiving three Freshman of the Week nods and an Honorable Mention in the season’s first seven weeks. Skill meets need is the best description of Chartouny and Fordham’s relationship. The freshman averages 9.9 points per game with a team-high 98 assists and a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is the top assist man in the conference and ranks third in steals, sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio and ninth in defensive rebounds per game.
  • Steve McElvene, Dayton, C: The redshirt freshman has become a fixture among the weekly honorable mentions (seven times through 14 weeks) while averaging 6.3 rebounds and 6.2 points per game. McElvene also leads the Flyers in offensive rebounds (46) and blocked shots (46). He is the highest-ranked freshmen among conference rebounding leaders, ranking second in blocked shots and 14th in offensive rebounds per game.

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VCU Holding Steady Under Will Wade

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on February 16th, 2016

As with any beloved family member, the longer Shaka Smart stayed in Richmond, the harder he was going to be to replace. And contrary to what many outside the area may think, VCU’s strong basketball tradition didn’t start with the charismatic and personable young coach, but it made him a seemingly impossible act to follow. A 2011 trip to the Final Four is the most notable element of Smart’s impressive coaching resume, but he also won at least 26 games in all six seasons at the helm, going to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five years (VCU is one of 11 schools nationally with such a streak). In the school’s first three years since moving up to the Atlantic 10, Smart led the Rams to 12 conference wins each season and the Rams never received a seed lower than #7 in the NCAA Tournament.

Once under Shaka Smart, the young Will Wade is beginning to plant the seeds towards his own legacy at VCU. (Getty)

Once an assistant under Shaka Smart, the young Will Wade is beginning to plant the seeds towards his own legacy at VCU. (Getty)

VCU did its best to keep Smart from leaving. To call his departure inevitable is probably inaccurate, but they certainly knew it was a distinct possibility all along. After Smart bolted for the resource-rich program at Texas, it didn’t take long for VCU to appoint Will Wade to replace him. Wade, like Smart, is a young, energetic, new-age leader who never played at a high level. At 33 years old, he is currently the fourth-youngest Division I coach, but, unlike Smart, this young head coach brought two years of D-I head coaching experience with him, leading Chattanooga to a 27-7 Southern Conference record over two seasons from 2013-15. Wade was also an assistant for four years under Smart (including the Final Four campaign) prior to that, and was a key member of the Harvard dynasty in the Ivy League before joining the VCU staff.

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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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