Atlantic 10 NCAA Tournament Reactions

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 15th, 2016

Shock at the NCAA Tournament’s exclusion of St. Bonaventure, the first regular season conference champion with an RPI better than #30 to be left out of the NCAA field since it was expanded to 64 teams, was not limited to members of the school’s community, fans of the conference, veteran bracketologists and a wide consensus of sportswriters. Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade weighed in with a scathing critique of the committee’s judgement and a promise to “talk to the selection committee representatives and compare the stats of all of the at-large selections to understand why [the Bonnies] were not selected to hopefully avoid this disappointment in the future”.

The other three projected teams were included in the field of 68. Let’s take a look at each.

Dayton #7 seed, Midwest Region

After the seeds were assigned to their NCAA Tournament sites a Dayton supporter suggested (tongue firmly in cheek) that fans of his school and Xavier gather at a known St. Louis watering hole to catch their respective games and swap stories about the old Atlantic 10. Dayton drew Syracuse and a roster that has been ravaged by NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions. The Orange run a six-man rotation, which may explain why Syracuse’s record since Valentine’s Day is a paltry 2-5. Dayton can crack Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone with outside shooting (Cooke, Smith or Pierre) or utilize its bouncy forwards (Pierre, Pollard) flashing to the free throw line to convert or find open shooters. Archie Miller typically goes nine deep, so expect the Flyers’ high-energy rotation to wear the Orange down over the course of the game. Survive that and #2 seed Michigan State is up next, a team that many thought deserved a #1 seed. Should the Flyers survive the first weekend, challenges in the form of Seton Hall (or Utah) and ultimately one from a mix of Virginia (#1 seed), a Tubby Smith-coached Texas Tech (#8) or Iowa State (#5) await. Michigan State is without question the toughest draw for Dayton in this region. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thoughts on the Atlantic 10’s Postseason Teams

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 14th, 2016

As we head into the heart of March Madness with the NCAA Tournament starting this week, let’s quickly review some of the key takeaways from the Atlantic 10 Tournament over the weekend in Brooklyn.

St. Joseph's Celebrated (USA Today Images)

St. Joseph’s Celebrated Its A-10 Title on Sunday in Brooklyn (USA Today Images)

At least six Atlantic 10 teams are still playing basketball, although only three will do so in the NCAA Tournament. It was clear as January turned to February that four A-10 teams were playing in a league of their own — Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Bonaventure. All four were dialed in during conference play, fighting among themselves to determine which would take or share the regular season title. After Selection Sunday, the three teams included in the field of 68 drew seeds ranging from #7 (Dayton) to #8 (Saint Joseph’s) to #10 (VCU). The shocker of Selection Sunday might have been the snub of the Bonnies, a team projected to make the field in 71 of the 80 brackets included in Bracket Matrix. Meanwhile, Davidson and George Washington joined a disappointed St. Bonaventure club in scooping NIT bids. Beyond those six, look for Fordham and/or Richmond to play in the CBI, CIT or Vegas 16. Rhode Island is, as coach Dan Hurley admitted after the Rams lost to Massachusetts Thursday, too banged up to be effective. Its season is over. Here are some thoughts on those teams still playing:

  • Dayton and VCU won’t sneak up on anyone this season. They may represent the conference’s name brands but each has significant flaws this season. VCU lacks multiple scoring threats, especially when their offense is initiated from the half-court. Senior guard Melvin Johnson and center Mo Alie-Cox can score — but only when someone besides Johnson is hot from the outside does the Rams’ offense look dangerous. Dayton won two games last year and ran all the way to the Elite Eight in 2014. This season’s ennui may stem from a variety of minor injuries, a concussion protocol implemented at the worst time and a fall semester suspension. On paper this team looks better than last season, but the Flyers have really struggled since Valentine’s Day.

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Fresno State Dances While San Diego State Worries

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 13th, 2016

America, meet Marvelle Harris and Fresno State. On the strength of a 68-63 win over perennial Mountain West power San Diego State in the conference’s championship game on Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs will be dancing for just the sixth time in program history and the first since 2001 (back when Jerry Tarkanian was still chewing towels on the sidelines). Harris poured in 18 confident points en route to the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, backing up league coaches’ decision to name him the Mountain West Player of the Year. There is no doubt that Harris is the type of talent that can carry his team to some success in an NCAA Tournament game. He’s a versatile senior scorer (20.7 PPG) who can hit from deep (witness his 25-footer to end the first half on Saturday), score at the rim (62.9% FG on his 175 attempts at the rim this year), or draw defenders and create for his teammates (assists on 26.1% of his teammates’ field goals while on the floor). On a team with six upperclassmen among the eight players who saw significant minutes on Saturday, there’s enough experience joining Harris to making the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament stay extend beyond Friday.

Marvelle Harris And Fresno State Are Heading To The NCAA Tourney (AP Photo/David Becker)

Marvelle Harris And Fresno State Are Heading To The NCAA Tourney (AP Photo/David Becker)

It’s been a rough road for head coach Rodney Terry in his first head coaching job after nine seasons as an assistant at Texas. His first season at Fresno was the school’s final season in the WAC, a year in which the Bulldogs won just three conference games. His first full recruiting class (which led into the program’s first year in the Mountain West) was highlighted by the addition of prominent recruits like Robert Upshaw and Braeden Anderson, but it turned out that Harris was the only player in the class able to make a lasting positive contribution. From there, Terry mined his Big 12 roots and pulled in players like Cezar Guerrero (transfer from Oklahoma State), Julien Lewis (transfer from Texas) and Karachi Edo (a high school recruit from Texas). The Bulldogs have improved in each of Terry’s five years at the helm: five wins in the first year in the Mountain West; a .500 record in 2013-14; an additional conference win last year; and now this season a surprising 13 league wins, a second place regular season finish, and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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Atlantic 10 Tournament: Early Round Takeaways

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 11th, 2016

The first two rounds of the Atlantic 10 Tournament are now in the books. Here are four takeaways from the first couple days of action.

Partly thanks to Trey Davis, who scored a game-high 20 points against Rhode Island, UMass is still dreamin' about dancin'. (Getty)

In part thanks to Trey Davis, who scored a game-high 20 points against Rhode Island, UMass is still dreaming about dancing. (Getty)

  1. The conference’s bottom six programs (La Salle, Saint Louis, George Mason, Massachusetts Fordham and Duquesne) are nowhere near competitive with the top eight. From week #1 through week #10 of conference play, the offensive/defensive differentials show that those six teams have separated themselves from their upper division conference mates (and not in a good way). The games Wednesday featured low offensive efficiency coupled with often hurried possessions. At halftime of Thursday’s first game, Richmond-Fordham, the Spiders led the Rams by 16, 38-22. Davidson led La Salle at the half 42-30. Massachusetts was fortunate enough to draw injury-riddled Rhode Island and took full advantage of a depleted Rhode Island squad to charge out to a 37-19 lead in the first half. Rhody would charge back to take a 59-58 lead in the game’s last two minutes before ultimately fading to fall by five. UMass will now face a rested and full-strength Virginia Commonwealth in the quarterfinal round. Read the rest of this entry »
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Jim Crews Era Over at Saint Louis

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 10th, 2016

George Washington beat Saint Louis 73-65 this afternoon at the Barclays Center in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The outcome was rarely in doubt, but the post game press conference with SLU coach Jim Crews was anything but business as usual. Three minutes before Crews arrived to deliver his remarks and take questions, the Billiken Athletic Department distributed a press release that began:

Saint Louis University Director of Athletics Chris May announced today that Jim Crews has been released as SLU’s head men’s basketball coach. This decision comes as the Billikens ended their season Thursday at the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship in Brooklyn, N.Y. After reviewing the 2015-16 season and talking with Coach Crews, I have decided that a change in leadership of the men’s basketball program is needed for the program to move forward in meeting our goals.

No Smiles On This Day, As Jim Crews Is Out At Saint Louis (Photo: Post Dispatch)

No Smiles On This Day, As Jim Crews Is Out At Saint Louis (Photo: Post Dispatch)

The press release arrived in the interview room two minutes after Dan Wolken broke the news on Twitter. Atlantic 10 Media Director Drew Dickerson announced no players would be available for the post game press conference only seconds before Crews, noticeably pale and subdued, entered to give his remarks. He congratulated the Colonials on a game well played and shared a number of thoughts about a career that has spanned four decades with head coaching stops at Evansville, Army and Saint Louis.

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State Your Case: Wichita State, Monmouth, Valparaiso, Saint Mary’s

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 9th, 2016

It’s an all-too-familiar story: Several of college basketball’s most promising mid-majors – potential bracket-busters that made mincemeat of their conferences during the regular season – bulldoze their way into March, only to see their dreams of an NCAA Tournament appearance crushed during Championship Week. Nice to know ya; enjoy the NIT; better luck next year. In fact, of the 11 conference tournaments completed so far in 2016, only one top seed (Chattanooga) has managed to clinch its league’s automatic bid. Luckily, for a few of the unfortunate champions, this season may offer new hope. An exceptionally weak bubble, combined with some strong Other 26 resumes, has enabled several teams from non-power conferences to remain in the at-large conversation. In the spirit of election season, let’s allow these candidates to state their cases leading up to Selection Sunday.

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (kwch.com)

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (kwch.com)

Wichita State

  • The At-Large Argument. Advanced metrics love the Shockers more than any other team on the bubble, and it’s not close. KenPom currently ranks Wichita State #11 in the country – ahead of Miami (FL), Arizona and Xavier, among others – thanks in large part to its second-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency. Sagarin is not quite as high on Gregg Marshall’s group, but he still ranks the Shockers among the top 25. For the sake of comparison, fellow bubble comrades Syracuse and Ohio State do not fall within the top 40 of either ranking. On top of that, the Shockers are a classic example of a team the NCAA Selection Committee might – and perhaps should – judge differently now that they are at full strength. Three of Wichita State’s eight losses came without All-American Fred VanVleet, who missed four games in late November with an ankle injury. In two of those losses, the Missouri Valley champs didn’t have starting center Anton Grady either, who suffered a nearly career-ending injury against Alabama – a game they lost by just four points. There were other injuries, too. Now healthy, Wichita State seems to be a genuinely better basketball team. Oh, and did we mention that non-conference victory over Utah?

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Gonzaga And Saint Mary’s: Excitement and Disappointment

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

In one way, it was the most predictable thing ever: Gonzaga appeared in its 19th consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championship game and came away with a win to seal its 18th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But in another way, it was very different. For the first time since 2007, the Bulldogs’ flimsy resume meant that they absolutely needed to win the league’s automatic bid in order to ensure a trip back to the Big Dance (they ended up as a #11 seed that year and would have probably dropped to the NIT had they lost).

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

The 2007 team went on to get run out of the NCAA Tournament against Indiana. But in a season without a bevy of elite teams, this year’s squad has great potential as a nightmare matchup for a higher seed. The veteran Zags frontcourt combination of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis is as talented a duo inside as any other in the country, while backcourt players Eric McClellan and Josh Perkins are playing the best basketball of their careers. The Bulldogs aren’t a deep team but they’re strong offensively, well-coached, and have significant postseason experience.

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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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Austin Peay Returns to the Big Dance With a Surprise Run

Posted by David Changas on March 7th, 2016

After finishing the 2012-13 season with a record of 8-23, Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos decided it was time to relinquish his duties as the school’s athletic director and refocus on his first love: coaching basketball. Loos had been at the school since 1990 and had led the Governors to three NCAA Tournament bids in his first 18 seasons, but in 1997, he added the role of AD to his title. Things steadily slipped over time, and even after Loos returned solely to the sideline, many wondered if the longtime coach would again compete for OVC championships. Austin Peay won only 20 games over the two seasons that followed Loos’ resignation before suffering through a middling 14-17 campaign entering last week’s OVC Tournament. The #8 seed in the event exhibited nothing on its resume to suggest that anything special would happen in Nashville.

Dave Loos's fourth trip to the Big Dance is his most improbable one.(AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee)

Dave Loos’ fourth trip to the Big Dance is his most improbable one. (AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee)

But therein lies the beauty of college basketball. After easily dispatching #5 seed Tennessee Tech in the first round, the Governors overcame a 10-point deficit with just over five minutes remaining to beat #4 seed Tennessee State. In a subsequent semifinal game that may have been the best of Championship Week thus far, Austin Peay then stunned regular season champion Belmont by a single point in overtime after the Bruins’ go-ahead putback was waved off. That led to Saturday night against #2 seed Tennessee-Martin, where the Governors trailed by nine early before charging back and ultimately coasting to their fourth victory in four days, an 83-73 win that came with an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

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Lock Your Doors: Potential Bid Thieves

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 4th, 2016

No two words strike fear into the hearts of college basketball’s bubble-dwelling teams like “bid thieves.” The aptly named conference tournament crashers have a ripple effect on the rest of the landscape, impacting teams from leagues far beyond their own. When a team with no legitimate at-large aspirations wills their way into the field, another program’s season is suddenly viewed through a dramatically sadder lens (such is life in the NIT). A bid thief, like any good bandit, is sneaky and unsuspecting. If we all knew who they were at the outset of the conference tournaments, they wouldn’t be very effective thieves. Still, there are signs and symbols to look for. First and foremost, the pool of suspects all hail from a conference that has a team that owns a resume strong enough to merit an at-large bid. That means the potential bid thief population comprises second tier mid-major clubs and the also-rans of power conferences. From that group, at least one or two teams will almost definitely rise and dash the hopes of those on the bubble. Let’s take a closer look to see if we can spot some a caper before they become one.

Northern Iowa is peaking at just the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa is peaking at the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa

The Panthers are the perfect place to start, as they boast a textbook bid thief background. UNI has beaten North Carolina, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Sounds like the beginning of an at-large case? Not exactly. Ben Jacobson’s club also had a stretch this season where they lost 10 of 15, including duds against Missouri State (KenPom #241) and Loyola (KenPom #185). They’ve been utterly inconsistent throughout the season, despite the aforementioned flashes of impressiveness. If the team that’s 4-1 against the KenPom top 50 shows up to Arch Madness, the Panthers are absolutely a threat to knock off Wichita State and steal the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid. UNI has won eight of its last nine (which includes a victory in Wichita), so everything could be breaking right for this thief to emerge in St. Louis.

Iona

If Monmouth fails to win the MAAC tournament, the Hawks would find themselves squarely on the bubble, even with that tidy list of non-conference wins (most notably UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown). The MAAC tournament will be far from a cakewalk for Monmouth, with second seeded Iona looming as its toughest test. The Gaels and Hawks split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. Monmouth came out on top in a wild, 200+ total point, trash-talking, slap-fight-inspiring battle in mid-January, while Iona returned the favor by beating Monmouth by 16 in a less remarkable affair. If the basketball gods are good to us, we’ll see these two square off again in Albany. Both play at a breakneck pace (each are in the top 30 nationally in possessions per game), as Iona is able to run with Monmouth in a way most teams can’t. They also may have the best player you don’t know about. Iona senior AJ English is averaging 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game and has multiple 40+ point games this season. An English-dominated conference tournament could mean a two-bid MAAC – a scary proposition for bubble teams everywhere else.  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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