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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High Flyers: Dayton Builds On Recent Success

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 18th, 2016

When Archie Miller signed a contract extension at Dayton in May 2015, ensuring that he would remain at the school for at least another season rather than jumping to a power conference program, he praised the university for its commitment to him. “It’s very humbling. It’s a privilege to coach at a place like this,” Miller told the Dayton Daily News. “There’s not a day that’s gone by that we haven’t had everything we need to be successful,” he added. Nearly a year on, this has continued to be the case. The 2015-16 season marks Miller’s fifth with the Flyers, having recorded winning records in the previous four and including multiple NCAA Tournament wins capped by a run to the Elite Eight two seasons ago. With Miller back on the sideline and four starters returning, Dayton looks to build upon its recent achievements.

Dyshawn Pierre and Dayton (USA Today Images)

Dyshawn Pierre and Dayton Look to Make Noise in March Again (USA Today Images)

Despite a road loss last night at St. Joseph’s, this year’s Flyers appear to be more ready for the postseason than any of their predecessors. Dayton’s current ranking of #15 in the AP Poll is its highest in the last three seasons, and the team is currently projected as a much higher seed than it was during each of their past two NCAA Tournament appearances (#11). In the most recent bracketology projections from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBSSports’ Jerry Palm, Miller’s team was slotted as a #4 seed, carrying with it both the burden of expectation but also geographic preference.

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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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Wichita State Should Make The NCAA Tournament, Right?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 16th, 2016

Even after Saturday’s home loss to Northern Iowa, it would be difficult to make a case that Wichita State is not one of the best 68 teams in college basketball. After a bounceback victory over New Mexico State on Monday evening, the Shockers are ranked 23rd on Team Rankings and 27th in the Sagarin Ratings. They appear even better using KenPom’s efficiency metrics, ranking a robust 13th out of 351 teams. The reason these systems like Wichita State so much is simple: its defense. Despite having one of the worst defensive free throw rates in the country, the Shockers still rank third in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. While Wichita State gives away too many points at the foul line, its defense is still effective because it excels at creating turnovers (23.5 percent turnover rate) and preventing second shot opportunities (opponents grab just 24.1 percent of their misses).

Gregg Marshall's team could be in trouble come Selection Sunday? (Credit: Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

Gregg Marshall’s team may be in trouble come Selection Sunday. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

The Shockers also have the star power of an experienced Top 25 program. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker were role-playing freshmen when Wichita State went to the Final Four in 2013, and their growth as players helped the Shockers to an undefeated regular season and #1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament before going to the Sweet Sixteen last year. VanVleet is the engine that makes the Shockers’ offense hum. He ranks fifth nationally in assist rate (41.9%) and works masterfully in pick-and-roll sets to help free up his teammates. Baker, a former walk-on, is an explosive outside shooter (37.3% career 3FG) who has enough size at 6’4″ and 210 pounds to give him a shot to play in the NBA. Read the rest of this entry »

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St. Joseph’s Solidifying Its Position as NCAA Tournament Worthy

Posted by Chris Stone on February 11th, 2016

The college basketball season is quickly approaching that time of year when mock brackets pop up daily, resumes are scrutinized intensely, and every win matters just a bit more. But don’t tell St. Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli any of that. When asked after the Hawks’ dominating 84-66 win over a good George Washington team if he’d thought about his team’s position relative to the upcoming NCAA Tournament field, Martelli’s response was sharp and simple, “Nope.” He followed up with a few more nopes before proclaiming, “We have practice tomorrow.” And yet, it’s difficult to ignore just how much his team helped its NCAA Tournament chances on Wednesday night.

Isaiah Miles slams home two of his 21 points against George Washington. (USATI)

Isaiah Miles slams home two of his 21 points against George Washington. (USATI)

Despite holding a 20-4 record (9-2 in the A-10), the victory, which Martelli called “a very poised effort,” is St. Joseph’s first RPI top 50 win of the season. Entering the contest, the Hawks’ best win had been against a Princeton team that currently trails Yale for first place in the Ivy League. St. Joe’s had been 3-4 against the RPI top 100, but 0-4 against the top 50 with losses to Florida, St. Bonaventure, VCU and Villanova. The win over George Washington gives the team a quality win that it can rely on come Selection Sunday. Senior Isaiah Miles touted the triumph as the team’s best road win, an impressive feat given that St. Joe’s schedule is littered with them. The Hawks are undefeated away from home this season, something Martelli hopes will resonate in March. “I’m hanging my hat on [the fact that] we’re undefeated on the road and that is an unbelievable achievement in today’s college basketball,” he told the media.

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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 Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 9th, 2016

It’s a week of callbacks in the Mountain West check-in because a lot of the things we talked about last week at this time proved particularly relevant in the interim. Before we jump into team-by-team breakdowns, however, let’s hit the big story: San Diego State going a long way toward wrapping up at least a share of the regular season title for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The Aztecs knocked off New Mexico on Saturday night, bumping their conference record to 11-0 and establishing a three-game lead over the Lobos in the loss column with seven games remaining. It wasn’t a dominant win and the Aztecs needed a fortunate (but not egregious) call with 12.9 seconds left to have a chance to tie the game. But, credit to Steve Fisher’s bunch, they made the most of the second chance by nailing a three from Malik Pope to send the game to overtime and then taking care of business from there. With the win, San Diego State continued its ascension up to #44 in the RPI and #64 in KenPom. What this all means is that there is some lingering hope around the conference that a second NCAA Tournament bid is possible. That would of course have to mean some team will knock off the Aztecs in the conference tournament, but six of those 11 conference wins have been decided by only one possession. In other words, if the luck factor in close games reverts to the mean, the Aztecs will have some losses coming between now and Selection Sunday.

With Saturday Night's Win, The Aztecs Again Have Full Control In The Mountain West (USA Today)

With Saturday Night’s Win, The Aztecs Again Have Full Control In The Mountain West (USA Today)

Power Rankings

  • San Diego State (18-6, 9-0) – Last week we dug into the Aztecs’ ongoing streak of what was then 159 straight wins (and 224 out of 225) when leading games with five minutes left to play. Since that post, the Aztecs found themselves ahead two more times with five minutes left, and in both games, with the outcome with a minute to go was severely in doubt. Against Colorado State, it was the Rams turning it over on three consecutive possessions and a contested layup at the buzzer that came up short. Against New Mexico it was a poorly executed in-bounds and a technically incorrect (but completely understandable) call. But here we stand with the streak now at 161 games. It’s not exactly on par with UCLA’s 88-game winning streak. Or DiMaggio’s hitting streak. But it is sort of mind-boggling. And I’ll certainly take it over the Globetrotters. One other note from the week: big men Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol combined to play 85 minutes and between them went 10-of-13 from the field, scored 20 points, grabbed 21 boards and blocked five shots. However, despite 13 feet and five inches of frontcourt goodness, the pair earned exactly zero free throw attempts.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 2nd, 2016

Its been too darn long since we’ve done one of these, so let’s do this right and get caught up on the Mountain West. We’re basically halfway through conference play with eight of the 11 teams having played at least nine conference games, and San Diego State has clearly established itself as the conference’s best team — off to a 9-0 start that gives them a game-and-a-half lead over two-loss New Mexico. Before we get into the team-by-team rundowns, let’s take a moment to congratulate the conference on the fact that, in an era of the horrors of unbalanced scheduling in large conferences, its brass made sure that the league’s top four teams (San Diego State, New Mexico, Boise State, UNLV) play each other twice. Sure, it’s easier to set that up when the league only has 11 teams (where you only miss a home-and-away schedule against two conference foes), but regardless of how, that part of the schedule is right this year.

Power Rankings

  • San Diego State (16-6, 9-0) – I wrote plenty about the Aztecs yesterday, so go read that article first. But, there’s also the matter of San Diego State’s 17 million straight wins when leading with five minutes remaining in a game (actually, the number now stands at 159 straight). Now, that number sounds impressive, and it is (Mark Zeigler noted three weeks ago that the next longest streak in the conference is at 14 wins). But even more impressively, that time 160 games ago when the Aztecs lost a game after leading at the five-minute mark was when Wyoming hit six threes in the final 4:12 to outscore the Aztecs 24-8 over that stretch. Even crazier: That loss broke another long 65-game Aztec streak of winning games when they were ahead at the five-minute mark. By my math, San Diego State is 224-1 in the last 225 games where it led at the five-minute mark. Go read that excellent Zeigler article about the streak. There’s a lot more great stuff in there too.
San Diego State's History Of Winning Games When Ahead At The Five-Minute Mark Is Insane (San Diego State University)

San Diego State’s History Of Winning Games When Ahead At The Five-Minute Mark Is Insane (San Diego State University)

  • New Mexico (13-8, 6-2) – After getting handled by the Runnin’ Rebels in UNLV’s first game post-Dave Rice a couple weeks back, the Lobos came back and got surprised by Wyoming in The Pit. It was easy to write New Mexico off at that time, and wins at San Jose State and at home against Air Force did nothing to change that idea. But Saturday night in Boise changed this up indeed. Behind a 30 points from Elijah Brown and 21 from Tim Williams, the Lobos had a terrific offensive night, kept their turnovers in check and served notice that despite some early season bumps and bruises, they were going to stick around for awhile. In that loss to Wyoming, sophomore point guard Cullen Neal suffered a concussion and missed the win over San Jose State, but in the two games since then, Neal played his best back-to-back games of the season, averaging 11.5 efficient points and a combined six assists to three turnovers.

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San Diego State Succeeding Despite Its Inept Offense

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 1st, 2016

On Saturday evening, San Diego State completed a perfect first half of conference play by going into the Thomas & Mack Center and coming away with a comfortable 15-point win over UNLV. As usual, the Aztecs earned the win not on the basis of amazing offense, but on athletic, grinding, demoralizing defense. Steve Fisher‘s team blocked seven shots, challenged seemingly every jumper and held UNLV to a mere 0.83 points per possession. The Aztecs played slowly (34.7 percent of their possessions ended with five seconds or fewer on the shot clock), deliberate and, yes, maybe a little ugly. But none of this is new. Fisher’s heyday on Montezuma Mesa has been marked by defense-first teams, and increasingly, a slow tempo has corresponded with that. Perhaps unbelievably given how defensively-oriented his teams have been, this year’s group is more reliant on that defensive identity than any previous team in the Fisher era.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

San Diego State Under Steve Fisher Has Been A Defense-First Program (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

First, let’s look at the history. In each of the Aztecs’ last 10 seasons, the team has ranked higher nationally in defensive efficiency than offensive efficiency (per KenPom). Furthermore, the Aztecs have been among the top 10 defensive teams nationally four times, and their adjusted defensive efficiency has checked in below 90 points per 100 possessions three times (including this season). In seven of those 10 years, the Aztecs have played at a bottom-half tempo nationally. As a result of all these numbers, San Diego State has gone 250-85 (74.6%) overall, 113-42 (72.9%) in the Mountain West, taken six trips to the NCAA Tournament, notched the only five NCAA wins in program history while there, and earned two Sweet Sixteen appearances.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by nvr1983 on January 27th, 2016

Four Thoughts About The Week of 1/18-1/24

  1. The conference remains evenly divided between winners and losers. Individual team records and efficiency continue to be consistent. As the table below indicates, through the first 6-7 games of conference play teams with losing records show a negative efficiency difference (offensive efficiency – defensive efficiency is less than zero). Essentially the efficiency difference is reflected in the win-loss records, logical, indeed self-evident, but not always true for a conference like the Atlantic 10 which has a reputation for inconsistent and unpredictable outcomes. A10-1Through the first seven (more or less) conference games the members show the spread of winning and losing teams, point per possession scored vs allowed and the efficiency differential continues to be relatively symmetrical.
  2. The bottom four teams are falling behind badly. George Mason, Fordham, La Salle, and Massachusetts show negative differences large enough to suggest they will not be competitive with the other 10 teams in the conference. Three of the five wins recorded by those four teams came against each other. Of the other two, only Dayton (beaten by La Salle) has a winning conference record. Fordham’s Jeff Neubauer and George Mason’s Dave Paulsen are in their rookie seasons. For Dr. John Giannini, a 12-year veteran at La Salle, and Derek Kellogg, whose tenure spans eight years at Massachusetts, the scrutiny will be less forgiving. Read the rest of this entry »
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Evansville’s Mockevicius Rebounding At Historic Pace

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 22nd, 2016

The most humble college basketball player in the country might be a Lithuanian based in southern Indiana. Egidijus Mockevicius has grabbed 20 rebounds in back-to-back games, including a 23 point, 20 rebound effort on Tuesday night against Loyola Chicago. How was he able to do this? Luck, he says. “The ball was just bouncing into my hands. It’s just the luck,” the senior big man told CBSSports Network after the game. The numbers would disagree. Mockevicius is grabbing defensive rebounds at a historic pace, currently leading the country with a 40.2 defensive rebounding percentage. This type of production is simply never seen, anywhere. This ferociousness on the defensive backboards is a big part of the reason why he won the Lou Henson Award, which is given the top mid-season mid-major player.

Edgidijus Mockevicius has been a monster on the defensive glass this season (Wichita Eagle, AP).

Edgidijus Mockevicius has been a monster on the defensive glass this season (Wichita Eagle, AP).

The table below shows the top individual defensive rebounding percentage of each of the past eight seasons. The only players that come even close to Mockevicius’ current production are Kenneth Faried in 2009-10 and John Bryant in 2008-09. Faried has been the gold standard in recent college basketball rebounding lore, but Mockevicius is exceeding even his numbers midway through this season. There’s still a long ways to go, but there’s little reason to think the senior can’t keep rebounding at this pace. His production hasn’t slipped against better competition, as he grabbed nine rebounds against Providence, 12 against Arkansas, 13 against Fresno State and 16 against Wichita State. “The thing that makes Big E so good is he’s so smart. Obviously he’s great on the boards,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller told The Pantagraph last week. “He keeps constant pressure on you at the rim at both ends.”

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