Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

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

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Where They Stand

The conference regular season is two weeks away from finishing. Using possession-based offensive and defensive efficiency differences, three distinct tiers in the Atlantic 10 have emerged. The top five teams (see table below) — Davidson, Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond and Rhode Island — have separated themselves from their nine conference-mates by an efficiency margin that will not disappear over the next four games. Richmond and Rhode Island present “Nitty Gritty” profiles that read “NIT” rather than “NCAA,” and Massachusetts, lodged in the middle tier but possessing a winning conference record and an non-conference schedule strength ranked second in the league, will test eyeballs and gut-checks. Those three aside, however, the conference records and efficiency margins are behaving more than in seasons past. This is not the conference that sent six teams to the NCAAs last March, but lacking any clear locks (Virginia Commonwealth might be the only team that could lose out and still draw an at-large invitation) the A-10 has three solid candidates for the NCAA Tournament and three more bubble teams. Reviewing the remaining games indicates that bids for the bubble will most likely come at the expense of the conference’s three strongest candidates.

Table01150223

These Teams Can Make the NCAA Tournament If…

  • Virginia Commonwealth (21-6, 11-3) – The Rams have to stay healthy and not lose to George Mason (RPI #221). Losing Briante Weber was a blow, but the recent two-game skid happened while senior wing Treveon Graham, coach Shaka Smart’s penultimate go-to guy, was sidelined with a ankle sprain. The three-game bounce back came with Graham in the lineup. In a one possession game when a score is necessary Smart will give Graham the ball and call for a clear out. VCU’s offense and defense took a step back during much of the season, but Graham’s numbers (usually coupled with one from an assortment of complementary parts, especially Mel Johnson and Moe Alie-Cox) have been strong enough to carry the team against most opponents on most nights. With one of the more challenging four games slates remaining (Richmond, Dayton, Davidson and George Mason have a combined conference record of 31-25, 0.554), the priority is to not lose to GMU. A 3-1 finish (24-7, 14-4) is probably optimistic, but anything less would put the Rams into tie-breakers with at least one other conference team. VCU holds the tie-breaker over Rhode Island (the most likely tie), but a loss to Dayton would give the Flyers the tie-breaker and should the loss come to Davidson, the Rams and Wildcats would have to muddle through the next set of tie-breaker rules to determine the #1 seed in Brooklyn. The Rams have been a regular fixture in the conference tournament championship game since joining the conference in 2012, but have yet to win either the regular season (and take the #1 seed in the tournament) or the tournament championship game.

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RTC Rewind: Celebrating the Life of a Legend, Duke-Kentucky, Arizona’s #1 Seed Hit…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 9th, 2015

One thousand. Two weeks ago, this column and many more around the country led with that number. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had just become the first men’s college basketball coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau on an historic Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and in the aftermath, Coach K and that number were the talk of the sports world.

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith's Passing (USA Today Images)

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith’s Passing. (USA Today Images)

Today we celebrate another ACC legend. But we do so for a different reason, and in a different tenor. We’ll get to the basketball soon enough, but as you’ve probably heard by now, legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith — a former rival of Krzyzewski’s — passed away on Saturday. He was 83. Since the news broke Sunday morning, messages extolling Smith’s many virtues have come from far and wide. They’ve come from former players and adversaries, columnists and commentators, even from the President of the United States. Many of us have mourned college basketball’s loss, but even more have celebrated a life that so special to so many people. And that’s what this should be: a celebration.

Like Krzyzewski, Smith was obviously an outstanding basketball coach. He was innovative, sharp and bold — and, without question, driven by his competitiveness. He too set a number of records while at the helm in Chapel Hill, but those accomplishments are only the subtext to the discussion. That’s because Smith wasn’t defined by his numbers, as good as they were. Ask anybody who knew the man, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Dean Smith was defined by the way in which he impacted the lives of others. He was defined by stories of grace, loyalty and sincerity. Smith coached before my time. But it’s through those stories that I have gotten to know him, and it is those stories that allow everybody — well beyond the entire college hoops community — to recognize how truly wonderful a man he was. I can’t relate those anecdotes myself, but others — like ESPN‘s Dana O’Neil and The Washington Post‘s John Feinstein — have. And they’re beautiful.

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What’s Trending: Comeback Saturday Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 2nd, 2015

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Pitino Steals the Spotlight

And it wasn’t because of his team’s come-from-behind win over UNC (more on that later). Pitino went with the Colonel Sanders white suit to go along with the beginnings of a beard.

A bold look, but I guess it paid off.

A Wild Saturday in the ACC

As mentioned above, Louisville came back from an 18-point second half deficit to give Pitino his first career victory over North Carolina (now 1-6). Junior Montrezl Harrell went off with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and a one-handed alley-oop that brought The House That Colonel Sanders Built completely down.

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Morning Five: 02.02.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 2nd, 2015

morning5

  1. We are not sure what made John Feinstein decide to file a column on Saturday recommending that a switch from the “one-and-done” model to the baseball model of drafting, but it certainly generated quite a bit of attention.  If you aren’t familiar with the baseball model, it essentially lets players enter the draft after high school and if they are selected they can enter become a professional baseball player (even if it is at the minor league level). If they choose not to go the professional route, they are not eligible until they have completed their junior year of college or are 21 years old. As you can imagine, the reaction has mostly been negative for a variety of reasons including the fact that baseball has a well-developed minor league system, which every player is expected to go through before playing for the MLB team that drafted them whereas nearly every first round pick is expected to play for their NBA team immediately. While we agree that the the NCAA/NBA policy regarding early entry, Feinstein’s analysis is too rudimentary to be enforced.
  2. Normally the dismissal of a junior who comes off the bench would not be newsworthy (at least if it did not involve an arrest or NCAA violation), but when it involves Duke it certainly is. Late Thursday, Duke announced that Mike Krzyzewski had dismissed junior Rasheed Sulaimon from the team for being “unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program”. While we don’t know what exactly Sulaimon did for Krzyzewski to make him the first player dismissed from the program–it was reportedly a series of events–but it must have occurred after their loss at Notre Dame. What it appears to have come down to is that Sulaimon’s production (10 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game during his career, but declining over the years with less playing time) was not worth the headache. For its part Duke bounced back without Sulaimon for an improbable come-from-behind victory at Virginia on Saturday. As for Sulaimon we are not sure where he will end up next, but what once appeared to be a potential NBA career now looks more like one that will be spent overseas.
  3. While Sulaimon’s dismissal may have been a bigger story in terms of headlines, the bigger news in terms of impact on the court came when Virginia Commonwealth guard Briante Weber tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee ending his college career. Weber suffered the injury late in a loss on Saturday against Richmond. It goes without saying that losing their defensive leader, who is just 12 short of the NCAA all-time leader, is a huge blow to VCU and its famed HAVOC defense. Perhaps even more importantly the Rams have now lost their point guard and leader on the court. While VCU is more well-equipped to handle this than you would expect from an Atlantic-10 team, but it certainly puts  a cap on their ceiling.
  4. Illinois‘ hopes of making the NCAA Tournament this year already appeared pretty dim and the news that they have indefinitely suspended Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Crosby makes that seem even less likely. The timing of the suspension is interesting because both players have been injured with Rice having already missed seven games and Crosby having missed three games, but according to the school both are ready to return. The school would not elaborate on what the players did, but missing Ricer (17.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game) and Crosby (7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game) for much longer would eliminate whatever slim hopes they have of making it to the NCAA Tournament.
  5. It has been a rough year at Bradley. The team 7-15 including 2-7 in the Missouri Valley and their coach has to pay $1.2 million to his old school for leaving early. On Thursday morning their leading scorer–Warren Jones–was arrested at a strip club for using an older teammate’s ID and underage drinking. In addition to Jones (13.9 points per game), there were also citations levied against Ka’Darryl Bell (7.5 points per game) and Omari Grier (8.2 points per game). The extra salary will probably help Geno Ford sleep easier at night, but it has been a rough few weeks for him.
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VCU Reserves are the X-Factor in Rams’ Recent Surge

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 8th, 2015

The book on VCU’s style of play is fairly simple. Defensively, they want to press you full-court to create a bunch of turnovers and resulting easy baskets. Offensively, they shoot a high volume of three-pointers and rely on the quickness of their guards to break down a defense in the waning seconds of a shot clock. That’s pretty much their ethos. But as the program now enters its third season in the Atlantic 10, teams know what’s coming and have begun countering what VCU likes to do. What they are having trouble dealing with, however, isn’t a problem of strategy as much as personnel. VCU, currently riding a seven-game winning streak, boasts a much-improved second unit this season, led by the heralded freshman Terry Larrier. The bench’s production was on grand display in the Rams’ impressive victory over Davidson in Richmond on Wednesday night.

Terry Larrier is starting to show why he's Shaka Smart's highest-rated recruit (AP Photo)

Terry Larrier is starting to show why he’s Shaka Smart’s highest-rated recruit (AP Photo)

In those seven games, the Rams’ bench has outscored its opposition in all but one contest (a double-overtime victory over Northern Iowa). VCU’s second unit is comprised largely of young players, and they are starting to come around at just the right time. Freshmen Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore have been doing a much better job on the boards in relief of Mo Alie-Cox inside and have looked more active offensively; classmate Jonathan Williams appears much more confident handling the ball when he spells Briante Weber and JeQuan Lewis at the point; and sophomore Doug Brooks has become a real spark with solid long-range shooting and a disruptive role in the chaos-inducing Havoc defense. Brooks was especially key in last night’s VCU victory with his contributions of eight points and two steals.

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VCU’s Win Over Northern Iowa Does Little to Mask Defensive Deficiencies

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 14th, 2014

Sometimes a team, if it has enough overall talent and a few breaks, can win a game in which its major flaws are exposed by an opponent. That’s exactly what happened in VCU’s thrilling double-overtime 93-87 win over an excellent Northern Iowa team on Saturday night in Richmond. Coming in, VCU’s detractors were wondering how the team dubbed Shaka Smart’s best since he took over the Rams program in 2009 could be a mere 5-3 and out of the national rankings already. The answer(s) to that question surfaced early and often against the Panthers; luckily the Rams’, buoyed by an always boisterous home crowd, overcame their nagging issues on the defensive end to win.

Shaka Smart's Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (vcuramnation.com)

Shaka Smart’s Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (vcuramnation.com)

VCU’s HAVOC defense is now a nationwide buzzword, and their pressing style can be utterly infuriating for opponents. But what has caused this Rams team to struggle in the non-conference schedule is the fact that once that press is broken or has been rendered impossible to set up, they’re a subpar half-court defensive team. Coming into the Northern Iowa matchup, the Rams were allowing opponents to shoot nearly 41% from three-point range. For a team that loves to chuck from long-range themselves, that can negate any good three-point shooting night they have. They’re not a whole lot better inside the arc, either, mostly because they take chances with their guard-heavy lineup and don’t have any true rim-protectors on the roster.

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London Perrantes Proves Again Why He’s Mr. Indispensable

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 7th, 2014

It’s easy to look at the team Tony Bennett has put together at Virginia and say that his players are interchangeable. After all, his defense-first philosophy and the offensive identity of continually working for the best available shot don’t seem individual-specific. One could point to the program’s rise and success under Bennett as further evidence of that theory, as Virginia looks every bit as good in starting 9-0 this season as last year’s ACC champion, despite some key personnel losses. Even when the Cavaliers were down two starters (including the team’s leading scorer, Justin Anderson) in a tough road game against Maryland on Wednesday night, Virginia still ran away to a 76-65 win.

London Perrantes proved once again why Virginia can't succeed without him (USAToday Sports)

London Perrantes proved once again why Virginia can’t succeed without him (USAToday Sports)

But the truth is that Virginia does have an indispensable player: London Perrantes. The sophomore point guard is the heady, sure-handed player that makes this team capable of playing a variety of styles and still have a chance to beat anyone. That was obvious in the Cavaliers’ emphatic 74-57 defeat of rival VCU in Richmond on Saturday. The Rams once again employed their HAVOC defense, and any team facing their relentless full-court gauntlet needs an efficient, smart ball-handler to navigate through it. On Saturday, Perrantes deftly kept the ball moving and expertly broke through the press time and time again, often leading to dunks or fouls in transition as a result.

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Battle for the Commonwealth: Previewing VCU vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Tommy Lemoine on December 6th, 2014

Last year, VCU went into John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville and shocked Virginia on a Treveon Graham buzzer-beater. This year, both teams entered the season ranked in the top 15 nationally with the rematch set to take place on VCU’s home turf in Richmond. Some may think that the luster of this game wore off with VCU’s two early-season losses and subsequent plummet from the rankings, but that’s far from the case in Virginia’s capital city (need evidence? see here). The Cavaliers will be the highest-ranked team ever to play at VCU’s Siegel Center.  RTC’s Tommy Lemoine and Lathan Wells preview one of the biggest games in recent Virginia collegiate basketball history here.

Tommy Lemoine: Joe Harris scored almost a third of Virginia’s points against VCU last year, but he’s since graduated. Justin Anderson has done a nice job of filling that void (alongside Malcolm Brogdon), but the reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year appeared to injure his ankle against Maryland on Wednesday. If he is limited – or worse, can’t play – who steps up as an additional offensive creator in his absence?

Last year in Charlottesville, Treveon Graham broke UVA's heart with a last-second shot (AssociatedPress)

Last year in Charlottesville, Treveon Graham broke UVA’s heart with a last-second shot (AssociatedPress)

Lathan Wells: The logical choice is Brogdon himself, who some may forget was a preseason All-ACC selection before Anderson overshadowed him in the team’s early slate. Brogdon is still the player who can make the most plays for this team in crunch time, and he rivals Anderson’s ability to get to the basket off the drive. If he is contained, however, it becomes much dicier for the Cavaliers. Either Mike Tobey or London Perrantes may need a career night if points are at a premium. While Virginia has largely lived up to its billing, VCU has underwhelmed to this point after being lauded as Shaka Smart’s best team yet at VCU. There are numerous issues that need to be cleaned up from the Rams’ 5-2 start, but what do you think is the biggest area that needs to be addressed to knock off the unbeaten Cavaliers?

TL: There are problems on both ends of the court, but against a team like Virginia that limits its own mistakes, the Rams have to be more patient on offense. Too often, their half-court ‘sets’ amount to launching threes (and not all of them the result of dribble-penetration) or isolated attempts to attack the basket. They combined for a staggeringly low four assists in the loss to Villanova and just 10 against Old Dominion. VCU would be wise to shore up its offensive rotations and ramp up its off-the-ball movement against the Cavaliers, whose pack line defense is virtually impenetrable without sharp execution. Speaking of defense, it’s all about forcing turnovers with VCU, but Virginia has done a really nice job taking care of the ball so far this year. Still, the Cavaliers coughed it up 19 times in last season’s match-up – a big reason why they lost. Any cause for concern as they head to Richmond, or is London Perrantes ready to handle the HAVOC?

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Tremendous Guard Play Masks VCU’s Interior Weakness

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 19th, 2014

This year’s VCU team is considered Shaka Smart‘s best squad since he took the reins in Richmond some five years ago. The return of the majority of last year’s team coupled with three top-100 recruits helped the Rams to a #15 ranking in the preseason AP poll, the team’s second consecutive such honor. After two wins in its first two games of the season, it’s clear that there is a lot of talent on this roster. But there is also a glaring question shadowing the team: Can the Rams consistently win without offensive production in the post?

Alie-Cox and his fellow post players need to add offense to their defensive contributions (AP)

Mo Alie-Cox and his fellow post players need to add some offense to their defensive contributions (Associated Press)

The season’s first two contests — a convincing win over Tennessee and last night’s thrilling victory over Toledo — demonstrated more of what everyone has come to expect from VCU. The Havoc defense creates all kinds of problems for opposing offenses, and the Rams have a number of players who can hit the open three-pointer. In those two contests, the Rams have already created 40 turnovers and knocked down 20 threes. What’s different about this season’s team is that they lack a skilled big man who can provide a credible offensive threat on the interior. Juvonte Reddic and his 12 points per game are gone to graduation, and the players filling in for him have done little thus far to make up for his production.

Mo Alie-Cox is the sole big man in the starting rotation, and he has contributed only nine points through two games. Jarred Guest, Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore have combined for 12 points as the frontcourt reserves. While all of these players have excellent potential, they too come with limitations. Alie-Cox is a brute force inside, but he stands at only 6’6″ and has a limited offensive skill set, making it difficult for him to match up against true centers. Guest is a senior but is still too lithe to bang with big bodies inside and often finds himself in foul trouble. Gilmore and Tillman are both freshmen, clearly learning their roles on the offensive side of the ball. The result so far has been a team living off the long ball and dribble penetration from its guards.

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O26 Intrigue: Eight Storylines on Opening Weekend…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Adam Stillman on November 14th, 2014

Basketball is nearly upon us! Here are eight O26 storylines to keep an eye on during the opening weekend of hoops:

Does VCU seize the opportunity against Tennessee without Briante Weber?

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min / Times Dispatch)

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Times Dispatch)

The Rams should be one of the better teams in the country this season, and they will have several marquee opportunities to prove it before the calendar flips to 2015 – opportunities not only to justify their top-15 ranking, but also to better position themselves come Selection Sunday. The first of those chances will be tonight against Tennessee in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. The fact that the Vols, a decent-but-not great SEC squad, have serious questions at point guard would normally be good news for VCU and its disruptive pressure defense. But without Briante Weber in the lineup – the senior guard is serving a one-game suspension – the Rams are down their peskiest defender and a guy who’s on track to break the NCAA’s all-time steals record. HAVOC will press on (literally), but keep an eye on whether Weber’s absence enables Tennessee to limit its turnovers, make this more of a half-court game, and minimize VCU’s easy transition buckets. The last thing Shaka Smart’s group wants is to drop a nationally-televised opener (6:30 PM ET, CBSSN) against a beatable power-conference opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fright Club: The O26 All Hallows’ Eve Team

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 31st, 2014

With Halloween upon us, it’s only natural that we examine the spookiest, scariest, creepiest, crawliest, most fear-inducing hoopsters in the O26 world. WARNING – you may experience nightmares, especially if none of these guys play for your school.

Siena's Jimmy Patsos coaches our All Hallows' Eve team. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

Siena’s Jimmy Patsos coaches our All Hallows’ Eve team. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

‘The Robbin’ Goblin’

Briante Weber – PG – Virginia Commonwealth. Weber is arguably the most terrifying player in college basketball. Over his first three years in Richmond, the 6’2’’ guard has consistently and relentlessly harassed opposing ball-handlers to the point that Phil Martelli hailed him as the best defender in the country last March. Not only does Weber own the VCU and Atlantic 10 records for career steals, but he’s also posted the highest steal rate in the country for three consecutive seasons. In 2013-14, he logged more than five thefts 11 different times, including seven apiece against Stony Brook and George Washington – impressive outings to be sure, but neither of which even touch his 2012 season opener. In one of the most incredible defensive performances in recent memory, Weber tallied a whopping 10 steals in just 18 minutes on the court, a rate so absurd that even Gary Payton would have to tip his cap (er, glove). To this day, the mere thought of Weber must send shivers down Andy Enfield’s spine.

‘The Serial Thriller’

Desi Washington – SG – Saint Peter’s. The Peacocks’ second-leading scorer does his most sinister work late in games, a fact that repeat-victim Fairfield knows all too well – Washington beat the Stags with buzzer-beaters (or near buzzer-beaters) three different times last season. That’s uncanny, improbable and – if you’re Sydney Johnson, or really any other MAAC coach – downright horrifying entering 2014-15. Incredibly, the now-senior shooting guard also picked off Seton Hall in similar fashion, scoring 34 points and drilling a deep three in the closing seconds to pull off the road upset. To call Washington ‘clutch’ would be an understatement; ‘categorically lethal’ is probably more appropriate.

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VCU Likely Crushes Richmond’s NCAA Dreams, Bolsters Hopes of March Success

Posted by Lathan Wellls on March 7th, 2014

VCU continued to put thoughts of their three-losses-in-four-games stretch to rest Thursday night, vanquishing their city rivals from Richmond, 56-50. While the depleted Spiders didn’t appear on paper to have the manpower to match up with a Rams squad fresh off an upset of Saint Louis, it was still a rivalry game in which anything can and did happen. Richmond’s 26-22 halftime edge and 11-point lead with 15 minutes to go was enough to prove that. Still, the comeback win was encouraging and important for VCU’s push into March, and also emblematic of the reason Shaka Smart’s club becomes so dangerous come tourney time. A look into Smart’s numbers away from home and against familiar opponents while at the helm demonstrates why opponents hate to meet the Rams late in the year, no matter the game’s location.

Coach Smart's team is ridiculously successful in "return games," boding well for conference tournament play (sportsillustrated.com)

Coach Smart’s team is ridiculously successful in “return games,” boding well for conference tournament play (sportsillustrated.com)

Everyone knows about the well-documented defense that VCU employs. The attacking Havoc style has been alive and well all year long, as the Rams currently rank third in the Atlantic 10 in defense (allowing 66.0 PPG coming into the match-up with Richmond) and lead the nation in turnovers forced. The key to this team’s success, though, is in its balance. VCU also ranks second in the conference in scoring, making it the only team in the A-10 that can boast top-three rankings in both statistical categories. That means the Rams can hound their opponents to death with the full-court press, but also boast five starters averaging at least nine points per game. While Richmond’s formidable match-up zone defense had its way with Smart’s offense for the bulk of the game and there was a definite lack of impact from the bench, the frenetic pace the Rams employ and the variety of scoring options at their disposal proved vital in the second half and illustrated why they’re a scary team to meet late in the year.

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