Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. He’s covering the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn this week. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.
Fans at the A-10 Tournament evening session were treated to two hard-fought contests where the winning points were scored with less than five seconds remaining. Saint Joseph’s ended Xavier’s Atlantic 10 run, 58-57, in a game that came down to a full court inbounds pass with 1.4 seconds remaining that ricocheted off of Xavier’s backboard. Isaiah Philmore, trailing the play, found the ball in his hands, but despite a good angle could not convert the shot. He collapsed on the court as time expired. In the other game, Massachusetts ended George Washington’s season with a 77-72 decision that was settled at the free throw line with five seconds left on the clock.
Chris Mack and his Xavier squad ended its A-10 season ended with a heartbreaking loss Thursday evening.
Three Thoughts on Thursday Evening’s Session:
I Left a Ticket for the Pope: Saint Joseph’s Phil Martelli is always good for a quote or two or three. Xavier could not counter an extremely physical Saint Joseph’s frontcourt as Mack rotated Isaiah Philmore, Jalen Robinson, Brad Redford and Travis Taylor in an attempt to find an answer to Ron Roberts, C.J. Aiken and especially Halil Kanacevic. The 6’9” forward/center had a terrible first half, but finished strong with three buckets, two coming at critical times. A game that saw 10 ties and 14 lead changes, with Xavier’s eight point lead the largest by either, came down to two free throws with under five seconds to play. Langston converted both to give Saint Joseph’s a one-point lead. Xavier’s full court pass to a flashing Taylor sailed high off the backboard right into Philmore’s waiting arms. The forward’s field goal attempt was wide right and fell off the rim, leaving the Joe’s to play another day. Xavier is no doubt bound for a postseason tournament somewhere, just not the NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »
Conference Records: Previews in September and October offered rosy predictions on the number of teams that could/would qualify for the NCAA Tournament. If the previews were too exuberant, a poorly timed loss or two has brought that pendulum back in the opposite direction… with a vengeance. How is the conference really doing relative to last season? Compiling the games through December 17 of this and last season puts the progress in a different light.
The conference has won 65% of its games this season, a modest increase over its 62% winning percentage at this point last season. The conference has played games with teams from 29 of the 30 other conferences and independents in Division I, even if the mix has changed. Nearly 30% of the opponents have come from power conferences, about the same as last season (28%), although the winning percentage has declined (50% down to 41%). A-10 teams are dominating the other, non-power conference opponents, winning over 75% of games from both conference with a similar profile (Conference USA, the Colonial Athletic Association, the Missouri Valley Conference, the Western Athletic Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the West Coast Conference) and those with a lower profile.
A few quick observations:
A-10 teams have a winning record (5-3) against the SEC and compliments of Butler’s upset over #1 Indiana last Saturday, a 5-3 record versus the Big Ten. Three of those SEC wins came against a now-struggling Alabama team.
The A-10 has cleaned the CAA’s clock for the second year running, compiling a dominant (18-1) record versus the CAA that bested even last season’s impressive 11-3 record. Although Bernadette McGlade did successfully raid the CAA for Virginia Commonwealth University, the CAA still has a recent Final Four participant (George Mason) and a relatively deep conference. Losing records versus the West Coast Conference (0-2) and the Missouri Valley Conference (2-3) balances strong records versus the CAA and Conference USA (4-0). Conference teams have two more games versus the WCC.
Crossroads at the Crosstown? When they last met in the Crosstown Classic (nee’ “Shootout”), Xavier was 8-0 and hitting on all cylinders. Cincinnati was, on the strength of a 5-2 record that included a home loss to lowly Presbyterian, searching for the chemistry to ignite their season. The 23-point Xavier thrashing of Cincinnati that culminated in a bench-clearing brawl, however, threw each program on a very different path last season. Xavier finished the year with a so-so 15-13 run while Cincy compiled a 21-8 record and earned an NCAA bid that seemed all but impossible on December 11, 2011. The court will be neutral this time (a change negotiated to insure each school had 50% of the tickets, a measure to keep the crowd “balanced”), and Cincinnati appears to have the momentum, sporting a 9-0 record to Xavier’s uncharacteristically “average” 7-2.
Officials changed the name of the Xavier-Cincinnati cross-town classic in an attempt to disassociate the game from the ugly brawl last season involving Xavier’s Kenny Frease and others (Icon SMI)
There is more than one game being played on the floor of the U.S. Bank Arena, however, as the fate of the Big East looms large in the plans for both schools. Week-long rumors that the Catholic 7 intends to dissolve the conference and reconstitute a basketball-first entity (with the NCAA distributions, the exit fees and the rights to Madison Square Garden for the conference tournament as potential endowments), Cincinnati has to wonder where it will play ball (foot- and basket-) in those athletic facilities it has raised millions of dollars to renovate. Xavier on the other hand, appears to top the list of schools the Catholic 7 intends to invite into the reconstituted conference to bring the membership to 10 or 12.
Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Many of the power conference teams hit the road for the very first time this weekend, so we should start to get a real sense of where teams stand early in the season. With a little less college football going on this weekend, you should make some time to catch a few games. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
Tennessee at #16 Georgetown – 6:30 PM EST, Friday on ESPN (****)
John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Exceeding Expectations (Getty)
Tennessee heads to Georgetown for its first true road game of the season. Like many of the games this past week in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and now the Big East/SEC Challenge, we are going to get a true indication of where a lot of teams stand. While the Vols are 4-1, they lost their toughest test against Oklahoma State. They face a Geogetown team that is extremely long. The Hoyas start four players who are at least 6’8”, while the “shortest” player, 6’2” guard Michael Starks, is their leading scorer. Look for the Hoyas to take advantage of their size and shoot a lot within the paint. Georgetown currently shoots 56% from inside the arc while the Vols rank 106th in the country in two-point defense. Also, keep a close eye on free throws. With this game looking like it’s going to take place inside the arc, free throws will be a key to victory. The Hoyas are struggling to get to the line and it caught up with them in their recent overtime loss to Indiana. On the other hand, Tennessee is ranked in the top 25 nationally in free throw rate. The team that gets to the line more and sinks its free throws should be the winner in this contest.
Baylor at #8 Kentucky – 12:30 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (****)
Kentucky and Baylor are two teams in desperate need of a good win. Kentucky is coming off a beating on the road at the hands of Notre Dame. As coach John Calipari discussed in many of his preseason press conferences, the Wildcats are not consistent on offense or defense. As soon as you think they are coming together, they lay an egg and shoot 40% against ND. Baylor is also struggling to find an identity outside of “The Pierre Jackson Show.” While Jackson’s play has been mostly excellent, it does not seem to be working particularly well with recent losses to Colorado and College of Charleston. Kentucky will be tough to beat at home but they need better consistency on both ends of the court. They should be able to shoot the ball against a struggling Baylor defense, particularly from downtown. If the Wildcats can get back in the long-ball groove, they should win at home for the 56th straight time under Calipari.
#18 Oklahoma State at Virginia Tech – 2:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN3 (****)
While Oklahoma State lost to Virginia Tech last year in a close contest and will play a true road game for the first time this year, the Cowboys have not been tested so far this season. More importantly, they have responded with drubbings of Tennessee and North Carolina State. For the Hokies, OSU is by far their toughest opponent to date. The Cowboys have been winning with solid defense. Opponents have been held to 36.3% from two and an overall eFG% of 39.8%. Typically, you may take these stats with a grain of salt given the competition, but Travis Ford’s team has played a strong schedule thus far. The match-up you should keep a close eye on is the Cowboy defense versus Virginia Tech guard Erick Green. The 6’3” Green is averaging 24.3 points per game thus far, and Ford will counter with a trio of big guards in 6’7” LeBryan Nash, 6’4” Marcus Smart, and 6’3” Markel Brown. Do not expect Green to hit for two dozen against the Pokes. If he does, Virginia Tech will be in good shape. Finally, watch the Hokies on the offensive glass. They currently rank 314th in the country in offensive rebounding rate against a fairly soft schedule. It’s not going to be easy for coach James Johnson’s squad to hit their shots, so he needs them to grab offensive boards desperately. If they don’t, look for the Cowboys to win in Blacksburg.
The (Early Season Invitational) Returns Are In – Thirteen of the conference’s 16 teams are participating in early season invitational tournaments this season. While several tournaments continue play through this week, 11 of the higher-profile tournaments finished play over the Thanksgiving Weekend. Conference teams (see below) took a first-place, three second-places, two fourth-places and two fifth-places. Versus the field in those nine tournaments the conference posted an 18-17 (0.514) record, below their 60% winning percentage overall. Charlotte (Great Alaska Shootout), Butler (Maui Invitational), Saint Joseph’s (Coaches vs. Cancer) and Saint Louis (CBE Classic) reached their respective tournament championship games. Charlotte (see story below) swept the field in Anchorage, Alaska, to take first place and preserve their undefeated record.
Pride of the A-10 – Entering their last season of conference play, the Charlotte 49ers’ men’s basketball team seems at last to have caught fire, completing the first fifth of its 2012-13 schedule with a perfect 6-0 record, taking the Great Alaska Shootout title Saturday night with a win 67-59 over Northeastern of the CAA. Since moving over from C-USA, the 49ers have dominated A-10 sports, as 11 of Charlotte’s 16 sports programs have garnered a total of 30 titles — either regular season championships or conference tournament titles – in the school’s eight-year run. The move to the A-10, basketball-driven for the most part, was resisted by more than a few fans (and former men’s basketball coach Bobby Lutz), due largely to the conference’s more northern and eastern focus. That the men’s hoops program, a source of pride for the school, could only muster a mediocre 48-64 (0.429) in conference play has been a huge disappointment, taken by some as a confirmation that the move from the southern and western-centric C-USA was ill-considered. Charlotte’s 6-0 start matches the 1975-76 club’s 6-0 opening of their 24-6 campaign.
Phil Martelli Sits Atop the Power Rankings at This Early Point of the Season
Saint Joseph’s (3-1) – The Hawks easily handled a Harvard squad that earned an NCAA bid last March 75-66, before breaking for the Thanksgiving Weekend. Junior forward Ronald Roberts was named the Player of the Week for the A-10 Conference for his work at the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament over the November 17 weekend. The six man nucleus — Carl Jones, Langston Galloway, Chris Wilson, Ron Roberts, Halil Kanacevic and C. J. Aiken – has done a tremendous job sharing the touches and scoring so far. The squad goes back into action Wednesday when they host American. The Creighton game Saturday should be a featured game next weekend.
Temple (3-0) – Scootie Randall continued his comeback by playing 38 minutes as the Owls downed Delaware Saturday 80-75. Randall and backcourt mate Khalif Wyatt chipped in 18 points apiece (45% of the Owl’s total point production), notching an efficient 51% eFG%. Better yet, the two combined for 10 assists to five turnovers, as they helped each other and their front court teammates. Fans who held their breath last season as then-freshman center Anthony Lee stepped in for then injured senior Michael Eric are seeing the benefits now. The sophomore has become a rebounding workhorse, grabbing an astonishing one in three of the opponent misses while he is on the court. Fifth year senior Jake O’Brien has garnered impressive numbers on the Owls’ offensive boards. The next two games, versus Buffalo (Wednesday) and Wagner (Saturday) should bump the win total to five. Read the rest of this entry »
Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
The second weekend in the college hoops season cools off a bit and settles into some of the preseason tournaments. While the different tourneys play out over the weekend, there are several games you should keep an eye on as we head into Feast Week. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
Game of the Weekend
#22 Notre Dame vs. Saint Joseph’s – 9:30 PM EST, Friday on TruTV HD (****)
Notre Dame needs guard Eric Atkins to pick up his scoring against Saint Joseph’s
After a 2-0 start, Notre Dame faces its toughest challenge of the young season in a Saint Joseph’s team returning 99% of its minutes from last season. Thus far, the Irish is not getting the production they have come to expect from their two starting guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. Only Grant has reached double figures once in the two games they have played. Both players averaged 12 points per game last season and coach Mike Brey needs every bit of those 12 points for his Irish team to meet expectations. Since St. Joe’s will still be without suspended guard Carl Jones, look to see if the Irish guards are able to take advantage. It’s critical that they do, because Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley and center Garrick Sherman will face a tough test against the Hawks front line. It will be interesting to see how Cooley and Sherman respond to the much more athletic forwards than they have seen thus far in 2012.
While Saint Joseph’s blew out Yale in its first game of the season, Phil Martelli needs to be a little concerned with his team’s offensive performance. The Hawks averaged less than a point per possession, shot a 45.9% eFG, and were only 3-14 from three in that game. Obviously, missing leading scorer Jones is a major factor, but they can ill afford to have another poor offensive showing against the Irish. Look to see if guard Chris Wilson can improve on his three points in 36 minutes and provide St. Joe’s with some backcourt scoring. Guard Langston Galloway was able to drop 20 points against Yale, so keep an eye on his ability to maintain that level of scoring against a much tougher opponent.
This should be a close battle between two experienced teams. If St. Joe’s is going to beat Notre Dame, it’ll need to do it on defense. The key will be the ability of St. Joe’s forwards Halil Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts, and C.J. Aiken to neutralize Cooley and Sherman down low and grab defensive boards. If Notre Dame gets its typical scoring production from Atkins and Grant, it should win this game. If not, Martelli and the Hawks will come away with a nice win for the Atlantic 10 against its rival Big East.
More Great Hoops
Florida State vs. BYU – 7:00 PM EST, Friday on TruTV HD (****)
The Best Basketball (Only) Conference in the NCAA? You Bet– With the departure of Temple (to the Big East) and Charlotte (to CUSA), A-10 fans knew the conference would not “make due” with a 12-team configuration. The question was which candidates would match best with the conference profile and mission and not in the chase for football money? The A-10 could afford to focus on candidates with high quality basketball programs, thereby offering regional rivalries to the Midwestern and Washington D.C. metro area members. Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were the logical choices as both have had recent Final Four appearances, are high quality programs, and boast two of the hottest young coaching names in Division I. Both schools accepted and the existing circumstances of member departures and arrivals means that the A-10, with 16 members and an 18-game conference slate, will have a superconference look and feel this season.
Veteran St. Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli Has Garnered Plenty Of Media Attention Over The Years. Now Thanks To A New TV Deal, The Entire Atlantic-10 is Going to Get a Dose Of Camera Time (AP)
The New TV Deal – The conference announced an eight-year partnership with ESPN, the CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network, worth an estimated $40 million dollars ($5 million per year) to run from 2013-14 through 2021-22. The three media outlets will televise 64 regular season men’s games (CBS and NBC Sports Network will televise 25 apiece and the ESPN outlets will televise 14). These three outlets will divvy the responsibilities for the conference tournament with NBC televising the men’s (and women’s) quarterfinals, CBS televising the men’s (and women’s) semifinal games, and ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU televising the men’s championship game. Though financial details were not disclosed, the conference’s 14 members are expected to collect about $400,000 apiece each season.
Brooklyn, Here We Come – A quiet affirmation that the move to lock up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn came with Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm swamped Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Boardwalk Hall, previous site of the conference’s championship tournament. The Barclays Center has garnered positive reviews for its architecture, facilities and amenities. The brand-new facility will work out the kinks with a number of invitational tournaments (Barclays Center Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, Legends Classic, Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival and Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational) and be ready to host the conference tournament next March.
Reader’s Take I
Predicted Order of Finish
Signs that the A-10 is in for a wild ride this season are everywhere. CBS Sports’ five basketball experts (Jeff Goodman, Doug Gottlieb, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello) tabbed four different schools (Butler, Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth) to take the regular season crown. The A-10 coaches named a fifth school – Saint Joseph’s – at the conference’s Media Day earlier this month. Note that nobody in that group is named Temple or Xavier – the two schools which have passed the regular season crown back-and-forth for the last five seasons.
Every college basketball season brings a new cast of stars. There are freshman, the super-prospects hyped up to disproportionate levels who may or may not live up to their billing. Then there are the returning players, the guys who showed flashes of stardom the previous season and are ready to truly hit their stride after an offseason honing their games. Highlighting these players doesn’t require much insight or deep thought. You know a star when you see one. Discovering under-the-radar gems, the diamonds in the rough, the players who emerge from the depths of the unknown to make a splash on the national stage, is another matter entirely. It requires a comprehensive knowledge of the game – and not just the Kentuckys and the North Carolinas and the Dukes of the world. You know those guys. The focus here is the more unheralded crop of players ready to make the leap into the general college hoops consciousness. What follows is my vain attempt at singling out those very players I described above. You may not know these names now, but by the time March rolls around, my bet is that you will.
*Editor’s note: you will notice there are no freshmen on this list. That is no mistake. This list is geared towards returning players. If you’re interested in a more freshmen-centric preview analysis, check out this list of newcomers who are “ready to play big roles on their new teams.”
Rotnei Clarke – Butler
The Bulldogs three-point shooting will improve immensely with Clarke joining the fold (Photo credit: Getty Images).
Relative to recent history, Butler did not have the best 2011-12 season. Let’s not sell the Bulldogs short: They reached the semifinals of a national postseason tournament for the third straight season. Only this time, it wasn’t the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Butler got bounced in the semifinals of the CBI, a huge downturn from the two preceding Final Four trips. Butler may never again string together that level of Tournament success, but Clarke gives Brad Stevens’ team a much better chance than it had last season. Plain and simple, Clarke, who made 91 of 208 three-point attempts in 2010-11 (he sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas), can shoot the lights out from beyond the arc. And what does Butler desperately need as it enters its debut season in the A-10? Long-range shooting, where last season it finished ranked 341st in three-point field goal percentage.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Georgia
Basically any chance Georgia has of challenging in the SEC this season and making a push for an NCAA bid rests on Caldwell-Pope, whose freshman season was something of a disappointment considering the McDonalds All-American hype he brought to Athens. With a year of experience under his belt, and a greater chance to showcase his talents without being comparatively dwarfed by the likes of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Caldwell-Pope should blossom. Georgia doesn’t offer much help in terms of solid complementary players, so Pope will be asked to carry the load. Kentucky and Missouri are heavy favorites to challenge for the SEC crown this season, but if Pope plays to his recruiting promise, the Bulldogs are more than capable of notching a few wins against the league front-runners. NBA scouts are already drooling over the 6’4’’ guard’s potential. He’ll make good on those claims this season.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the A-10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
The Week That Was:
Points per Possession Margins Through February 12
Temple and Saint Louis continue to “walk away” from the rest of the conference, leaving the next four teams in the upper division (Xavier, Massachusetts, La Salle and Saint Bonaventure) clustered on the “plus side” of the points per possession margin. Though nine of the conference’s 14 teams have .500 or better records, only those six (and Saint Joseph’s with a 0.000 margin) have offenses that scored more points per possession that their defenses yielded, suggesting that some of those .500 or better teams suffered one or more blowouts in conference games this season.
Though Fordham and Rhode Island have firm holds on the bottom two spots in the conference standings, their negative points per possession margin is still not large enough to suggest they are uncompetitive with their conference mates. The gap between top-ranked Temple and bottom-ranked Fordham remains at about 1/3 of a point (0.337), well below the half-point gap last season. With nearly 37% of the conference games still to be played this season these margins can shift.
Conference Realignment: Does the Road to the Big East Go Through Irvine, Texas?
The Big East filled out their dance card for the 2013 football season last week and Temple, one of two schools who have vigorously lobbied for a spot in the power conference over the past four seasons, was passed over for the other long-term applicant, the University of Memphis. The conference negotiated a 20 million dollar early exit fee from West Virginia, and promptly invited C-USA member Memphis to join for 2013-14 season.
Passed over for the second time since last October, Memphis is the fourth C-USA school to accept a Big East invitation in 2011-12 and the ninth C-USA member to be invited since 2004-05. CBS Sports writer Brett McMurphy reported that Temple had been contacted by C-USA officials about possible membership. The membership is rumored to be for all sports, and with the proposed C-USA merger with the Mountain West Conference and a planned two round playoff system for the conference championship (that would, I assume, culminate with a BCS bowl bid). Though the Owls have a 55 year relationship with fellow Big 5 and A-10 members La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, the prospects (and money?) may be too good to pass on.
Despite Consistently Producing Quality Teams and Players Such as Ramone Moore, Temple Was Passed Over For A Spot in The Big East (AP)
Massachusetts is expected to join Temple in the MAC – like the Owls for football only – when the Minutemen move up to the Bowl Division in football. Temple signed an agreement to continue play in the MAC just last summer. No details concerning an exit fee were disclosed at the time of the signing.
Temple continues to roll through their conference schedule but has yet to regain a spot in the AP or USA Today Top 25. Saint Louis and Massachusetts continue to nip at the Owls heels, while five others (Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, and Duquesne) battle for the conference’s last bye seed. Most bracketology sites put either two or three teams in the field (Temple, Saint Louis plus one other…), so games played between Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, Massachusetts, and Dayton will carry extra-conference implications.
Temple (19-5, 8-2) – Temple continued their run with another 2-0 week, beating George Washington by just enough, then answering the bell against Xavier on Saturday night. Ramone Moore again earned conference recognition, in no small part from his game versus the Musketeers. The strength of schedule (table above) may suggest an easier path than most for Coach Fran Dunphy’s charges, but even with the Xavier hurdle cleared, the Owls still have rematches with city rivals: a road game with Saint Bonaventure and a tilt with Massachusetts. If the Owls keep winning, no one can catch them.Temple takes a mid-winter road trip to one of the least hospitable stops in the conference on Wednesday — Saint Bonaventure in a western New York winter. They return to Philadelphia for a home game with Duquesne on Saturday (2/18). Read the rest of this entry »
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 (@vbtnBlog)
Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Wednesday night’s action.
The Week That Was
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25: The release of the AP and Coaches polls on Mon., December 26 showed no Atlantic 10 conference member for the first time in 12 weeks (going back to January 31, 2011 – week #13). A Xavier three-game losing streak, coming on the heels of the bench clearing brawl in the “Crosstown Shootout” dropped the Musketeers from #15 in the December 19 poll right out of the Top 25. Saint Louis’ own five-game winning streak includes a win over Division II Illinois-Springfield, Alabama State and Arkansas State — not a slate of opponents that will wow the voters.
Early Season Invitational Tournaments – Final Tally: The only good news out of the Diamond Head Classic was that the Musketeers finally broke their three-game losing streak with a win over Southern Illinois in the invitational tournament’s seventh place game. Invitational tournament formats frequently match A-10 teams with power conference opponents on neutral courts, giving the conference their best opportunity for quality wins. Results for the 2011-12 season:
At the end of the first cycle, the conference held a promising 21-13 (0.600) margin with six first and third place finishes, suggesting the team either swept the field or won the first two games (before dropping the final). The brightest lights were Dayton (winner of the Old Spice Classic) and Saint Louis (who beat three power conference schools on their way to the championship in the 76 Classic). Temple may have disappointed slightly, but the Owls, along with Richmond, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s, posted very respectable results in their tournaments.
Free Todd O’Brien? Attention to the resurgence of the Saint Joseph’s program was diverted two days after the Hawks’ best win of the season, a 16-point drubbing of Big 5 rival Villanova, when Sports Illustrated released fifth year senior Todd O’Brien’s side of his attempt to take his post season eligibility at Alabama-Birmingham instead of Saint Joseph’s. Buzz about Phil Martelli’s squad notching 10 wins before the start of conference play (virtually certain given their last two out of conference opponents) was pushed aside with the details of the Todd O’Brien imbroglio. The fifth year senior, a transfer from Bucknell who started 28 games in the 2009-10 season and was a serviceable rotation player last season, completed his undergraduate course work over the summer and enrolled in one of Alabama-Birmingham’s MBA programs and play for Mike Davis in his last season of eligibility. Saint Joseph’s, however, denied O’Brien’s application for a Graduate Student Transfer Exception (a release from his athletic scholarship) with no explanation given. O’Brien went public with his version of events, and so far, Saint Joseph’s, and specifically Martelli, has cited student confidentiality as the reason for not responding.
Fordham (Dereck Whittenburg and Jio Fontan), Providence (Keno Davis and Joseph Young) and Siena (Fran McCaffery and Kojo Mensah) were warning signs that Saint Joseph’s ignored. Though Martelli, as did McCaffrey, Davis and Whittenberg before him, may feel justified in denying O’Brien his release (fans and “program insiders” floated three variations of “Todd O’Brien is a bad boy” in the first 24-48 hours after the story was released), the veteran coach has to understand that the notion of a coach and program were gamed by a scholarship athlete never gets much traction with the public, and the university’s strategy of not talking about it gives O’Brien all of the air time on this issue.
Todd O'Brien (right) and Phil Martelli (left) Have Been Caught In A Verbal Tug-Of-War
Early Season Tournaments – The Conference Crossroads: Though the invitational tournaments come in three different formats, they provide A-10 members with the opportunity to face-off against competition from other conferences. If the tournament is a “destination”, all the better, as those often offer one or two games versus power conference opponents on a neutral court. Mixed format tournaments can provide the A-10 member with the chance to play a power conference opponent and then host a sub-regional mini-tournament afterward, as George Washington did for the Preseason NIT last season and Rhode Island did for the Legends Classic this season. Despite the road game incentive built into the RPI, the NCAA does little to discourage the power conference practice of guarantee games beyond officially “frowning” on it. Unless you are Xavier or Temple, your best chance to see a power conference team in a venue besides their home court (on the front end of a home-and-home agreement) is to join one of the early-season invitational tournaments. Though Xavier will spend Christmas in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, virtually all early-season invitational tournaments concluded on or before Thanksgiving Weekend. How did the Atlantic-10 do?
The 21-13 record reveals both hope (Dayton, Richmond and Saint Louis) and fear (La Salle, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) as the season progresses, but overall, the 61.8% winning percentage will help the conference come Selection Sunday. Flyer fans can look to a surprise first-place finish in the Old Spice Classic that included wins over Wake Forest out of the ACC and Minnesota from the Big Ten, as signs that the Dayton program revival is ahead of schedule under rookie coach Archie Miller. Saint Louis rolled through the 76 Classic field, cutting through three power conference opponents in four days like a hot knife through butter. No one, not Boston College (ACC), Villanova (Big East) nor Oklahoma (Big 12) could get closer than 11 points to the Billikens in their final scores.